The second event on the TireRack.com Road to Indy iRacing eSeries Presented by Cooper Tires schedule once again saw a pair of winners as Braden Eves and Max Esterson took the checkered flags following a dramatic double-header on a virtual rendition of the always challenging The Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Mich.
Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, dominated the opening 20-minute race. The 2019 Cooper Tires USF2000 Champion led every lap and posted the fastest race lap for good measure to claim a maximum score of 33 points. His eventual margin of victory was 1.88 seconds over Esterson, although the teenager from Water Mill, N.Y., gained his revenge shortly afterward when he drove calmly through the field from ninth on the grid to take a comfortable victory in Race Two.
The two iRacing standouts took an early stranglehold on the Belle Isle Park streets as Eves secured the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award by a few tenths of a second over Esterson. And while there was virtual carnage farther back amongst the competitive field, Eves and Esterson motored serenely away in the leading two positions. A series of fastest laps enabled Eves to stretch his advantage to two seconds with 10 laps in the books, and even when Esterson set a new benchmark lap with time ticking away, Eves rose to the challenge by establishing a new race lap record of 1:22.49 on the 13th and final lap.
A series of crashes on the opening lap saw teenaged karter Keawn Tandon, from Calabasas, Calif., vault from 10th on the grid to third, although he soon came under attack from an inspired Max Kaeser, from Cincinnati, Ohio, who had started way back in 16th. Kaeser, who finished fourth in Season 2 of the iRacing eSeries last summer, finally came out on top in their battle to fill the final podium position, leaving Tandon to settle for fourth.
Last year’s champion in the Lucas Oil Formula Car Series, Ely Navarro, from Fishers, Ind., kept his head while all around him seemed to be losing theirs by rising from 22nd to fifth. Navarro’s performance earned him the Sabelt Hard Charger Award – and a pair of Sabelt Hero racing gloves.
The top-10 finishers were inverted to set the starting grid for the nightcap race, which meant Timmy Pagliuso – coincidentally also from Fishers, Ind. – was meant to start from the pole. Unfortunately, some technical problems prevented him from taking up his starting position, which left Hayden Bradley, from St. Petersburg, Fla., and Bryson Morris, from Mount Juliet, Tenn., on the front row.
Last year’s Canadian F1600 champion, Mac Clark, from Campbellville, Ont., Canada, quickly moved into the lead from row two of the grid, although by the completion of the next lap Tandon continued his impressive form by working his way through into the lead despite having started in seventh. Morris followed in second, but it wasn’t long before Esterson was hot on his tail.
With Eves having fallen victim to an incident in the opening few yards of the race, Esterson knew this was his opportunity to open up a lead in the championship. He duly picked off Morris on Lap Six, then stalked Tandon menacingly before making his move cleanly under braking just three laps later.
Esterson asserted his superiority with a series of stunningly consistent lap times – four of the last five all within just five-hundredths of a second of each other – to cement the victory.
Englishman Toby Sowery also was on a charge following a disappointing first race which had left him 11th on the grid for Race Two. The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires driver eventually found a way past Tandon with three laps remaining, and was only 2.7 seconds adrift of Esterson at the checkered flag.
Tandon, who didn’t take part in the opening two races last week at Road America, capped an excellent return to the Road to Indy iRacing eSeries by finishing third ahead of Josh Green, from Mount Kisco, N.Y., who also rebounded well from a poor result earlier in the evening. Fellow USF2000 competitor Simon Sikes, from Augusta, Ga., completed the top five, despite starting way back in 20th.
Esterson, who also won the opening race of the season last week at Road America, now holds a relatively comfortable 18-point advantage as the 10-race series continues with another double-header event next Wednesday evening, February 17, on a virtual rendition of the 0.894-mile Iowa Speedway oval in Newton, Iowa.
Provisional championship points after four of 10 races:
1. Max Esterson, 98
2. Braden Eves, 80
3. Josh Green, 62
4. Benjamin Pedersen, 59
5. Mac Clark, 59
6. Bryson Morris, 56
7. Toby Sowery, 46
8. Max Kaeser, 46
9. Michael Myers, 46
10. Keawn Tandon, 41.
Max Esterson (#42 Max Papis Innovations/Amity Search Partners Tatuus PM-18): “I was just trying to survive Lap 1 honestly. It was a big traffic jam and I avoided two or three wrecks. I picked my way through slowly and didn’t make any big moves and it worked out. I was just more patient this time. I knew I had time on my side. I think I was in third with 13 minutes to go so I had plenty of time to make two passes.
“The track was a little slippery but I think with the setup, we were dragging quite a bit, scraping the floor, so when you hit the brake, it would drag and understeer. Once you got on the throttle, the nose would lift to have some clearance and then it would oversteer. I think that was part of the issue. And just driving behind people was super tough with the aero push.”
Toby Sowery (#51 m-start/Kumpf-Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18): “Race Two was good; good fun. I think I was shaking more than I ever had anywhere before. I don’t know what it is about sim racing, but my legs go to jelly. I am no specialist on the simulator so it is a little bit of me being ropey. With the setup, it was a little bit challenging and there was a lot of bottoming in the car so you would get unexpected moments of understeer and oversteer and that’s what set Race One off. I think it was a little bit of me as well as the car.”