After a race which featured big incidents and big strategy calls, Valtteri Alander has won the opening race of the ISOWC season at iRacing’s virtual Watkins Glen International. Alander set the pace much of the day in the opening race of the ISOWC season, leading 26 of the 60 laps.
The KOVA driver won by more than 10 seconds over Team Talent’s Philip Kraus. Yohann Harth, Pedro Sanchez Albert and João Vaz completed the rest of the top five.
“What an unexpected result to be honest,” said Alander. “It was nice to see the pace was okay. Really nice feeling.”
Kraus said he wanted to be conservative on how he approached the race coming in. “Going into this, I don’t think I was thinking about a championship,” said Kraus. “Going into it, I would say I was not on the same level of these guys. But, I’d say this race is a huge confidence booster.”
Zac Campbell set the pace for the day early in qualifying by running a session-best 1:24.414. The Apex Racing Team w/ Team I5G driver had also had the quickest times in Free Practice 1 and 2 earlier in the week.
Several big names were eliminated from the 50-car qualifying session, including Brendan Lichtenberg, Markus Dec, Andrew Kinsella and Alex Ellis. Per regulations, 32 cars are to make the field for the road course races in ISOWC. Dean Woods of YAS HEAT and Bryan Carey of Powerslide Motorsports scored the 16th and final spots in their respective 25-car groups to make the field.
Attrition was a big part of the race in its early stages.
The first major incident struck in the Esses on the first lap after IIlkka Haapala went wide in Turn 1, then hit Pierre Verne’s left side pod on the rejoin. Both cars then spun against the ARMCO barrier for several feet before Verne bounced off the wall into the path of Balazs Remenyik. The incident filled Turn 2 with smoke as cars piled into the incident, blocking the track.
The crash immediately triggered the first caution flag of the season. Overall, seven drivers were involved in the incident.
Then, on Lap 5, Brandon Traino triggered the second caution of the day after bouncing into Sai Andra’s right rear tire in the Bus Stop. Traino clipped the grass, sending him sliding into the sand trap and the tire barrier. He then ran across the track as his front wing sheared off. Adam Blocker made contact with Traino in the process, destroying the left side of his wing.
Several competitors, including Joshua Chin, Bryan Carey and Joao Valverde, elected to come down the pit lane under caution to top off on fuel. Drivers before the race expected the race to take three stops on fuel.
On the following restart, Adam Crane bobbled heading through the same section. As Crane checked up to hold on to his car, Josh Lad hit him hard in the rear wing, sending Crane into the left side wall. The hit sent several pieces of Crane’s front wing and side pods across the track, sending Xavi Ros and Andreas Eik spinning. Crane then bounced across the track into the path of Carl Jansson, collecting Henry Bennett in the process. Bennett only lost his front wing in the incident.
Things would change fast for the race lead on Lap 18 when Campbell, who had been leading by several seconds, slid his car in Toe. Campbell locked up the brakes and slid hard into the tire barrier at the left side of the track, destroying his front wing.
After his incident got repairs done, Campbell let several competitors by after dealing with issues with his car before sliding driving off the track and into the tire barrier a second time. No caution was triggered from the incident. Campbell went on to finish 18th.
Then, on Lap 37, José Soria hit the back of Bryan Carey coming out of the Esses, sending Soria spinning across the track. It would be enough to cause the fourth yellow of the day.
The caution turned the event into a track position race with Alander cycling to the lead ahead of Blocker and Harth. Alander pulled away by as much as eight seconds after the restart with Adam Blocker on seven-lap older red-walled tires.
On Lap 44, the craziness continued after Valverde was hit from behind by Andra, collecting Graham Sanders. The three crashed hard to the left side of the track, but did not bring out a caution. Several cars, including Soria, Henry Bennett and Campbell had to dart into the pit lane to avoid the incident.
Alexander Walton stayed out on track for a longer period of time hoping for an additional caution, but to no avail.
Blocker also struggled in the closing laps, dropping from third to sixth in the span of a lap and a half after the final stops. The Powerslide Motorsports driver’s day then got worse as he collided with Manuel Domingo in the Bus Stop on Lap 57. Both drivers crashed into the tire barrier, destroying their front wings.
Overall, 12 drivers did not finish the race.
Next time, ISOWC will be going to iRacing’s virtual Sebring International Raceway on June 5. The green flag is scheduled for 6 p.m. UTC on RaceSpot TV.
This report was written by Justin Prince.