February 14th, 2016 by Jeff Jacobs
With grids packed full of Mustangs and MX-5s, the Laguna Seca and Monza GP road courses on iRacing.com provided two thrilling races and set up an exciting championship points race with one-third of the season complete. Week three in the XtremeMotorsports99.com Continental Tire series featured 60 minutes of sim-racing at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with defending ST class champ John Allen claiming his first win of the season and Kevin Ford earning his first win in the GS class. Week four was the first of two 90-minute endurance races at tracks outside the real-life Continental series schedule. Liam Hackwith tamed the high speeds of the Monza GP course to take his second GS class win of the season, while ST class rookie Nicolas Taeymans claimed a win in the MX-5 in his first ever race in the series.
In a demonstration of the high level of competition in this sim-racing series, Laguna Seca produced the third week of first-time winners in both classes. Kevin Ford placed his Mustang on the pole in the GS class and held the lead spot from green to checker. On the opening lap, the Mustang leaders poured into the Andretti Hairpin two and three cars wide, but everyone emerged unscathed. Ford held the lead with Liam Hackwith close on his bumper. Defending class champ Tyler Shifflett tucked into third, while Clint Vigus and Chad Osborn followed. Osborn moved up to fourth on the third lap when Vigus hit the curbing too hard in turn 6, smashing his suspension and sending the car into a smoky spin that Osborn narrowly avoided.
At the front the field, different pit strategies produced a change in the second-place position. Race leader Ford and third-place Shifflett pitted on lap 18 while Hackwith stayed out for one more lap. However, Hackwith got caught up in traffic on his extra lap and the delay was just enough to cause him to emerge from the pits two seconds behind Shifflett. Over the next 15 laps, Hackwith would draw closer to Shifflett only to come upon lapped traffic at exactly the wrong moment and forcing him to start the chase all over again. But Hackwith was undeterred, inching closer lap after lap, until the start of the final lap found him filling Shifflett’s mirror entering the Andretti Hairpin. Shifflett remained cool and focused as Hackworth leaned forward, entering the final turn bumper to bumper. No mistakes were made by the defending champ as Shifflett held on for second place behind Ford. Hackwith finished third, followed by Jeff Jacobs and Russell Rudduck who produced their own nail-biting battle for fourth and fifth.
Allen had not started his ST championship defense the way he planned after a 6th place finish at Daytona and a 13th place finish at Sebring. Yet he turned the class pole at Laguna Seca into a victory to restart his campaign to repeat in the MX-5 class. On the opening lap, Allen held the inside line into the Andretti Hairpin with Brad Wootton seemingly latched onto his bumper. Second qualifier Travis Schwenke got in too hot and ran wide, allowing Drees Nice to steal third place on the inside line, leaving Schwenke in fourth and under pressure from Giuseppe Iannucci.
As Allen, Wootton and Nice broke away into a lead pack, on lap 7 Iannucci caught Schwenke down the front stretch and passed for fourth place, while Robert Hartley and Andre Saunders closed in from behind to make it a four-way contest. In the battle for second place, it only took a small mistake by Wootton running wide out of turn 6 for Nice to pounce and take over second place. Wootton was the earliest of the lead Mazdas to pit, going in on lap 18 while most of the rest made their stop the following lap. Despite a good pit stop and out-lap, Allen and Nice put in equally fast pit stops to rejoin the race just ahead of Wootton. Late in the race, the battle for fourth place heated up when Iannucci tangled with lapped traffic forcing him briefly off track and allowing Schwenke to zip past. But Iannucci seemed determined to recover from the mistake, inching closer to Schwenke with each ensuing lap. Finally on Schwenke’s bumper to start lap 29, Iannucci challenged under braking into the Andretti Hairpin and was rewarded with the position. The drivers would finish in that order, with Allen taking the win, followed by Nice, Wootton, Iannucci and Schwenke.
The following week’s 90-minute endurance race on Monza’s Grand Prix course (without the first chicane) drew 30 cars to the grid with 16 Mustangs and 14 MX-5s. The high speeds, heavy traffic, and close racing produced both an unusual amount of mayhem and thrilling moments throughout the race. Most of the mayhem belonged to the Mustang drivers who opened and closed the race with spectacular wrecks. On the green flag, top qualifier Hackwith flew down the front stretch with second-qualifier Shifflett along-side being pushed by Jacobs. As they dove into turn one at more than 130mph, third-qualifying Vigus brushed doors with Jacobs sending Vigus’ car into a wild spin across the track producing a smoke screen for the drivers behind. Travis Davis took evasive action into the grass on the left, sending his car into a slide, hitting the other side of Jacobs’ car and putting Davis’ car into the wall. Bob Herra and Brandon Wright were also collected in the smoke and mayhem. The resulting damage ended the races of Davis and Wright, while Vigus and Herra lost laps to repairs.
Up front, Hackwith and Shifflett sped away to make it a two car race for the win. For 70 of the 90 minutes Shifflett patiently rode in Hackwith’s draft, conserving tires and fuel or a late race challenge. But in the closing laps, bad luck overtaking slower traffic allowed Hackwith to break the draft and open a 5 second gap that Shifflett could not close. Meanwhile, a four-way battle behind them between Rudduck, Jacobs, Raymond Bader, and Osborn became a three-way battle on lap14 when Osborn tangled with an MX-5 resulting in irreparable damage to his Mustang. Rudduck, Jacobs and Bader battled for 40 laps in the contest for third place. But it all came to a surprise end on the next-to-last lap when Rudduck inadvertently contacted Jacobs while diving to pit lane for a splash of fuel. With those two cars wrecked at the entrance to pit lane, Bader sped by to claim third, followed by George Johnson and Scott Brooke to complete the top five.
The ST class featured no such mayhem but intense class battles throughout the field. On the opening lap, Robert Hartley took advantage of the draft behind top qualifier Wootton to pass into turn 1 and take the opening lap lead. Wootton was charging back on lap 2 but cut too much curb in the first chicane, drawing a penalty that dropped him to eighth. Series newcomer Nicolas Taeymans took the lead on lap 4. Hartley and Taeymans battled fiercely, swapping the lead six times in the opening 16 laps. Just a few car lengths behind them, a brilliant battle took place among Iannucci, Allen, and Schwenke.
The first pit stops came on lap 16 except for Allen who went an additional lap, and Hartley who came up short on fuel and had to be towed into the pits losing a lap in the process. By the end of the pit stops, Iannucci had taken over the lead. But not for long. On lap 20 Taeymans took over the lead and would hold it until the next pit window. On lap 30, Allen took over the lead when the other front runners pitted. Finally pitting two laps later, Allen exited the pit lane winding his MX-5’s motor out for every bit of speed as the rest of the class closed in on him under a full head of steam down the front straight. Taeymans had just enough momentum to retake the lead for the final time, just edging by Allen in turn 1. The top three would race within two seconds of each other for the last 15 laps. Iannucci got by Allen for second place on lap 40 but could not catch Taeymans who took the win by 0.8 seconds. Schwenke and Wootton rounded out the top five.
In the ST class, Wootton’s three podium finishes to start the season put him atop the standings with a 15 point advantage over Allen. Schwenke trails by only six points and Hartley is just one point further back. In the GS class, despite being the only driver to claim two wins in the season, Hackwith still trails Shifflett by eight points after a disappointing finish in Sebring. Jacobs sits third followed closely by Rudduck, Bader and Ford. The series championship is determined by the best 10 finishes of 12 races.
Week 5 will take place at Watkins Glen followed by Week 6 at Mosport. 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.