America’s National Park of Speed, Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. – or at least its virtual cousin – will host Round Four of the Ricmotech Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires iRacing eSeries on Saturday afternoon, April 18.
A full field of 28 Pro Mazda cars will start the 45-minute race, whittled down from a bumper entry of 37 drivers who are slated to take part in an intense 15-minute qualifying session beginning at 12:45 p.m. EDT to set the grid with the green flag flying at 1:04 p.m.
iRacing expert Phillippe Denes, 21, from Carmel, Calif., has opened up a commanding lead in the points table, 96-69 over his closest challenger, second-generation racer Eduardo Barrichello (Pabst Racing), from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Such has been Denes’ domination that a fourth consecutive victory for RP Motorsport USA’s Indy Pro 2000 regular, plus the accumulation of one bonus point for taking the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award, the TSOLadder.com Fastest Race Lap Award or leading most laps would be enough to clinch the inaugural Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires simulated racing title and bragging rights.
But there is no shortage of virtual racers looking to knock Denes off his perch.
Prime among them will be reigning Cooper Tires USF2000 champion Braden Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, who was embroiled in a thrilling duel with Denes in last weekend’s race on the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course before being edged on the line by less than one tenth of a second. Eves, who is set to graduate to the next level of the Road to Indy this year with the Canadian-based Exclusive Autosport team, currently stands third in the points table, just three shy of Barrichello.
“I’m excited for this race at Road America,” said Eves. “Last week I had the fastest lap and the best pace on track, (but) just made a timing mistake on the last lap. Ultimately, I was the first person to challenge Phil this virtual racing season and I feel I have the same very good pace at Road America. I was quickest in the first practice session and I’m looking to carry that forward.”
Newcomers to the field this weekend will include Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran Ryan Norman (Andretti Autosport), from Aurora, Ohio, Wisconsin-based New Zealander Hunter McElrea, who burst onto the North American scene last year by finishing a close second to Eves in his rookie USF2000 campaign, Canadian Antoine Comeau with Turn 3 Motorsport and Californian karter Keawn Tandon, who will drive for Jay Howard Driver Development this year.
The race will hold a special significance for McElrea, 20, who claimed his first Road to Indy victory at his Pabst Racing team’s home track last June and has been avidly following the opening rounds of the iRacing eSeries while awaiting delivery of a new simulator setup.
“It looks awesome, and the RTI combined with Ricmotech have done a great job in making it very professional,” said McElrea. “I’ve never watched so many races with all my rivals driving while sitting on the couch, so I am eager to have a go!
“I obviously have great memories from Road America with last year’s success and it being a home race for my team. I’m a little rusty (on simulators) so my expectations are not too high, and I think if I can get in the top 10 it will be a good start.”
All competitors will be racing for a cause as all registration fees to enter will be donated into a fund to support COVID-19 relief efforts. Utilizing the current Road to Indy points system, a champion will be crowned who will direct the distribution of the money raised to a good cause.
Fans can follow the weekly action on a series of outlets including the Cooper Tire Facebook page, the Road to Indy TV website and App, ApexRacingTV’s YouTube and Facebook, the iRacing eSports Network and the series’ respective Facebook platforms. In addition, live coverage will be carried by MAVTV Canada, which will be airing all Indy Lights races live in 2020 when the series returns to action as well as Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship highlight shows.