Last Thursday night’s second round of the IMSA iRacing Pro Series – the 90-minute race presented by Motul at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca – provided plenty of twists, turns and thrills.
In the end, it was Bruno Spengler in his No. 7 BMW M8 GTE breaking through for a second consecutive win for BMW Team IMSA Red, leading another 1-2-3 sweep for BMW in the virtual realm. But there were other interesting notes and trends.
Here are three takeaways:
1. “International” is IMSA’s First Name
We’ve got two of six scheduled IMSA iRacing Pro Series races now in the books and ironically – for an organization whose races all take place in North America – we’ve yet to see a driver finish on the podium while physically on this continent.
Spengler, whose nationality is Canadian, won both the season-opening Sebring SuperSaturday last month in addition to Thursday night at the virtual WeatherTech Raceway from his home in France. He was joined on the podium for the second consecutive event by teammate Nicky Catsburg, racing from his home in Belgium. It was the middle of the night for both drivers.
Catsburg finished second at Sebring SuperSaturday before scoring a third-place result at the virtual WeatherTech Raceway. Another factory-supported BMW driver, Jesse Krohn, finished third at Sebring SuperSaturday from his home in Finland.
Although he finished just 1.772 seconds behind Spengler in Thursday’s race, runner-up Shane van Gisbergen was halfway around the world from Spengler. The AIM Vasser Sullivan BMW driver was racing from his home in New Zealand, where it already was Friday morning.
2. BMW Stays Strong, but Fords Were Fast
In real life, the Ford GT picked up its first-ever victory at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca when Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe won in the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing machine back in 2016.
It stands to reason, then, that the Ford GTs would be strong at the virtual WeatherTech Raceway, which they were. Rodrigo Pflucker, a 2019 IMSA Prototype Challenge co-champion gearing up for his first IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup campaign in 2020, placed the No. 47 Ford GT on the pole position and led the first 32 laps of the race before getting shuffled back by a lengthy pit stop and later crash.
Other Ford GTs were at or near the top of the running order as well – including Westbrook himself at one point –with two-time Rolex 24 winner Mirko Bortolotti coming home as the highest-finishing Ford in fourth place Thursday night, continuing his success on the virtual calendar after finishing fifth in Sebring.
Porsche enhanced its presence in Round 2 as well, with Turkey’s Ayhancan Guven – a Porsche Junior driver – scoring a fifth-place result in the No. 913 Porsche 911 RSR. Other Porsche works racers in the field included Nick Tandy, Patrick Long, and 2019 WeatherTech Championship GTLM champion Laurens Vanthoor.
With the virtual Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course next on tap on Thursday, April 30, it will be interesting to see if the other manufacturers can overcome BMW’s early season advantage.
3. Champions Play Starring Roles
IndyCar and NASCAR champions attract plenty of attention every time they jump into WeatherTech Championship race cars to mix it up alongside established sports car racing stars.
In the IMSA iRacing Pro Series, we’ve seen a couple of champions from world-renowned racing series perform well. Spengler – who embarked on his first WeatherTech Championship season with BMW Team RLL in January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona – was a long-time competitor and 2012 champion of the highly competitive DTM series in Germany.
Van Gisbergen, Thursday night’s runner up, has competed in the Rolex 24 At Daytona five times, including this year alongside Townsend Bell, Frankie Montecalvo and Aaron Telitz in the No. 12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3. The New Zealander is an established superstar in Australian Supercars, winning the title in 2016.
Photo Credit: iRacing/LAT