After what has been a season full of thrills and emotional finishes, the ISOWC is ready to close out the campaign by going to iRacing’s virtual Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Thirty-three drivers will be racing at the Brickyard on July 31 for the ISOWC 500.
Three-time iRacing Open Indianapolis 500 race winner Brandon Traino qualified on the pole during the Fast Nine Shootout this past weekend with an average speed of 227.753 MPH. This season’s champion, KOVA’s Valtteri Alander, along with Team Talent’s Philip Kraus completed the front row.
The last of the drivers to time their way in was SIMMSA Esports competitor Gusta Grinbergas with an average speed of 226.538 MPH.
Traino described his qualifying run during the shootout as being near-perfect.
“There wasn't much pressure at all. We only had to do minor tweaking to our setup from May for the different format in qualifying,” said Traino. “I felt really good about the consistency of my runs in testing so it was just a matter of going out and putting a smooth run in.”
Alander said he got really worried about qualifying after spinning on his first try. He explained he had already noticed how much slipperier the track had gotten compared to what he was used to, losing the rear end of his car in Turn 1. He avoided having contact with the wall. On his second run, he bumped the wall exiting Turn 4, hurting his final two laps on Day 1.
Alander said it felt nice to qualify up front in the end.
“It feels really nice, especially being there with the likes of Traino and Kraus who are really good drivers,” said Alander. “And to think that I have quite limited knowledge and experience when it comes to Indy, so I have to be really happy about the result.”
Grinbergas said it was one of his hardest days in sim racing. He had been managing and coaching four different teams for the 24 Hours of Spa Powered by Heusinkveld. Grinbergas had gotten through to Bump Day with one run of practice. He said he had more time for Bump Day to practice, but had not slept in a day and a half.
The SIMMSA Esports driver said the pressure during qualifying day was huge.
“I knew that the field would be close and the very limited practice I had didn't help,” said Grinbergas. “With only three runs available, you can't make any mistakes or you won't make the grid.”
One of the interesting storylines from qualifying was Austin Espitee. The Team Talent driver was one of the few drivers in the field who risked taking all three of their available qualified runs. Espitee had qualified when the track had been rubbered in, slowing down the pace.
He originally qualified in 12th place on his first run before dropping to 15th on his second attempt. Espitee then regained 12th on his final attempt.
“The day didn’t go as planned unfortunately. I wasn’t able to go out during my scheduled run due to a prior commitment,” said Espitee. “I wish I could’ve had a shot at the Fast Nine as I know I had the pace. The track was not in our favor by the time I was able to hop in.”
Traino, who drives for ART w/ Team I5G, said his preparation has been going well. He said his team’s setup transferred over really well from May’s official races.
“It’s just a matter of fine tuning a little bit more and seeing if we missed anything major in May,” said Traino.
Espitee and Alander also said their preparation has also been going well.
“The preparation has been better for this race compared to some others for me,” said Espitee. “The team has been practicing more to get back into the rhythm of traffic and what lines to run. I think we have a shot to win come Sunday.”
Grinbergas said it has been more difficult for his team to prepare.
“We're mainly road racers, so the ovals are difficult for us,” said Grinbergas. “We knew that just like at Auto Club Speedway, we wouldn't have any speed in qualifying, but our race pace is looking much stronger.”
In Traino’s opinion, the biggest challenge for the race will be to keep himself in contention. He said with the drafting model, it makes it tough for drivers to make their way to the front of the field. He also said it’s hard to go on a set strategy with some of the oval experience in the field.
“Saving tires and fuel will be the biggest strategy. The further you go on fuel and a chance to cut out a pit stop is huge. Having the tires to hang on and move forward is what you need in order to win this race,” said Espitee. “The two biggest things to look out for would be who goes longest on fuel and who is making moves later in the stint. That will determine who is the best at saving fuel and tires.”
For Alander, his strategy is to finish the first 190 laps, then start racing after that. However, that could change depending on the situation.
“Everything happens really fast so you have to be alert on track,” said Alander. “The same applies to strategy. I think there will be quite a few cautions which will play an important role in the race.”
Both Espitee and Traino said they expect the race to include some exciting racing.
“The dynamic weather should allow for closer racing with more passing at the start,” said Traino. “It'll be a challenge to stay aware and make it to the later stages when things start to spread out.”
Espitee said coming away with the victory would mean a lot.
“I haven’t won a broadcasted 500 of this caliber before and can put a check mark next to that,” said Espitee. “I’m always competitive at Indy so I am hoping Sunday is the day. We have the car, we just need to hit all of our marks. Hopefully I can walk away with an extra $250.”
Grinbergas said after how close he came to victory at Long Beach, he feels a win in the race would be redemption.
Alander also said the same after what happened at Auto Club. He is unsure what type of race could happen this weekend.
“This is a new experience for me so I have to live in the moment and make crucial decisions during the race and hope it plays out well,” said Alander.
For Traino, a win in the ISOWC 500 would help solidify his accomplishments at the speedway in his opinion.
“My team and I have always been successful and competed for wins each year,” said Traino. “I've missed the majority of the season with having to pit NASCAR on the weekends. So to come out and end the season with another 500 win against this caliber of a field would be huge.”
Live coverage of the ISOWC season opener starts at 5:45 p.m. UTC on RaceSpot TV.
This report was written by Justin Prince.