March 20th, 2016 by Jeff Jacobs
The close confines of Lime Rock Park followed by the wide open spaces of Road America provided a study of contrasts between the short Connecticut track and the long Wisconsin road course in weeks seven and eight of the XtremeMotorsports99.com road series on iRacing.com. The ST class Mazda MX-5 drivers continued to provide a thrillingly close points battle with six different winners in eight weeks of racing. In contrast, Mustang sim-racers Tyler Shifflett and Liam Hackwith continued their dominance of the GS class with Shifflett taking the win at Lime Rock Park and Hackwith winning at Road America. The two drivers hold seven of the eight GS class victories on the season.
Lime Rock Park presents a number of challenges for the mixed-class racing featured in this iRacing.com road racing league. The short track length means that the faster Mustang class will be catching the back of the MX-5 field earlier in the race and multiple times. The narrow ribbon of pavement frequently makes passing an exercise in holding your breath and praying the other guy doesn’t slide over into you. Added to that is the MX-5’s handling advantage in the closely connected corners and lap times only two seconds slower than the Mustangs. These factors over a 60-minute mixed-class race demand patience, cooperation and precision like no other track the drivers face during the season.
Points leader Shifflett qualified on the pole of the GS class at Lime Rock park, just 0.05sec ahead of Hackwith. Kevin Ford and Clint Vigus lined up in the second row of the 13 Mustangs entered in the week seven race. The defending class champion showed no slippage in skill or determination working through traffic for the hour-long race, leading all but two of the 63 laps. Hackwith applied pressure throughout the first half of the race until Shifflett pitted on lap 30. When Hackwith pitted on lap 32, problems in his pit box delayed his exit from pit lane, dropping him from the lead all the way to fifth place. Meanwhile, Vigus and Jeff Jacobs used early pit strategies and took only left-side tires to jump into second and third place behind Shifflett. Their strategy dropped Ford to fourth after the pit stop cycles were complete. Undeterred, Ford charged back, making his way around Jacobs in five laps and around Vigus in ten more laps. Ford closed to within 1.5 seconds of Shifflett before time expired on his attempt to challenge the leader. The final top five were Shifflett, Ford, Vigus, Jacobs and Hackwith.
In the ST class, defending champ John Allen came to Lime Rock Park fourth in points but qualified at the front of the Mazdas, a tenth of a second ahead of Giuseppe Iannucci, followed by Nicolas Taeymans and Andre Saunders. Allen held the lead for the opening ten laps before Taeymans slipped by to lead laps 11-20. Iannucci was running third on lap 22 when he got loose coming down the hill into the final turn and spun into the wall, ending his race. Allen retook the lead on lap 21 and held the top spot until he pitted on lap 31, handing the lead to Saunders. When Saunders pitted on lap 37, Allen reclaimed the class lead, but was closely pursued by Taeymans, Hille, Saunders, Drees Nice and Robert Hartley. Nice’s race ended early when he was bumped off track by a passing Mustang on lap 48. With just three laps to go, Taeymans had closed to within four seconds of the leader when a mechanical issue on the back straight ended his race with a tow back to the pits. A fierce battle between Hille and Saunders became the race for second place, with Saunders passing Hille with two laps to go. But on the final lap, both Saunders and Hille found themselves out of fuel and coasting around the final turn toward the finish line. Their problem was Hartley’s good fortunes as he sped by to move up from fourth second. Hille had just enough momentum to glide past Saunders at the finish line to steal third by thousands of a second. Taeymans claimed fifth from the pits.
The following week the long, fast track at Road America provided no less thrilling a battle in the ST class. Allen once again set the top qualifying time in MX-5, just a tenth faster than Hille. Iannucci and Brad Wootton lined up in the second row of the 14 Mazdas. Allen lead the pack to the green flag and into turn 1. Behind him, Hille challenged Iannucci and took second place going into turn 5. Wootton also got by two laps later to take third. Allen led the opening five laps until Hille outraced him into turn 1 on lap 6. One lap later, Wootton passed Allen for second place. When Hille pitted on Lap 11, Wootton took over the lead briefly until he pitted, giving the lead back to Allen. On Lap 13, Allen and Iannucci pitted but were not able to rejoin the track until Wootton and Hille had already sped by. Allen worked over several laps to close the gap, while Hille battled around Wootton to take the lead. Meanwhile, the race for third heated up as Harley and Travis Schwenke caught up to Allen with six laps to go.
Once again fuel strategy would come into play. With some good work through lapped traffic, Allen pulled away as Schwenke passed Hartley, who had to stop for a splash of fuel on the last lap. On the final lap, Allen caught the two leaders who appeared to be in fuel conservation mode, to make it a three-way race for the finish. Bumper-to-bumper into Turn 5, Allen hunted for an opportunity. It came just after the final turn where Wootton ran out of fuel going uphill to finish line. Hille would take the win followed by Allen, Wootton, Schwenke and Iannucci.
In the Mustang class, Ford set the top qualifying time by only 0.022sec over Jacobs. Hackwith and Travis Davis lined up in the second row. Points leader Shifflett was not able to make the race, opening the door for Hackwith to jump ahead with a strong finish. Ford led the pack into turn 1 as Hackwith went door-to-door with Jacobs to challenge for second. He completed the pass off turn 3, setting the running order for the first half of the race. Ford and Hackwith swapped the lead four times until Hackwith and Jacobs pitted on lap 13. Ford leas an additional lap before pitting. Jacobs again gambled with pit strategy by taking only two tires, jumping into the lead at the pit exit followed by Hackwith just two seconds back. Ford exited the pits in third place, four seconds behind Hackwith. Jacobs held off several challenges by Hackwith in the ensuing laps, while their battle allowed Ford to make it a three-way battle for the final eight laps. Hackwith mounted several challenges in the closing laps, finally making it stick going into turn five on the final lap. Ford followed on Hackwith’s bumper, racing side-by-side with Jacobs through next three turns to grab second. In the final turn, Ford’s Mustang filled Hackwith’s mirror. As Ford made a move to charge up the right side of the final straight, Hackwith defended all the way to right forcing Ford into the grass going uphill. As the two drivers banged doors, the loss of momentum allowed Jacobs to slip past Ford for second place by just thousands of second. Ford finished third, followed by George Johnson and Bob Herra.
With four weeks remaining, the points standings in the GS class are Hackwith (249), Shifflett (231), Jacobs (228) and Ford (203). In the ST class, Allen has taken over the points lead at 220 but Hartley (218), Schwenke (214) and Wootton (197) are all within spitting distance. Week 9 brings the second endurance race of the series, with a 90-minute contest on Donington’s National circuit. Week 10 takes place with a 60-minute race at the challenging Virginia International Raceway. All races are available for spectating through the “Hosted Sessions” section on the iRacing.com web page. 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.