By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
In any sport, without a good team behind an athlete, the chances of victory are low. In auto racing, both real-life and virtual, without a good setup, the odds of getting to the checkered flag first are below average. After retiring from his time as a driver in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, Michael Conti aims to make Team Conti the shining light in the sim racing ladder.
Team Conti, an alliance back end team since 2017, includes Conti (formerly JR Motorsports), Nick Ottinger (William Byron eSports), Matt Bussa (William Byron eSports) and Jimmy Mullis (Rise eSports). While the concept of the ‘alliance’ or ‘setup building’ teams can be both complicated or taboo, it’s more akin to the alliances that Hendrick Motorsports or Richard Childress Racing has with Spire Motorsports or Trackhouse Racing.
That setup building, for most of these teams, including Team Conti, Deadzone Racing, Norse Force Racing, Altus eSports, and others, has historically only gone into their own drivers efforts to make, or remain, at the pinnacle of eNASCAR competition. The 2014 champion hopes to take that business model and put his own twist on it, like that of Justin Marks at Trackhouse in real-life.
Team Conti would be far from the first setup ‘shop’ to be created within the sim racing community. However, it would be different from the Maconi Setup Shop and other setup shops. That’s because it’s not about selling setups, rather about creating a path for future eNASCAR drivers.
Working not just with each other, but with the general iRacing community, Team Conti hopes to become a centralized hub where eNASCAR hopefuls can lean on the experience of series’ veterans to take some of the weight off their shoulders. Whether it’s providing their customers with competitive setups throughout each of iRacing’s four seasons or providing additional one-on-one coaching to help refine and cement the teachings of Conti and team in weekly group sessions, Team Conti Sim Performance (TCSP) aims to provide a home for any iRacer who’s hungry to improve.
“The Team Conti group and myself have enjoyed spending time with the greater iRacing oval community over the last three years, helping with setup and driver development,” Conti explained. “We felt that it was time to branch out and put our own stamp on a program and mold that program into something that truly fit the TC brand. From the racers we selected to be Ambassadors, to our product model, and then eventually our pipeline to help racers get to the upper eNASCAR ranks, the timing was right to see our vision come to reality.
“With the stringent obligations and requirements of being a Coke driver off my plate, I personally have more capacity to get involved on the business side of things. I feel like I’ve always had a mindset for business and wanted an opportunity to take on a project that would challenge me both personally and professionally. From only having a concept on November 1st to launching our website and product lineup on November 22nd, it’s honestly amazing what my team has been able to accomplish. Initial challenge complete!”
While TCSP looks forward to working with iRacers who are at many different stages of their sim racing careers, the TCSP Ambassador program will be the ultra competitive arm of the organization and shine a light on the potential of the TCSP product as a whole.
Ambassadors who have aspirations of ascending to the highest levels of eNASCAR competition will have the full support of TCSP throughout their climb to the top; the goal is to give aspiring pros a direct path from A Open (which utilizes the virtual NASCAR Next Gen Cup car) through the Road to Pro ladder (Qualifying Series Rounds 1 and 2), then up to Contender before finally landing in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.
“We had many existing relationships with drivers that raced in the top three NASCAR ranks on the service, so we already had an idea of who we wanted to represent TCSP when it finally hits the track,” Conti said. “Not only did we look at performance metrics such as iRating, but we wanted to assemble a group of racers that would carry the TCSP brand in the same way the original Team Conti carried itself in Coke for so many years.
“We want the program to be seen as an outfit filled with racers who are respectful and fair, but race hard and are ultra competitive. It’s a hard balance to strike, but I think we’ve made a solid first pass at it.”
Another factor in creating a direct line to the Coca-Cola Series, the recently ‘retired’ Conti has applied to have his own team in the series, with backing from personal sponsor, MARDON PC, and another partner that has not yet been announced. That would add another business venture to the Bank of America employee’s workload.
That workload, at the beginning may only entail the setup services and ambassador program, but over time could expand. The use of setup services and setup shops has mixed reviews within the iRacing and eNASCAR communities. Some purists prefer to build their own setups, while other skeptics are concerned that setups shops may or may not suit their driving styles.
TCSP, through TRICON Garage’s Brandon Hastings, a co-founder of Team Conti, will help train clients with a telemetry analysis session. But, compared to what other setup shops may or may not currently offer, TCSP hopes to help with other skill sets whether that be setup building, spotting, or more.
“From launch, we will have an option for clients to book a telemetry analysis training session with Hastings, a Team Conti founder & staple in both the iRacing and NASCAR communities,” Conti stated. “Hastings brings 15 years of sim experience to the table and has worked at several top notch NASCAR teams including Penske, GMS, and (currently) TRICON Garage. We understand that there is a sizable population within iRacing that doesn’t want to rely on setup services and that’s completely fine; TCSP is more than happy to help its clients and community shape their skill sets in whichever way they wish.”
Much like 23XI Racing and Trackhouse Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series, TCSP is potentially a disruptor, changing and updating the norms of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series for years to come.