Last Tuesday the 16th Street Racing League was at Michigan International Speedway for 100 laps around the 2 mile oval. Michigan is in one word, AWESOME. It’s big, wide, and super fast. The IZOD IndyCar’s are perfectly suited for here. You can run flat out in multiple grooves and if you hook up with the right cars you can really run some people down.
Coming into this race I was extremely excited. I knew I had an incredibly fast car that was going to be a threat to win the race. It’s crazy how realistic iRacing can be. The setup on your car is so important that it can literally destroy your chances in a race. You have to find the happy medium between a fast car and a car that handles well. Sometimes you have to take a hit on one side or the other and this past week my car was mega-quick but handled a bit “funny.”
I spent most of practice grouping up with 4-5 other cars to see how my car handled in the draft. It took me a bit to get used to the handling as I had understeer on corner entry, oversteer in the center, and understeer on exit. As you can imagine, this kept me on my toes. If I was on the bottom entering the corner I had to come off the throttle a bit to keep it underneath the car next to me which was then quickly followed by counter steering as the back end slid around in the center. All in all, after practice I felt like I was in for a good race. If I could get out front I knew I was going to be FAST.
We run two lap qualifying on the big (2 mile plus) ovals so you really have to be on it right from the moment you exit the pits. I managed to string together two pretty solid laps and finished with a fast time of 31.830 seconds putting me in 4th position. John Paquin continued to show his oval prowess with a quick time of 31.725, which was good enough for the pole. Scott Manifold (P2), Tim Holgate (P3), and former Nationwide Series and current USAC driver Billy Wease (P5) completed the first few rows. From first to fifth the time split was only .108 of a second!
The race started out great. Everyone gave each other a ton of room and we had no problems. I picked up one spot at the start and by lap 2 I was up to second place. Billy Wease got loose coming into turn 2 on the fourth lap allowing me to sneak by and take the lead. Once I got into the clean air my car really hooked up. I managed to stay out front for 37 laps. The downside to leading is you burn a lot more fuel. As lap 42 approached I had to pit. Billy followed me into pit lane so I was confident I would be ok as I had someone to draft with after my stop. Billy and I raced off pit lane and I was coming out just a touch ahead. I moved over to the left to give him more room as he was getting a little too close for comfort. My mistake… there’s a massive bump at the exit of the pits and when I hit it around I went. Rather than try to correct the car and risk slamming into Billy I turned with the spin, spun the car around, got it pointed straight and took off. I got back to the race track in 21st place. It was painful and I knew I had some work ahead of me.
John Paquin also spun on pit road during his stop which would prove to be my lucky break. He pulled back onto the track just behind me, we hooked up, and started gaining on the lead pack. By lap 56 I was back in 6th place with about a 2.5 second gap between my group and the leaders. Once again, leading a group of cars hurt me. I had to pit quite early compared to some drivers, a few even made it to the end. I came in on lap 85 to get tires and fuel. I came out in 16th place with 15 laps to go. It was time to get moving. I started running as hard as I could and by lap 94 I had moved back up to 8th place. I was passing cars on the outside all by myself and it was a blast. Absolutely some of the most fun I’ve ever had on this sim. On lap 95 I came off turn 4 on the outside of Highcroft Racing engineer Ben Bretzman. I had been going wheel to wheel with this group for about 3 laps. As we came across the start finish Ben and I touched wheels sending us both into the grass. I came so close to saving the car. I actually got it pointed straight and thought I was going to be ok. If pitwall would have been about 6 inches to the left I would have made it through. Unfortunately I clipped the wall, flipped over, and shot up the track bringing out the first yellow of the race. I felt bad for multiple reasons. I had taken out Ben and I thought the race was going to finish under caution because of my mistake, snatching away a potential win from the guys up front. Luckily we got a green-white-checkered.
As the field came to the green it was Tim Doyle in the lead, with Vincent Sciuto, John Paquin, Billy Wease and Kevin Cress following closely behind. Tim got a great start and hauled the car off into turn 1. It looked like he had the win secured. Just when it seemed that way Vincent Sciuto and John Paquin got a big tow going down the backstretch. This was shaping up to be great finish. As they came off of turn 4 Tim hugged the bottom, Vincent tried to stay in his tow while John Paquin took his own line and tried to go around on the high side. As they crossed the start/finish it was Tim Doyle out front, Vincent Sciuto in second, and John Paquin in third. The top three were only separated by .098 of a second! Quite the finish!
This week we move on to Road Atlanta. This is probably one of the most difficult road courses we go to. It’s a fast, narrow, and twisty track with very few passing zones. With 30 cars in the races there can be some big disparities in speed. It can make the race pretty nerve racking as you’ll close in on drivers who are going 40-50 mph slower through a corner than you may be going. All these factors make winning (and surviving) the race all that much more rewarding. Check out these highlights from our last race at Road Atlanta: