By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
One stop was all Bob Bryant needed in ‘The Golden State’ on his way to his first career eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series victory.
The Kligerman Sport driver didn’t take the lead until just past the halfway mark of the 200-mile race at the virtual Auto Club Speedway. Bryant was one of just two drivers to make it beyond lap 50 without making a pit stop, Malik Ray was the other.
As the pit cycle continued throughout the caution-free race, the Biloxi, MS native slowly climbed back up the running order. By making it beyond the halfway point of the race, Bryant did not have to worry about saving fuel in his virtual No. 77 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. He swept by his teammate and eNASCAR iRacing Pro Series champion Isaac Gann before setting his sights on Derek Justis.
Taking the Lead
With both Gann and Justis saving fuel, Bryant wasted no time dispatching them. Fittingly, the second-year Coca-Cola Series driver took the lead on lap 77 and never looked back. Even as the tires fell off compared to those on a two pit stop strategy, the time difference was not enough to catch Bryant, let along Justis or Gann.
As the laps wound down, Bryant kept a comfortable pace. Despite being ‘on kill,’ he never over-extended his lead or burnt up his tires. When the checkered flag waved, he was 0.600 seconds ahead of Justis and Gann. It was the first victory for Kligerman Sport since their off-season rebranding.
Bryant’s victory locks him into the eNASCAR Playoffs. He also becomes the fifth different winner this season in five races. Bryant is now the 55th different winner in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series history. He also becomes the only driver to win at Auto Club Speedway in a NASCAR-sanctioned event in 2021.
“I don’t know what to say, just an incredible car … wow, they don’t give these things away,” explained a speechless Bryant. “This series is unbelievably difficult. I’m honestly shocked. Big thanks to John Gorlinsky, Brad Davies, and the Team Conti guys. It was just an incredible car.
“I was sweating it on lap 10 when we were 36th and going backwards. We started going forward about 20 laps into the first run. I knew if we could go an extra couple of laps more than the competition on the first run that it was going to allow us to open the car up the entire second run. That’s exactly how it played out. I had an extra lap of fuel over everybody and didn’t have to save at all the second run.
“The strategy worked out, played it from the start of the race. It was either going to be zero or hero and now we’re here. It’s awesome.”
Where This Accomplishment Sits
Although Bryant is just in his second year of Coca-Cola Series competition, he is a veteran of the sim racing world. The iRacing competitor has 20 years of experience in sim racing.
“This ranks number one, it just is,” explained Bryant. “The level of competition is unlike anything else that I’ve ever done. Had a lot of great competition over the years, a lot of big races, but there is absolutely nothing that compares to this series. There’s a reason why everyone’s so emotional (to be able to win) and happy when they’re able to do it. It’s so freaking hard.”
Gorlinsky and Matt Bussa completed the top-five. Zack Nichols, pole sitter Keegan Leahy, Bobby Zalenski, Mitchell deJong, and Michael Guest rounded out the top-10.
With wins to fall back on, both Leahy and Michael Conti called audibles and went on an alternate strategy. Although both drivers were on a two-stop strategy, Leahy pitted early, on lap 20, before returning to pit road on lap 56. Conti, on the other hand, stopped around lap 40 before returning around lap 60. While Leahy finished inside the top-10, Conti was forced to settle for a 16th-place finish.
The only incident in the race happened early in the first fuel run. A block from defending champion Nick Ottinger on Ryan Luza put the XSET Gaming driver into the outside wall. Since both drivers continued, the caution did not wave. Luza plummeted down the running order due to the damage and finished 39th, one lap down.
1. 77-Bob Bryant , 2. 37-Derek Justis , 3. 44-Isaac Gann , 4. 16-John Gorlinsky , 5. 75-Matt Bussa , 6. 29-Zack Nichols , 7. 32-Keegan Leahy , 8. 83-Bobby Zalenski , 9. 23-Mitchell deJong , 10. 9-Michael Guest , 11. 3-Corey Vincent , 12. 11-Malik Ray , 13. 2-Garrett Manes , 14. 90-Zack Novak , 15. 47-Brian Schoenburg , 16. 8-Michael Conti , 17. 52-Jake Matheson , 18. 25-Nick Ottinger , 19. 97-Logan Clampitt , 20. 17-Steven Wilson , 21. Chris Shearburn , 22. 21-Garrett Lowe , 23. 10-Graham Bowlin , 24. 41-Dylan Duval , 25. 46-Jimmy Mullis , 26. 38-Casey Kirwan , 27. 66-Blake Reynolds , 28. 88-Brad Davies , 29. 6-Nathan Lyon , 30. 15-Caine Cook , 31. 18-Femi Olat , 32. 67-Allen Boes , 33. 55-Vicente Salas , 34. 24-Jake Nichols , 35. 33-Taylor Hurst , 36. 51-Ray Alfalla  37. 1-Ashton Crowder , 38. 14-Blade Whitt , 39. 4-Ryan Luza , 40. 79-Ryan Doucette .
Lead Changes: 13 among eight drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Keegan Leahy 1-19, Michael Conti 20-27, Nick Ottinger 28, Michael Conti 29-30, Bobby Zalenski 31-33, Matt Bussa 34-43, Derek Justis 44-49, John Gorlinsky 50, Bob Bryant 51-52, Keegan Leahy 53-56, Bobby Zalenski 57-67, Nick Ottinger 68-69, Derek Justis 70-76, Bob Bryant 77-100.
Laps Led: Bob Bryant 26, Keegan Leahy 23, Bobby Zalenski 14, Derek Justis 13, Matt Bussa 10, Michael Conti 10, Nick Ottinger 3, John Gorlinsky 1.
Hard Charger: 9-Michael Guest (+27)
Rookie of the Race: 37-Derek Justis, second.
Margin of Victory: 0.600 seconds.
Time of Race: One hour, nine minutes, 14.980 seconds.
Average Speed: 173.286 MPH.
Pole Winner: 32-Keegan Leahy, 38.814 seconds (185.500 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 21-Garrett Lowe, Lap 65, 39.310 seconds (183.160 MPH).
Feature Photo Credit: Justin Melillo