By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Mitchell deJong goes two for two on road courses in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series in dominant fashion at the virtual Road America.
Once again, the 23XI Racing driver won the pole, beating defending eNASCAR champion Nick Ottinger by 0.3 seconds. Perennial road course challenger Bobby Zalenski qualified third. From the drop of the green flag, deJong was gone, leaving his competition behind.
Zalenski took second from Ottinger. A mistake by the William Byron eSports driver allowed Steven Wilson to move into third. Ottinger went off course in turn six and slapped the concrete barrier.
Unlike his ‘Grand Slam’ at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), deJong led all but two laps at Road America. During green flag pit stops, Graham Bowlin briefly took control. Bowlin relinquished the lead after two laps when he finally pitted.
Battle Between Friends
From that point on, there was no catching deJong. He maintained his lead over this Coanda Simsport backend-teammate Zalenski at about 6.5 seconds. When the checkered flag waved, deJong was 6.693 seconds ahead of the Letarte eSports driver. Zalenski did catch deJong, after the virtual No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota Camry ran out of fuel on the cool down lap. He pushed deJong back to the start-finish line so the 23XI Racing driver could celebrate his second win of the season.
“It feels good to be one-two with Bob,” admitted deJong. “It was the big battle that everyone was wanting. We got robbed of that at COTA. I’m really thankful that we got to race it out here. It was super fun. I think Bob can agree that we had real races in practice, trying to beat each other every day. It’s cool to get the result we wanted here.”
Zalenski sees the battle with deJong as mutually beneficial. The two road racing specialists push each other to be better every time they compete.
“[Competing with Mitchell] helps a lot, I’m a better driver now than I was last year,” explained Zalenski. “Listen, this guy Mitchell is one of the best road racers in iRacing history. He’s a world championship winner or contender in every road series he’s done. I knew it was going to be a really big challenge coming into this year and I have to step my game up.
“Today he had a tenth on me and was better at keeping the tires on it. I knew what I needed to do to fix that, just didn’t have time. He’s just been doing a better job. He had a little bit on me at COTA. He earns it, works his butt off. You’ve got to work hard to beat Mitchell.”
Wilson, Bowlin, and Corey Vincent rounded out the top-five. Jimmy Mullis, Vicente Salas, Blake Reynolds, Ottinger, and Casey Kirwan completed the top-10.
Mistakes were the main factor for many at virtual Road America. Early in the race, Ryan Luza missed a braking point and rear-ended Michael Conti. Conti recovered to finish 11th while Luza dropped to 40th. The XSET Gaming driver recovered to take the checkered flag in 25th.
Jake Nichols missed a shift on his No. 24 Mode Media House machine. The consequences were immediate has his engine over-revved and blew up. The blown engine left Nichols 36th.
Jake Matheson’s on track issues were not self-induced. Battling with four-time champion Ray Alfalla, Keegan Leahy, and others, the Williams eSports driver’s wheel shut off. Matheson skidded to a stop in the dirt off of turn one. However, the damage was done, and his car overheated. After towing to pit road, Matheson eventually got back on track and climbed from 39th to finish 35th.
deJong’s win at Road America guarantees him an eNASCAR playoff berth as he is the first driver this season to become a repeat winner. It also gives 23XI their third win as an eNASCAR team this year.
Although Alfalla won the Coca-Cola 300 at the virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway, he is still outside the top-20 in points. A 28th-place finish increased the gap between the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and a playoff berth from 14-points to 34-points. Road America was Alfalla’s 200th career eNASCAR start. He’s competed in 200 of the 202 series races to date.
With 10 different winners and Alfalla still outside the top-20 in points, Wilson is currently the only driver in the playoffs on points. The Roush Fenway Racing driver is second in points, four behind leader Leahy. He holds the cutoff for the playoffs by 15-points over Bowlin.
The next race for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series is at the virtual New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Tuesday, July 13 at 9:00 p.m. ET. Coverage is streamed on enascar.com/live.
1. 23-Mitchell deJong , 2. 83-Bobby Zalenski , 3. 17-Steven Wilson , 4. 10-Graham Bowlin , 5. 3-Corey Vincent , 6. 46-Jimmy Mullis , 7. 55-Vicente Salas , 8. 66-Blake Reynolds , 9. 25-Nick Ottinger , 10. 38-Casey Kirwan , 11. 8-Michael Conti , 12. 41-Dylan Duval , 13. 90-Zack Novak , 14. 2-Garrett Manes , 15. 33-Taylor Hurst , 16. 21-Garrett Lowe , 17. 67-Allen Boes , 18. 88-Brad Davies , 19. 44-Anthony Burroughs , 20. 1-Ashton Crowder , 21. 97-Logan Clampitt , 22. 77-Bob Bryant , 23. 14-Blade Whitt , 24. 75-Matt Bussa , 25. 4-Ryan Luza , 26. 16-John Gorlinsky , 27. 37-Derek Justis , 28. 51-Ray Alfalla , 29. 36-Chris Shearburn , 30. 32-Keegan Leahy , 31. 9-Michael Guest , 32. 79-Ryan Doucette , 33. 18-Femi Olat , 34. 6-Nathan Lyon , 35. 52-Jake Matheson , 36. 24-Jake Nichols , 37. 29-Zack Nichols , 38. 15-Caine Cook , 39. 11-Malik Ray , 40. 47-Brian Schoenburg .
Lead Changes: Two among two drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Mitchell deJong 1-14, Graham Bowlin 15-16, Mitchell deJong 17-31
Laps Led: Mitchell deJong 29, Graham Bowlin 2.
Hard Charger(s): 1-Ashton Crowder (+20).
Rookie of the Race: 23-Mitchell deJong, 23XI Racing. Win.
Caution Flags: None.
Margin of Victory: 6.693 seconds.
Time of Race: One hour, Seven minutes, 58.870 seconds.
Average Speed: 110.755 MPH.
Pole Winner: 23-Mitchell deJong, Two minutes, 6.799 seconds (114.928 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 23-Mitchell deJong, Two minutes, 7.536 seconds (114.264 MPH).
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Justin Melillo