Two dramatic virtual races on the ultra-fast, high-banked Iowa Speedway oval provided a very different storyline for the TireRack.com Road to Indy iRacing eSeries Presented by Cooper Tires as NTT INDYCAR SERIES veteran James Davison, from Melbourne, Australia, and USF2000 aspirant Bryson Morris, from Mount Juliet, Tenn., each claimed a hard-earned victory.
Teenagers Max Kaeser and Keawn Tandon finished second and third in the opening 20-minute race following a thrilling race-long battle, while Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin and Michael Myers, from Lizton, Ind., completed the podium in the second encounter.
Veteran virtual racer Andre Castro, from New York, N.Y. seemed set to be the man to beat after posting the fastest lap in qualifying to secure his first SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award of the season.
The evening did not start well for the unfortunate Danial Frost, from Singapore, whose fine effort in qualifying, which saw him line up on the outside of the front row of the 29-car grid, came to naught when he was involved in a huge crash on the opening lap. Fellow top-10 qualifiers Josh Green, from Mount Kisco, N.Y., Morris, Yuven Sundaramoorthy, from Oconomowoc, Wis., and local favorite Jarret Schwarz, from Davenport, Iowa, who earned his position in the field by winning the most recent round of the World Karting Association Maxx Racing eSports Series, also were caught up in the melee which necessitated a full-course caution.
More incidents at the restart also took several other contenders out of contention, including Castro and Simon Sikes, from Augusta, Ga., who had been battling for the lead.
Davison, who started eighth, took full advantage, albeit chased by a snarling pack of four rivals comprising Kaeser, Mac Clark, the winner of last year’s Canadian F1600 Championship, WKA standout Carmine Caruso, from New Hyde Park, N.Y., who had started 19th, and Tandon.
The quartet remained virtually tied together for the remainder of the race, with Davison using all of his experience to cling tenaciously to the inside groove and never allowing Kaeser any opportunity to make a pass. He eventually took the checkered flag a scant 0.165 of a second ahead of Kaeser. Tandon mirrored his third-place finish from one week ago on the streets of The Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Mich., followed by Clark and Caruso, who ran as high as third before losing a couple of positions just three laps from the finish. Caruso also gained some satisfaction – and a bonus championship point – for posting the fastest lap of the race.
As usual, the starting positions for the nightcap were set by the reverse order of the top-10 finishers. So Davison duly lined up in 10th, with points leader Max Esterson, from Water Mill, N.Y., starting from the pole position alongside Hayden Bradley, from St. Petersburg, Fla.
Esterson initially was able to maintain his advantage, but once again there was carnage in his wake which brought out the caution flags. Esterson’s luck ran out at the restart when he spun and was collected by several other contenders.
This time it was Hunter Yeany, from Virginia Beach, Va., who profited the most, vaulting from 13th on the grid to the lead by the completion of Lap Six. Last year’s runaway winner of the F4 United States Championship powered by Honda remained in control for most of the 20-minute race, chased by Castro and Nate Aranda, from Albuquerque, N.M., who had lined up 15th and 16th, respectively.
Aranda spun out of the picture after 13 laps, leaving Yeany, Castro, Morris and Lastochkin to fight it out for the win. And fight they most certainly did. Castro and Yeany traded places several times with around 15 laps remaining, only to eventually tangle together on Lap 42. Both were out.
Morris, who had been a model of consistency over the course of the opening five races of the eSeries season – and one of only two drivers (alongside Clark) to finish in the top 10 on every occasion – took over in the lead and narrowly held off a valiant effort from Lastochkin to claim an excellent victory.
Myers, who started 24th, one position behind Dylan Christie, from Princeton, N.J., reversed that order in the opening stages and maintained his position to the end. In addition to finishing third, Myers also claimed the Sabelt Hard Charger Award – and a pair of Sabelt Hero racing gloves.
The 10-race simulated series will switch back to a natural terrain road course next Wednesday evening, February 24, with a pair of 20-minute races slated for the iconic WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Despite a disappointing evening on the oval, Esterson has managed to maintain his points lead over Morris, whose stellar evening allowed him to vault from sixth to second. The pair will continue their scrap for a top prize of $2,000 plus one hour of simulator time with SimMetric Driver Performance Labs at each race on this year’s Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tire season.
Provisional championship points after six of 10 races:
1. Max Esterson, 121
2. Bryson Morris, 101
3. Braden Eves, 98
4. Mac Clark, 87
5. Max Kaeser, 78
6. Josh Green, 78
7. Benjamin Pedersen, 75
8. Keawn Tandon, 73
9. Michael Myers, 69
10. Nikita Lastochkin, 60
Bryson Morris (#38 Stilo-Performance Analytics Tatuus PM-18): “I had some technical issues and I started a few laps down, so the first race was not good. [Race Two] was definitely a fun and exciting race. The top six were super close and it just phased out towards the end and it was really good racing. In the middle of the race, I would have made a move if it were safe to do so but I just saw how they were racing and I knew something was going to happen so I decided to wait it out. Luckily, for me at least, it did happen in the end.
“I could see Nikita in my virtual mirror but I saw what one and two were doing in the first half of the race when I was in third and I saw that it was working pretty well, so I really just copied it and it worked out pretty well.”
James Davison (#18 SealMaster-BYRD Racing Tatuus PM-18): “Obviously, it was a bit of drive to survive in managing the race once I got out front. I was a little cautious at the beginning not to go loose or drive the car into too much understeer. We saw how both ends of the car could catch people out in the beginning, especially when the whole field was together. I managed to have a good run through the traffic and then just had to manage the race. It was an exciting race. I was looking forward to Race Two, but there was a spin there on the second lap and a bunch of us got taken out.
“[On the Road to Indy] I did Indy Pro 2000 when it was Star Mazda and I did that with Dane Cameron, who of course has gone on to be very successful in sports cars. He and I were rivals in 2007. As a result of having a good year, I remember getting an email from Sam Schmidt, who ran the top Indy Lights team at the time, inviting me to do a shootout in his Indy Lights cars at Sebring and not needing to bring budget to do it, which was a big step in my career. Obviously, that middle step of the Road to Indy helped me to the next one. The test went well and I did a season of Indy Lights and ended up driving my second season for Tony George’s team, Vision Racing. I have good memories there.
“Of course, the 500 is what we all work on doing. I just never gave up. I did Formula BMW before Star Mazda with Robert Wickens. I remember these years and all of these young drivers going through being a teenager and having to make mistakes and just learning and growing. They are great years. You have your whole dream ahead of you. It is stressful but they are very exciting years of your life.”