PALMETTO, Fla. – There were a pair of deserving winners when the inaugural Ricmotech Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires iRacing eSeries wrapped up Saturday at a virtual rendition of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Braden Eves, last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 champion who lives less than an hour from the real track in New Albany, Ohio, scored a dominant first eSeries victory for Exclusive Autosport, leading throughout the 45-minute, 36-lap race, while second place for fellow Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires contender Phillippe Denes was enough for the Californian to secure the first Road to Indy virtual championship.
Eduardo Barrichello maintained his 100 percent record of podium finishes in the five-race series by taking third for Pabst Racing.
By virtue of his championship, Denes elected the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund as the recipient of the $2,600 raised through driver entry fees and a $500 donation by TSOLadder.com.
“This is a track that I’ve always wanted to do well at – we always have a lot of fans come out in real life,” Eves said. “There’s always a lot of pressure to perform at the home event and I didn’t have the results last year so this is nice. It was a great race. I probably felt the least pressure today than any of the other races. Phil had some technical issues that helped us in the beginning, but I think I had the pace to win either way. I didn’t do a ton of practice but I felt as though I was prepped and ready to go. I made a mistake on my fastest lap in qualifying but it was a fun race and a really fun series. Awesome job by everyone at Ricmotech, the Road to Indy for putting this on.”
Denes began the final event with a healthy 19-point championship lead, needing only a solid finish to put the title beyond the reach of his rivals. The 21-year-old from Carmel duly posted the fastest time in the usual, hectic 15-minute qualifying session to secure his third pole, worth an additional bonus point.
But after enduring a disappointing weekend at his home track last year, Eves, 20, got the jump on Denes at the start and never looked back.
Eves extended his advantage to over four seconds before making his mandatory pit stop for a virtual fuel top-up after 22 laps, then maintained a remarkably consistent pace at the front of the field to secure the victory. Eves also became the only driver during the entire iRacing eSeries to claim an extra bonus point for posting an entirely incident-free-race. He finally took the checkered flag 2.958 seconds clear of Denes, who had to contend with some technical connectivity issues but was content to follow him home in second, secure in the knowledge that the championship crown was his.
After qualifying a slightly disappointing sixth in the closely matched field of 28 cars – whittled down from a total of 35 entrants – Barrichello took advantage of several cars tangling at Turn 12 on the second lap to move into third place. He then proceeded to enjoy a lengthy tussle with fellow Brazilian Kiko Porto which continued all the way until lap 27 – long after the pit stops – when Porto lost control and spun off at Turn One. Porto’s only consolation was an additional bonus point for posting what was to stand as the fastest lap of the race.
Christian Brooks, Andre Castro and Cameron Shields also were embroiled in the third-place battle for much of the race. Brooks and Castro came together immediately after their pit stops, dropping them from contention, although Castro recovered to finish eighth.
Shields, making a strong comeback to the series after missing the last three weekends, survived to finish fourth ahead of Singaporean Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire competitor Danial Frost, who worked his way up from 13th on the grid.