Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires competitor Philippe Denes (RP Motorsport USA) dominated a strong 27-car field to win Saturday's opening round of the Ricmotech Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires iRacing eSeries at a virtual Barber Motorsports Park.
Last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship winner Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport), from New Albany, Ohio, finished second following a race-long battle with Andre Castro (Legacy Autosport), from New York, N.Y., who unfortunately spun off on the final lap. Castro’s incident allowed USF2000 driver Eduardo Barrichello (Pabst Racing), from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to complete the podium in third.
The 45-minute race began with Turn 3 Motorsport team owner – and former Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race winner – Peter Dempsey claiming the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award following a frenetic 15-minute qualifying session. Just a few days after celebrating his 21st birthday, Denes, from Carmel, Calif., started alongside on the front row of the grid ahead of Barrichello, DEForce Racing Team Principal – and former NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver – David Martinez, Castro and Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development).
Dempsey took off confidently into the lead but was unable to shake off the attentions of Denes and Barrichello as the top three quickly distanced themselves from the pack.
Martinez maintained fourth at the start, while Castro lost out initially to both Rasmussen and Eves, one of the most successful iRacing sim racers in the field. There was virtual carnage a little farther back in the pack, which allowed 15-year-old USF2000 racer Reece Gold, from Miami, Fla., to jump all the way from 23rd after a poor qualifying run to the top 10 inside just a couple of laps.
Barrichello was the fastest man on the track in the early stages. His pressure on Denes allowed him to move up to second place on Lap 4, only for Denes to reclaim the position a couple of laps later.
Dempsey continued to hold a narrow lead, but only until Lap 8 when the unfortunate Irishman fell foul of a lapped car in Turn 12 and was sent bounding across the grass. Dempsey rejoined in a distant 10th place and was able to work his way up to seventh by the checkered flag.
After gratefully taking over the lead, Denes remained under pressure from Barrichello until a slight error on Lap 13 gifted Denes a little breathing space.
Denes, who posted the TSOLadder.com Fastest Lap of the Race on Lap 7 at 1:17.347, controlled the remainder of the 45-minute race, which was enlivened by a surprise series of pit stops at around the three-quarter distance when all the competitors discovered their identically set-up Pro Mazda cars had been equipped with only five gallons of fuel, rather than the intended seven gallons.
Most of the leaders never skipped a beat, making their fuel stops within a lap of each other. The lone exception was Barrichello, who lost around 10 seconds, dropping him behind the thrilling battle between Eves and Castro. The pair exchanged positions several times before, on the final lap, a slight error by Castro at the Turn Eight/Nine complex enabled Eves to nip past into Turn 12. Castro tried desperately to regain the place, but a robust defense from Eves resulted in Castro spinning. He eventually finished sixth behind the impressive Gold, who emerged ahead of Indy Pro 2000 driver Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing) following another protracted battle.
Behind Dempsey in seventh, Flinn Lazier (Lazier Racing), from Vail, Colo., and Cameron Shields (Legacy Autosport), from Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, were the first lapped drivers in eighth and ninth, with Indy Pro 2000 regular Kory Enders (DEForce Racing), from Sugar Land, Texas, completing the top 10.
Saturday's Road to Indy eSeries opener will be followed later this afternoon by the first round of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge. A host of Road to Indy Presented Presented by Cooper Tires graduates will be among the 25-car starting field, including former champions Josef Newgarden, Oliver Askew, Pato O’Ward, Kyle Kaiser, Conor Daly, Sage Karam, and Kyle Kirkwood.
Round 2 of the Ricmotech Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires iRacing eSeries will be held next Saturday, with drivers taking on the challenge of the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.
Provisional championship points after one of five races:
1. Philippe Denes, 30
2. Braden Eves, 25
3. Eduardo Barrichello, 22
4. Reece Gold, 19
5. Colin Kaminsky, 17
6. Andre Castro, 15
7. Peter Dempsey, 14
8. Flinn Lazier, 13
9. Cameron Shields, 12
10. Kory Enders, 11