As the end of the Monster Energy Series nears, a new virtual series begins. The NASCAR iRacing Pro Series pits all drivers who wish to enter together to compete for a spot in the illustrious NASCAR Peak Antifreeze Series. The NASCAR iRacing Pro Series is one of the hardest competitions outside the top level. Many drivers train for months to gain enough setup knowledge and iRating to even have a chance to be the top tier of this series.
I am not one of those drivers. Sorry to disappoint, but in comparison to these folks, I am terrible. The NASCAR iRacing Pro Series (NiPS) will send the Top 10 drivers in overall points to join the 30 drivers of the NASCAR Peak Antifreeze Series (NPAS). This may sound easy until you learn that just in this week alone there were 275 participants.
Why do they even allow people to compete if they have no chance of advancing? That is a question many have asked and is a topic for another time. The important thing is that I can compete in the series, and I am going to try to as time avails. I thought it might be fun to bench mark myself against the best of the best.
My first challenge was that NiPS is an open setup series. That means I need to set up the car myself be competitive. For the past year, I have been racing the fixed setup series because I have a ‘real life’ and can’t devote much time to setting up a car. Give me a fixed set and an hour and I will be able to figure out how to get it around the track. Open sets need more time. Thankfully, I remembered this great tutorial video by Ray Alfalla and setup guru David Cater. If you have any interest in setting up a car, check it out.
So I was able to follow about half of Mr. Cater’s suggestions because I only had 45 minutes to set the car up. I got it to a point where I was getting halfway decent wear and the handling was enough for me to work with. It wasn’t fast, but as I have mentioned in past posts, attrition will get you a better finish than speed.
Thrust max into the event. The warmup and qualifying rules were different than my normal series so it only felt like a matter of seconds and we were rolling to the green flag. Well here we go, an average driver in a half-assed setup, what could possible go wrong.
Actually not much, for me at least. The car was very snug, meaning that the understeer was present, but not enough to annoy me. Throughout practice I noticed that the car would gain understeer as the laps went on. I was just hoping I could mitigate it to later. I ran a calm pace because there were 167 laps to go, no one was around me; so there was no reason to push it. Compared to some of the other cars in the race, I pretty slow and knew I wouldn’t be competing for the win.
We actually had nice green flag runs. Most lasted about 20-30 laps so I got a decent amount of data for making adjustments. The car had been running toward the back of the lead pack, around 18th of the 40 cars. The Team Oppo pit crew was on the ball the entire day making adjustments and getting me out of the pits quickly. I was often surprised where I ended up in the running order.
Most of the race I spent on my own. Not really racing in a pack. I got into a rhythm where a small group would drive out in front of me. Then they would come back as the tires whore down. Often I would catch them right before they would pit.
The real turning point in the race came with about 60 laps left. My rhythm of riding around midpack was working very well. Suddenly cars started making moves to pit road. It caught me a bit by surprise because from my own calculations, you could only go 55 laps on a tank. People were coming in with over 60 laps left. I check my fuel calculator and it showed that my slow pace might get me a half lap to the good on fuel. I probably wouldn’t win, but I might finish better than I would if I pitted.
So I began fuel saving... Rolling out early in the corner, slowly getting back on, running 9/10 throttle down the straights, the numbers continued to work in my favor, I just would have to make it 40 more laps while the rest of the field had fresh tires and was running 110%.
Then a pitting miscue resulted in two cars coming together. The resulting yellow trapped most of the field one lap down. I had found myself in 3rd place somehow. I pitted, put fresh rubber on the corners, and added a couple ‘please go fast’ adjustments and headed back out. By the time we would go back to green, there would be about 30 laps left.
Being a 17th place car in 3rd is quite nerve racking. You are in a part of the field where you haven’t been and probably shouldn’t be. There is a reason you have been running mid-pack all race and haven’t seen these people. Thankfully because of the rules, I had a buffer of lapped and damage cars to occupy the fast guys enough to get away.
The race restarts with 30 laps left and my strategy has changed. Knowing I had a bit of a buffer to the faster cars, I needed to run away from them as fast as I could. Sprinting away, I grab 2nd, but it was only for a brief moment. The car behind me was much faster on the start and if I spent time battling him, I would just waste my resources.
Skip ahead a few laps and the fast cars have picked there way through the pack. The fastest 2 catch and pass me. I just let them go as I had nothing for them. I knew that the will have more difficulty passing the people in front of me and I could catch them up once they used all of their stuff.
The guys behind were so busy racing each other that I had built a couple second lead on them. This buffer I was going to need as the car fell off. Running in 6th as I come to 5 to go, I was pleased with myself. The car was a mid to back of the pack racer because of my awful setup and driving abilities.
The pack was slowly catching me, a couple tenths per lap. I knew that wasn’t going to be enough to catch me (much less pass me), but just seeing those numbers get smaller was unnerving. However, it had come to that point in the race where I didn’t care. Scanning to the left of my standings display, I saw the oil temp nearing ‘uh-oh’ levels, no time to care about that now. Peering back out the windshield, I noticed that the competition for 4th is heating up. They have been side by side of a couple turns. I also noticed that they were getting bigger...
The spotter let me know 2 laps to go, then 1. The pack behind was fighting each other so hard that they wouldn’t catch me. I was thinking that I might be able to pull off a top 10 with such a terrible car, then out the windshield...
4th and 5th got together. Thankfully, they slid off to the left and didn’t cause any incidents for anyone else, but slipping by resulted in me getting a 4th place finish. How the hell?
I’ll take it. I don’t deserve it. The car was mediocre at best and the position I was in was more dumb luck than strategy. Unfortunately, this does not mean that I am 4th in the standings because I was in the 3rd lowest race split, but according to the standings, I am sitting Top 75 of 275. The only downside is that the bar is set pretty high for myself - oh dear... Next week is Phoenix, hopefully I can dumb luck into the same scenario again.