The iconic roar of American horsepower was heard deep within Belgium’s Ardem Forest as the Trans Am by Pirelli Esports Championship made its first virtual visit to Circuit de Spa-Francochamps on Saturday.
While it was the maiden visit to the renowned Formula One circuit, the Trans Am esports drivers delivered classic Spa racing with dicey battles, brilliant overtakes in the corners and championship-implicating collisions.
Under massive pressure from Josh Hurley, Tyler Kicera (No. 4 Howe Racing Ent/Carbotech Brakes) drove flawlessly to the finish line for his fourth victory of the season. With the win and a fourth-place finish in Race 2, Kicera secured the championship lead and now holds a six point advantage over Hurley heading into the penultimate event.
Dylan Archer (No. 32 Archer Brothers Racing) claimed his first Trans Am esports win in Race 2 of the doubleheader.
“It was really intense trying to hold Josh (Hurley) off and not make mistakes,” said Kicera. “Josh is so quick here that he reeled me back in and that really kept the pressure on me. But Josh keeps it real clean. I was doing a little mirror driving but at the end of the day. All around it was an excellent weekend for us and I’m looking forward to the final two events.”
The opening round was a tale of two championship contenders, Hurley and Kicera.
Entering the round leading the championship by four points, Hurley (No. 03 Jetco Racing/McAleese & Assoc) confidently shot to the top of the qualifying times early, securing pole position by .242-seconds over Kicera with a fast time of 2:16.675-seconds.
Running side-by-side off the standing start, the pair jostled for position entering the famous Raidillon, Eau Rouge turn sequence. Squeezing to the inside of Hurley, Kicera slipped by to take the lead. Kicera built more than a five second gap over second-place Hurley with five laps left in the nine-lap race. But, Hurley was up for the challenge. Chipping away on Kicera’s gap, Hurley charged to Kicera’s bumper by the final lap.
Hurley found an opening to pass on the Kemmel Straight, but Kicera was quick to defend his lead. Hurley weaved back and forth from behind trying to pressure Kicera into a mistake. Keeping his cool from Hurley’s torrid campaign for the point, Kicera conquered Spa to tie the championship going into the second race.
“The first lap of the race was interesting,” Hurley explained. “I didn’t realize, and neither did Tyler (Kicera) until we did it, that starting on pole actually puts you at a disadvantage, because second place can get a bit of a tow to get ahead. Once he got the lead, there was so much aero-turbulence, especially through Eau Rouge, that the front end of my car almost came a foot off the ground when in tow. All I could do was hang in there and hope Tyler made a mistake, he didn’t.”
Edward Sevadjian (No. 38 Big Machine Vodka/Leadfoot Racing/Duntov Motors) started and finished Race 1 in third for another podium finish.
“I knew I didn’t quite have the speed to beat those guys on merit so I tried to be careful and hang around, hoping an opportunity would present itself to move forward,” explained Sevadjian. “I love this track and hope to have the opportunity to race here someday. Big thanks to Big Machine Vodka, I carry my Big Machine Vodka hand sanitizer to every race, including the virtual ones.”
In the inverted grid, the infamous Spa corners collected several drivers including Hurley and Kicera in Race 2.
Archer started from pole-position after finishing ninth in the first race with Carl Rydquist (No. 46 MyRaceShop.com/Prototype Development Group) sharing the front row. Rydquist got the jump on Archer off the standing start to take the lead before Turn 1. In Rydquist’s tow, Archer managed the gap for six laps before taking a pop at Rydquist.
Hounding Rydquist through the Bus Stop, Archer made a switchback move and the pair barreled down the front straight wheel to wheel. In a classic Spa overtake in Eau Rouge, Archer took the lead, swooping in to claim the checkered for the first time.
“The second race went just as planned after I managed to recover from an early wreck in Race 1 to start on pole for Race 2,” Archer said. “I have to thank Carl (Rydquist ) for racing clean. That was a lot of fun. I got a draft coming out of the back straightaway, and I was able to gain on him. I noticed I was braking later than him in the Chicane every lap, so I decided to go around. I tried a switchback move, it didn’t work, so I tried it again in the next corner. He got the better run going around the outside but I got another draft through Eau Rouge. I was able to make it stick that time. I was looking forward to this track and it was nice to have some luck here.”
Rydquist tried to retake the lead for a final time on the last lap, but it didn’t stick. Rydquist’s hunt for first turned to him trying to hold position as John Paul Southern Jr. (No. 61 Southern Motorsports/PittRace.com) challenged the Swedish-born driver in the final moments of the race for second. Rydquist defended Southern Jr.’s advances to finish the race in second with Southern Jr. claiming his second podium finish of the season in third.
”Great race today at a very difficult track, had a great time in the MyRaceShop.com Factory Five Racing GT car.,” said Rydquist. “Congrats to (Dylan) Archer, he showed great racecraft and sportsmanship to win it fair and square. Hats off. I am happy to be moving closer to the front and hope to take the final step soon.”
Kicera recovered from a Lap 1 incident to finish fourth while Hurley crossed the line in eighth after a late race collision sent him spinning off track.
“It was a really frustrating race, especially since for the second time I was punted by a guest driver who had no bearing on the championship,” said Hurley. “The championship run for me is probably over at this point.”
Juan Manuel Correa made his virtual return to the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps Saturday for the first time since his near fatal crash at the legendary Belgium circuit almost one year ago. The FIA Formula 2 driver completed his debut with a stout top-10 finish in Race 2.
The fabled Bridgehamption Race Circuit will stage the penultimate round of the Trans Am by Pirelli Esports Championship continues Saturday, June 13 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.
Full replays of the race can be found by downloading the Trans Am by Pirelli app for free:
Apple App: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/trans-am-by-pirelli-racing/id1494720210