March 5th, 2016 by Jeff Jacobs
Six weeks of grids packed with Mustangs and MX-5s have produced amazing racing and two championship points battles much too close to declare a favorite at the season midpoint of the XtremeMotorsports99.com road series on iRacing.com. Defending GS class champion Tyler Shifflett has two wins and four other podium finishes to lead the Mustang standings by eight points over Liam Hackwith. But Hackwith has three wins, with his lone stumble at Sebring preventing him from holding the overall lead. In the ST class, Brad Wootton holds a scant one point lead over Travis Schwenke and only five points over Robert Hartley. The MX-5 sim-racers have produced five different winners in the first six races, setting up a thrilling battle for the second-half of the season.
The only Mazda driver to claim two wins this season has been series rookie Nicolas Taeymans, who joined the series in week 4, won that race, then repeated the feat in week 5 at Watkins Glen. Hartley set the top class qualifying lap on the Glen’s boot configuration with a 2:08.778, besting John Allen by just 0.023sec. Taeymans and another new driver, Justin Hille, lined up in the second row. All 16 MX-5 drivers made it clean through the opening lap, with Schwenke grabbing the fifth spot away from Wootton. The opening 10 laps featured a train of eight Mazdas running nose-to-tail and side-by-side lap after lap.
Giuseppe Iannucci broke up the party with an early pit stop on lap 11, while most of the leaders stayed out four more laps. None of the leaders foresaw the chaos that ensued when they finally did pit. At the end of lap 15 the pack of six leading ST cars dove for pit lane, but a late move and an accordion effect in the braking zone produced a multi-car wreck that damaged Allen, Wootton and Hartley in one fell swoop. Schwenke took advantage of the confusion to make a fast fuel-only pit stop and resume the race in the lead. Taeymans, Hille, and Hartley followed him down the pit exit, while Allen and Wootton lost several laps to repairs. In just a few laps, Taeymans took over the lead from Schwenke and would hold on to his advantage all the way to the checkered flag. Schwneke finished second, followed by Hille, Andre Saunders and Hartley.
In the Mustang class, Jeff Jacobs out qualified Shifflett by a mere 0.027sec to take the pole position for the start of the race. Russell Rudduck and Clint Vigus qualified on the second row of 15 Mustangs at the Glen. On the opening lap Shifflett challenged hard, running door-to-door with Jacobs all the way from turn 1 to the bus stop. Jacobs held the lead until lap 3 and then latched onto the draft behind Shifflett for the next 12 laps. Meanwhile, Hackwith and Kevin Ford were mounting a charge from back in the field. After passing Vigus for the fifth place, Hackwith and Travis Davis tangled on a miscommunication entering the bus stop, sending Davis nose-first into the tire barrier and ending his race. The wrecking wasn’t over as on the very next lap Ford bumped doors with Vigus in the narrow Esses, putting both cars into the pits for repairs.
At the end of lap 15, Shifflett ducked into the pits for fuel and tires while Jacobs stayed out to take over the lead. Hackwith and Rudduck, now running second and third, pitted on the next lap but Jacobs stayed out for one more lead lap – unsuspecting of what was to come. Jacobs approached the pit line behind the pack of six lead ST cars – only to see several of them pinballing off the pit entrance walls creating a “Mazda slalom” of wrecked MX-5s in the narrow pit entrance. After the delay on pit entry, he rejoined the race in fourth behind Shifflett who reclaimed the lead in front of Hackwith and Rudduck. The Mustangs continued to run in that order with Shifflett taking the win over Hackwith, Rudduck, Jacobs and Brandon Wright.
