With the regular Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season still on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the globally acclaimed open-wheel racing development ladder will commence a second simulated racing series on iRacing beginning tomorrow at a virtual rendition of World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in Madison, Ill. A pair of 20-minute races at the unique, egg-shaped 1.25-mile oval will form the first of five events to comprise the TireRack.com Road to Indy iRacing eSeries Presented by Cooper Tires. The green flag for Race One will fly at 7:00 pm EDT.
In contrast to the recently concluded inaugural sim series, the Ricmotech Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires iRacing eSeries, which was run entirely on conventional road courses, the new title-chase will feature a mix of ovals and road courses. Each event will include a pair of sprint races, once again employing identically set-up Pro Mazda cars. The grid for Race One will be established during a brief qualifying session, with only the fastest 28 cars making the cut, while the top 10 race finishers will then be reversed prior to the start of Race Two.
The innovations have been warmly received by drivers, including RP Motorsport USA’s Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires competitor Phillippe Denes. The 21-year-old from Carmel, Calif., dominated the initial eSeries with three wins and three poles from five starts and is looking forward to continuing to make his mark following a “practice event” held over the weekend.
“We’re all starting from scratch, so I’ll try to do the same thing I did in the first series: be smart, make good decisions and be as fast as I can,” said Denes. “I think the practice sessions have gone pretty smoothly, not too many incidents. I kept it fairly clean and was running up front toward the end of the practice race. It’s definitely different from the road courses and I think anyone can win. I don’t think it will be hard to come from the back – I fell out of the top 10 a couple of times and within a few laps was back up toward the front. The shorter race format will work well on the ovals, especially since we have so many drivers. I think it will make for a better show, especially when you add in the draft – we could see 10 or 15 different leaders.”
Among a wide array of drivers likely to be in contention from an intensely competitive field is Ryan Norman, from Aurora, Ohio, who claimed his first real-life Indy Lights victory for Andretti Autosport at World Wide Technology Raceway in 2018.
“It took a while for me to get used to this (Pro Mazda) car,” said Norman, from Aurora, Ohio, who joined the initial Ricmotech eSeries for the final two events and posted the fastest practice time at Gateway over the weekend. “The previous series was my first time on iRacing and it’s weird when you can’t feel the rear of the car. But I’m very familiar with the track at Gateway and I really love it. I’ve always been confident there and grabbed a win in Indy Lights, so I hope that can translate here.
“It was fine running by yourself but running in the draft with other cars meant getting used to rolling speed into the corner when you don’t have a feel if it’s pushing or loose. And with the reverse grid, it’s good to know we can come from the back and run up front. The practice race almost had a Freedom 100 feel, with the number of lead changes and passes back and forth. I feel that if we can be patient and keep it clean, we’ll be in good shape for the last 10 laps.”
Also joining the full field of 36 entries at Gateway is popular Uruguayan Santi Urrutia, who won the Pro Mazda crown in 2015 and is set for a return to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires this year with HMD Motorsports following a one-year sabbatical.
“I think this is cool, it’s fun,” said Urrutia. “I’m new to iRacing, so everything is new. But I think I can be competitive, as long as I don’t crash! It’s good to do something for the fans during this time when we’re not racing. I know it’s just a game but, like real life, everyone wants to win, so the competition is real. If you take it seriously, it’s still pressure and it keeps you sharp. I couldn’t be part of the first series, so I’m learning the car – or relearning, really, since this is the car I drove in 2015 when I won the championship. There are such good memories; it’s the car that gave me a name in America, so I love that car. I know people will be watching from Uruguay.”
As before, each of the TireRack.com-supported races will offer points based on the regular season scoring system, with 30 points for a win, plus additional bonus points for the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award, the TSOLadder.com Fastest Race Lap Award and leading most laps. One more point also is available for anyone who completes a perfect, incident-free race.
All competitors once again will be racing for a cause as all registration fees to enter will be donated into a fund to support COVID-19 relief efforts.
Fans can follow the action on a series of outlets including the Cooper Tire and Tire Rack Facebook pages, the Road to Indy TV website and App, ApexRacingTV’s YouTube and Facebook, the iRacing eSports Network and the series’ respective Facebook platforms. In addition, live coverage will be carried by MAVTV Canada, which will be airing all Indy Lights races live in 2020 when the series returns to action as well as Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship highlight shows.