By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
The inaugural trip to the virtual Circuit of the Americas (COTA) was perfection for 23XI Racing’s Mitchell deJong.
The Pre-Race Favorites
deJong entered COTA as one of the two favorites in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series on road courses. The other favorite was LETARTE eSports’ Bobby Zalenski. deJong beat Zalenski for the pole by 0.3 seconds. The LETARTE eSports driver then got spun in turn 1 before the two road course aces could battle for the win.
A Virtual Grand Slam
Unchallenged, deJong wheeled the virtual No. 23 DoorDash Dashpass Toyota Camry with ease. The 23-year-old led every lap despite pitting halfway into the 34-lap race. Just two laps after pitting, deJong ran the fastest lap of the race. The fastest lap completed auto racing’s ‘Grand Slam,’ a pole position, leading every lap, and scoring the fastest lap.
deJong took the checkered flag with Richmond Raceway eSports’ Jimmy Mullis 17.710 seconds behind. The 23XI Racing driver is the 57th different winner in eNASCAR history. The series also made history with eight different winners in the first eight races, besting the mark set in the series’ inaugural season in 2010. Currently, deJong is in the playoffs, if there are 10 or less winners, and he stays inside the top-20 in points.
“I can’t believe it,” deJong admitted. “Obviously it was a little bit messy in the beginning. It was quite stressful. It helps having a Coanda Simsport person like Bobby, the guys that work behind the scenes on this. Such a huge help going into the race and knowing that you’re going to be fighting with your teammates. It was a tough couple weeks of practice. This feels so good.
“It’s such a competitive series with how dominant Bobby’s been. Really unlucky for him today, I think we would have had a good battle.”
Road Racing Ace
deJong’s road course prowess can be seen in the other iRacing championships he has competed in. He finished runner-up in the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series in 2018. deJong finished on the podium in the points standings in the VRS GT iRacing World Championship from 2017-2019. He won the iRacing Rallycross World Championship in 2018. Currently, he is second in points in the Porsche TAG Heuer eSports Supercup.
“It feels amazing,” deJong continued. “We’ve had a difficult season. Had some positive showings of potential. Also had some failures. Hopefully this is the kind of momentum we need on track. It would be fantastic to win on an oval. We’ve got to get our heads in the game.”
Stewart-Haas eSports’ Graham Bowlin completed the podium. Zalenski recovered from the lap 1, turn 1 spin to finish fourth. Steven Wilson, Corey Vincent, Casey Kirwan, Blake Reynolds, Taylor Hurst, and Garrett Manes rounded out the top-10. Reynolds was the hard charger of the race, gaining 13 positions to finish eighth.
The turn 1 incident that sent Zalenski spinning started when defending eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series champion Nick Ottinger locked up his brakes. Ottinger slid into the No. 83 Virtual Racing School Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, sending both cars spinning. Zalenski performed a 360-degree spin and dropped to 13th. Ottinger meanwhile dropped to 36th in the running order.
Further back, Ottinger’s William Byron eSports teammate Logan Clampitt also locked up his brakes. Clampitt slammed into Dylan Duval, sending the No. 41 spinning. In total, 17 cars were caught in the melee.
The pit cycle was not without drama. Brian Schoenburg retired after his virtual No. 47 Kroger Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE slammed into the pit entrance wall. deJong’s teammate Keegan Leahy slid off track on cold tires in turn 1 and clipped the outside wall.
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series is back on track next week at the virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday, May 25 at 9:00 p.m. ET.
1. 23-Mitchell deJong , 2. 46-Jimmy Mulls , 3.10-Graham Bowlin , 4. 83-Bobby Zalenski , 5. 17-Steven Wilson , 6. 3-Corey Vincent , 7. 38-Casey Kirwan , 8. 66-Blake Reynolds , 9. 33-Taylor Hurst , 10. 2-Garrett Manes , 11. Keegan Leahy , 12. 21-Garrett Lowe , 13. 8-Michael Conti , 14. 4-Ryan Luza , 15. 55-Vicente Salas , 16. 41-Dylan Duval , 17. 24-Jake Nichols , 18. 77-Bob Bryant , 19. 77-Isaac Gann , 20. 75-Matt Bussa , 21. 97-Logan Clampitt , 22. 16-John Gorlinsky , 23. 6-Nathan Lyon , 24. 36-Chris Shearburn , 25. 14-Blade Whitt , 26. 9-Michael Guest , 27. 25-Nick Ottinger , 28. 79-Ryan Doucette , 29. 15-Caine Cook , 30. 88-Brad Davies , 31. 52-Jake Matheson , 32. 67-Allen Boes , 33. 18-Femi Olat , 34. 11-Malik Ray , 35. 90-Zack Novak , 36. 29-Zack Nichols , 37. 37-Derek Justis , 38. 51-Ray Alfalla , 39. 47-Brian Schoenburg , 40. 1-Ashton Crowder .
Lead Changes: Zero.
Lap Leader(s): Mitchell deJong 1-34.
Laps Led: Mitchell deJong 34.
Hard Charger: 66-Blake Reynolds (+13).
Rookie of the Race: 23-Mitchell deJong, 23XI Racing.
Margin of Victory: 17.710 seconds.
Time of Race: One hour, 15 minutes, 4.844 seconds.
Average Speed: 92.652 MPH.
Pole Winner: 23-Mitchell deJong, 2 minutes, 7.662 seconds (96.160 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 23-Mitchell deJong, Lap 19, 2 minutes, 8.714 seconds (95.374 MPH).
Feature Photo Credit: Photo by Justin Melillo