The 2021 Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season is under way – at least in the virtual world as a pair of races comprising the Hyperco Grand Prix of Road America were held this evening as the opening two rounds of the new five-event, 10-race TireRack.com Road to Indy iRacing eSeries Presented by Cooper Tires.
Max Esterson, from Water Mill, N.Y., dominated the opening 20-minute race after starting from the pole, while Benjamin Pedersen, from Seattle, Wash., took the honors in Race Two after also leading the entire distance. Pedersen, who will make his real-world debut in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in March with Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports, took the early lead in the championship by virtue of a 10th-place finish in the earlier contest, albeit tied on points with Braden Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, who followed up a second-place finish in the opening race with fifth in Race Two.
A field of 30 drivers contested the opening races, all aboard a virtual version of the Tatuus PM-18, as used in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.
Esterson, 16, an acknowledged ace in the virtual world and a race winner in last year’s FRP F1600 Championship Series, secured the first SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award of the new season, worth an additional bonus point, after posting the fastest time in a top-six final shootout following a “regular” 12-minute qualifying session.
Esterson quickly made a break from the field and was never seriously challenged in Race One. His eventual margin of victory was a little over four seconds. Esterson also claimed the bonus point for setting the fastest lap of the race.
Eves, the 2019 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship winner who is now fully recovered from a frightening Indy Pro 2000 crash last year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, secured second after fighting off a determined challenge from Road to Indy veteran Nikita Lastochkin, from Los Angeles, Calif.
Young Canadian Mac Clark, a dominant winner of the 2020 Canadian F1600 Championship, made up two positions in the final couple of laps to take fourth ahead of Brazilian Kiko Porto and 13-year-old Dan Dybdahl, from Grand Island, Fla., the youngest driver in the field who earned his position by virtue of winning the opening round of the World Karting Association’s A-Maxx Racing eSports Series Presented by Summit Racing Equipment.
Pedersen, a race winner last year in the BRDC British Formula 3 Championship, had seemed set for fourth place until slipping to 10th on the final lap. But with the top 10 positions being reversed to set the grid for Race Two, Pedersen duly lined up on pole position for the nightcap.
A pair of separate incidents within the first few hundred yards delayed several potential contenders, including front row starter Dylan Christie, from Princeton, N.J., and allowed Pedersen to quickly make a break after the first four-mile lap was completed under caution.
In Pedersen’s wake, Dybdahl and Michael Myers, from Lizton, Ind., initially battled for second place before being caught by Josh Green, from Mount Kisco, N.Y., who had been involved in the opening skirmishes before quickly working his way back into contention.
Green, who will enter his sophomore USF2000 season with Turn 3 Motorsport, continued his progress by slipping past Myers and Dybdahl on consecutive laps to cement a fine second-place finish. Myers narrowly held off the impressive Dybdahl for the final podium position with Eves and Andretti Autosport Indy Lights racer Danial Frost, from Singapore, completing the top six.
Evan Stamer, from Glen Carbon, Ill., earned the Sabelt Hard Charger Award – and a pair of Sabelt Hero racing gloves – for picking up a total of 19 positions during the course of the two races.
The next two races will be held next Wednesday evening, February 10, at The Raceway on Belle Isle in Belle Isle Park, Detroit, Mich.
Provisional championship points after two of 10 races:
1. Benjamin Pedersen, 42
2. Braden Eves, 42
3. Max Esterson, 41
4. Josh Green, 38
5. Dean Dybdahl, 34
6. Mac Clark, 32
7. Michael Myers, 29
8. Bryson Morris, 28
9. Nikita Lastochkin, 26
10. Dylan Christie, 24.
Max Esterson (#42 Max Papis Innovations/Amity Search Partners Tatuus PM-18): “It was nice to have no one in front of me but it was kind of more of a complex race than I was hoping for. My first concern was Braden (Eves) coming back through the field. I knew I had to keep it above the two-second gap in order for him not to close in. Once I opened that up to three seconds, I looked over at my fuel number and realized I was going to be pretty tight on fuel. From there on, I was saving maybe a tenth of a liter per lap to make it to the end. Apart from the fuel, it was all I expected and it was fun.”
Benjamin Pedersen (#8 DirtFish/Bell Helmets/The Heart of Racing-Global Racing Group w/ HMD Motorsports Tatuus PM-18): “That was a tough race mentally just trying to stay focused the whole race. Obviously the start was pretty chaotic, but once I got some clean air I was just super focused to not make any mistakes. I am happy to get the win. This new PM-18 car on iRacing, the whole model just works really well. I have driven this car in real life. It is really a great platform for drivers here in the series to just focus on racing. The car is in a really good window and it allows us to focus on racecraft and, in general, a great way to start the year and get the mindset going. I really enjoyed it.”