One week later at Mosport, Hackwith turned the tables by taking the win over Shifflett to keep the season points battle very tight. Hackwith claimed the pole position by a mere 0.005sec over Shifflett as Ford and Jacobs lined up in the second row looking to play the spoilers. When the green flag flew, Ford hung tight to Hackwith’s bumper trying to steal second place from Shifflett before treacherous turn 2. But Shifflett fought back, forcing Ford to lay back for turn two or risk the dangerous outside line going down the hill. Meanwhile, Jacobs found himself trapped off-line and falling from fourth to eighth in just three laps as Bob Herra, Vigus, Chad Osborn and Wright all made their way past.
At the front of the pack, Hackwith stretched to a four second lead, while Ford hounded Shifflett for 10 laps until he capitalized on a great run off Moss Corner to pass for second place. Hoping to make up lost positions with pit strategy, Jacobs pitted early on lap 15 taking just two left-side tires and the minimum fuel needed to finish the race. Ford and Shifflett exchanged second place two more times before they pitted. However, Ford caught a penalty for speeding on the exit from pit lane and had to serve a stop-and-go penalty on the very next lap. When all the stops were finished, Hackwith resumed the lead three seconds in front of Shifflett, and Jacobs’ fast pit strategy earned him third only two more second back. That would be the podium finishing order in the GS class, where the most exciting final laps came in the battle for fourth and fifth between Vigus, Osborn, Rudduck and Herra. Osborn looked to be charging up to Vigus when a mechanical issue sent him flying off track and ended his race. Vigus continued on to finish fourth, but Rudduck and Herra battled for fifth until the final lap when Rudduck dropped a rear tire over the curbing along the front straight, sending his Mustang into the wall and handing the position to Herra.
The ST class once again featured a train of six Mazdas running nose-to-tail for the first 10 laps. The front four eventually broke away, with Hille leading Allen, Wootton and Hartley as each of those three took turns in the number two spot trying to find a way around Hille. Differing pit strategies broke up the party. Allen pitted early on lap 14, Wootton on lap 20, Hille and Hartley on lap 22. Hille exited the pit right on the bumper of Wootton, who was riding the bumper of new class leader Allen. Hartley initially was distraught over an extended pit stop that put him well back of the top three and out of their draft. But then fate smiled on him.
On lap 28, as the three ST leaders raced bumper-to-bumper out of Moss Corner, they ran smack into the side of a spinning Mustang that had lost control just ahead of them. Wootton’s car was totaled and Hille limped back to the pits for several laps of repairs. Allen managed to continue in the lead for the rest of the lap, but was too damaged to hold off Hartley on the next lap. Hartley continued to expand his lead while Allen’s troubles continued to mount in second place – his early pit stop strategy was leaving him short of fuel, forcing him to slow down to conserve. The reduced pace allowed Schwenke to zip by for second place with just two laps to go. Jordie Fike also got by for third, relegating Allen to fourth. Justin Walters completed the top five.
Half-way through the season, the ST points leaders are: Brad Wootton (167), Travis Schwenke (166), Robert Hartley (162), and John Allen (153). In the GS class, the points leaders are Tyler Shifflett (196) and Liam Hackwith (188), with Jeff Jacobs (168) in third. With six more weeks of racing and two drop weeks yet to be factored in – allowing drivers to drop their worst two scores – several drivers remain in contention in both classes.
Week 7 features the close confines of Lime Rock Park followed by Week 8 at the complete opposite – the expansive Road America. All races are available for spectating through the “Hosted Sessions” section on the iRacing.com web page. The league road series on iRacing.com provides sim-racers an opportunity to mirror the real-life Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge driving their choice of the Ford Mustang FR500S in the GS class, or the Mazda MX-5 Cup in the ST class. With events hosted every Monday night, the league’s 12-week schedule features most of the tracks that will be visited by the real-life series during the year, plus two special races at popular tracks outside the U.S. There are still open positions in both cars for drivers looking to race the MX-5 or Mustang in a competitive and fun series. iRacing.com members interested in joining the series should visit the League page on iRacing, the webpage www.XtremeMotorsports99.com, or e-mail Kevin Ford at Kevin@xtrememotorsports99.com.