By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
The ‘Restart Master’ Bobby Zalenski showed his skills as the held off the competition in overtime to win at the virtual Pocono Raceway.
Taking the Lead
Zalenski took the lead following a round of pit stops with 18 laps to go in the scheduled distance. The virtual No. 83 Virtual Racing School Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE lined up alongside of Brian Schoenburg on the restart. Zalenski kept Schoenburg’s virtual No. 47 Kroger Chevrolet at bay until another caution waved with 13 laps to go.
What ensued from that point on was a restart followed by a caution less than a lap later. The LETARTE eSports driver repeatedly held of his competition on each restart. First it was Schoenburg. Then Ashton Crowder’s virtual No. 1 Nutrien Ag Toyota Camry challenged Zalenski. As the race moved into overtime, Zalenski’s challengers changed again, to his Coanda Simsport back-end teammate Mitchell deJong and Ray Alfalla.
During the first attempt at overtime, Alfalla’s virtual No. 51 Rowdy Energy Toyota Camry briefly pulled alongside Zalenski’s Chevrolet. However, the caution waved before the four-time eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series champion could take the lead.
The next two attempts at overtime ended with a caution before the field could exit turn one. Each time, Zalenski kept Alfalla and deJong at bay. Zalenski took the checkered flag with a push from Alfalla behind the pace car. deJong, Crowder, and Bob Bryant completed the top-five.
“I wasn’t going to let that (the win) go, was going to race pretty hard for that,” admitted Zalenski. “I had a friend up front with Mitchell, we’ve been friends for years. We worked together. It’s great, been a real fresh year. We’ve got the road courses with Mitchell; we’re going to have a hell of a battle.”
“There we go, that’s official,” Zalenski said as he took the yellow and checkered flags, “I’ve got my bud (deJong) behind me.
Vincente Salas, Steven Wilson, Zack Nichols, Garrett Lowe, and Schoenburg rounded out the top-10. Polesitter and defending eNASCAR champion Nick Ottinger was collected in the first caution of the race and finished last. Ottinger’s William Byron eSports teammate Logan Clampitt ran the fastest lap of the race on Lap 60.
The first 71 laps of the race went caution-free. Different fuel strategies saw the lead change hands several times. The strategy Schoenburg employed brought him up from 39th to the lead twice. The JTG-Daugherty Racing driver had yet to pit when the first caution waved.
Race Changing Wreck
The race-changing caution happened when contact between Crowder and Keegan Leahy sent the 23XI Racing driver spinning into the outside wall. Leahy bounced back into traffic, collecting Michael Conti, Clampitt, and Ottinger. The accident single-handedly wiped out three of the five fastest cars on track.
The other two fastest cars on track were Zalenski and outside polesitter Brad Davies. The JR Motorsports driver led nine laps before green flag pit stops. During the round of green flag pit stops Davies was penalized for speeding on pit road. The virtual No. 88 Chevrolet was held in the pit box for 15 seconds, eliminating it from contention for the remainder of the race.
Next for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series is the inaugural trip to Road America. Zalenski expects the battle for the win to come down to a fight between himself and deJong once again.
“I was going to race him (deJong) really hard at COTA then got wrecked,” explained Zalenski. “Now we don’t want to wreck each other because we need points. But we’re going to race each other hard. It’s going to be awesome. Maybe we’ll bump into each other, maybe not. I don’t know what to expect, haven’t put a lot of Road America testing in at all, which is weird for me at a road course. We’ll give it our best and try to beat Mitchell, he ain’t taking the crown that easy.”
The race at Road America will be on Tuesday, June 29, at 9:00 p.m. EST.
1. 83-Bobby Zalenski , 2. 51-Ray Alfalla , 3. 23-Mitchell deJong , 4. 1-Ashton Crowder , 5. 77-Bob Bryant , 6. 55-Vicente Salas , 7. 17-Steven Wilson , 8. 29-Zack Nichols , 9. 21-Garrett Lowe , 10. 47-Brian Schoenburg , 11. 41-Dylan Duval , 12. 18-Femi Olat , 13. 90-Zack Novak , 14. 67-Allen Boes , 15. 10-Graham Bowlin , 16. 38-Casey Kirwan , 17. 9-Michael Guest , 18. 66-Blake Reynolds , 19. 46-Jimmy Mullis , 20. 14-Blade Whitt , 21. 2-Garrett Manes , 22. 75-Matt Bussa , 23. 4-Ryan Luza , 24. 15-Caine Cook , 25. 6-Nathan Lyon , 26. 24-Jake Nichols , 27. 88-Brad Davies , 28. 16-John Gorlinsky , 29. 33-Taylor Hurst , 30. 52-Jake Matheson , 31. 44-Anthony Burroughs , 32. 8-Michael Conti , 33. 32-Keegan Leahy , 34. 37-Derek Justis , 35. 36-Chris Shearburn , 36. 79-Ryan Doucette , 37. 97-Logan Clampitt , 38. 3-Corey Vincent , 39. 11-Malik Ray , 40. 25-Nick Ottinger .
Lead Changes: 15 among 10 drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Nick Ottinger 1-11, Brad Davies 12-20, Michael Conti 21-29, Brian Schoenburg 30-37, Matt Bussa 38-42, Steven Wilson 43, Bobby Zalenski 44-52, Steven Wilson 53, Bobby Zalenski 54, Vicente Salas 55, Graham Bowlin 56, Michael Conti 57, Zack Novak 58, Zack Nichols 59-62, Brian Schoenburg 63-72, Bobby Zalenski 73-100.
Laps Led: Bobby Zalenski 38, Brian Schoenburg 18, Nick Ottinger 11, Michael Conti 10, Brad Davies 9, Matt Bussa 5, Zack Nichols 4, Steven Wilson 2, Graham Bowlin 1, Vicente Salas 1.
Hard Charger(s): 47-Brian Schoenburg (+29).
Rookie of the Race: 23-Mitchell deJong, 23XI Racing, second.
Caution Flags: Seven for 19 laps.
Margin of Victory: Under Caution.
Time of Race: One hour, 49 minutes, 54.455 seconds.
Average Speed: 136.478 MPH.
Pole Winner: 25-Nick Ottinger, 52.486 seconds (171.474 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 97-Logan Clampitt, Lap 60, 52.955 seconds (169.956 MPH).
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Justin Melillo