PALMETTO, Fla. – Philippe Denes, representing the Italian-owned RP Motorsport USA team, once again displayed his mastery of the sim racing world by scoring an emphatic virtual victory Saturday at the Circuit of The Americas.
Denes, 21, from Carmel, Calif., is now unbeaten after two rounds of the five-race Ricmotech Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires iRacing eSeries.
A remarkably clean 45-minute race ended with Brazilian Eduardo Barrichello in second place, almost seven seconds behind the winner, with Turn 3 Motorsport team principal – and former Indy Lights race winner – Peter Dempsey bouncing back from disappointment one week ago to round out the podium.
“I’m really happy to get this win,” Denes said. “I was under a lot of pressure at the beginning, so I think I was just over driving way too much in the first 10 minutes and that allowed Barrichello to catch back up. We exchanged the lead a couple of times but I was able to break the draft and then just started laying down the laps. I had a really good pit stop and the rest was history. I’d done a few practice pit stops and it felt pretty simple so I stuck with that plan. It was a great race and I’m really happy to get this. Two-for-two is a perfect start, I’m really excited for the rest of the races.”
One week after claiming an historic first Road to Indy eSeries victory at Barber Motorsport Park, Denes was virtually in a class by himself this week at the challenging and undulating 3.41-mile home of the United States Formula One Grand Prix. Denes was fastest in practice, then secured another championship point by heading the 15-minute qualifying session and securing the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award.
Denes capitalized on his pace advantage by making a perfect start from pole position and leading the 32-strong field of identically setup Pro Mazda cars up the hill toward the iconic left-handed turn one hairpin. Outside front row starter Barrichello slotted into second ahead of third-place qualifier Dempsey, while a good jump from iRacing expert Braden Eves allowed the 2019 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship winner to move up two positions to fourth ahead of Exclusive Autosport teammate and series debutant Christian Brooks who had started eighth.
Barrichello, the 18-year-old son of former Ferrari F-1 race winner Rubens Barrichello, remained seemingly glued to Denes’ rear wing for the first few laps before, on lap six, taking advantage of a big aerodynamic draft on the long back straightaway to grasp the lead in turn 12.
But not for long. Next time around, Denes performed an almost identical maneuver to regain the lead while at the same time posting what was to remain as the fastest lap of the race (worth an additional championship point) at 1:58.03.
Barrichello remained in close proximity, pushing Denes to his limits, but only until the mandatory pit stops for virtual fuel. Denes dived into the pit lane after 13 laps, while Barrichello tried to take advantage by remaining out on track for one more lap. The ploy didn’t work in his favor. Once the stops had been completed, Denes found himself with an increased advantage of over two and a half seconds. The gap ballooned to over five seconds on lap 17, when Barrichello made a mistake, but second place was enough for Barrichello to move up one slot in the points table after finishing third in the opening race.
Dempsey ran a relatively lonely third throughout, well clear of Andre Castro, who rebounded impressively from an incident on the opening lap which dropped him outside the top 15.
Castro found a way past Brooks soon after the mid-race pit stops, leaving the Californian to finish comfortably ahead of Eves, who fought back strongly after being instructed to serve a drive-through penalty on lap seven. Eves emerged narrowly on top of a thrilling battle with 2019 Formula 4 champion Kiko Porto, last year’s Lucas Oil School Race Series champion Prescott Campbell, who recovered from a quick spin on lap 17, and Flinn Lazier.
As in real life, the Road to Indy eSeries serves as an introduction to the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. Road to Indy graduates fared well in last week’s season opener, with former Cooper Tires USF2000 and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion Sage Karam taking the victory ahead of former Indy Lights race winner Felix Rosenqvist. Last year’s Indy Lights champion, Oliver Askew, who is set to make his NTT IndyCar Series debut this year, finished fifth.