We’re now into the second half of the 2020 IMSA iRacing Pro Series season after last Thursday night’s race.
And while the first half of the season was a relative display of BMW dominance, the second half could be a different matter entirely if Road America was any indication. Here’s what caught our eye in 90 entertaining minutes at the virtual "America’s National Park of Speed."
- For Manufacturers, This is Serious Business
We saw it right out of the gate from BMW Motorsport in March’s season-opening Sebring SuperSaturday. With full factory support that included engineering help on setups and countless hours on the sim, BMW was in it to win it.
And win it, they did. Factory driver Bruno Spengler won the first two rounds of the season, while teammate Nicky Catsburg broke through for a Round 3 win two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio. In fact, BMW swept the podium in the first three races of the season.
That effort caught the attention of other manufacturers – most notably Porsche, which quickly ramped up its own factory efforts around iRacing. And while it took the Porsche squad a little bit to catch up, it appears the manufacturer has done so, as evidenced by Nick Tandy’s victory on Thursday night in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR.
"Now, we’re taking it very seriously," Tandy said. "Because, I think when it started and maybe the first couple of rounds, it was looked upon as something that the teams and the drivers and some of the manufacturers could get involved with as a way of keeping people active and going racing and enjoying the racing aspect of it.
"That all changed once BMW won the first two races quite convincingly. Then, a couple of people from Porsche’s side sat around and said, ‘Look, if we are participating in this, then we want to be competitive and ultimately, we want to beat our opposition. That’s why we go racing in any form of the sport.
"The way we went about it changed. The pressure’s changed. From our side, we’ve had help from top guys in the sim racing world. We’ve had help from virtual racing school, and we’ve been putting in a lot of work. A lot of hours. More or less every day we’re doing something."
- BMW Still Strong
While its three-race win streak was snapped, BMW’s podium streak remained intact. Spengler took second place in his No. 7 BMW IMSA Team Red M8, finishing one spot ahead of another M8, the No. 26 Team Austria machine driven by Philipp Eng.
That result returned Spengler to the top of the championship standings after a one-race absence. And the championship battle is shaping up as one that will come down to a battle between M8s, as Spengler is eight points ahead of second-place Catsburg, who is 22 points clear of third-place Shinya Michimi.
"We knew in advance that competing against such strong opposition would be tougher on this circuit than in previous races," Spengler said. "The qualifying results in particular confirmed that. However, choosing a pit stop strategy of just changing the left-hand tires with the heavier wear allowed us to make decisive progress. The older tires did not have a detrimental effect on the pace towards the end and I was able to keep hold of second place All in all, it was a great day and a super result for me and the entire team."
- Michimi in Podium Position
Shinya Michimi may be a relative newcomer to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, as his appearance in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 in January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona was just his second series start. Michimi also previously raced in the IMSA-sanctioned Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America series.
When it comes to iRacing, however, Michimi is a seasoned veteran with more than 10 years of experience. In fact, he’s considered an iRacing professional, which is why it should come as no surprise that he’s sitting third in the IMSA iRacing Pro Series standings after posting a season-best result of fourth on Thursday night in the No. 86 Porsche 911 RSR carrying the familiar, black and pink Meyer Shank Racing team livery.
"There’s engineers hired into teams, strategist, data engineers and the stakes are much higher now, so the level of commitment has also become much higher," Michimi said recently. "There’s pretty decent payouts on certain iRacing races and private championships that most of the teams are trying to achieve. It went from testing a week before an event for two to three hours a day to now testing two weeks in advance each day for six plus hours a day if you want to really be competitive for top fives and wins."
Michimi is slated to compete in the four IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup rounds in the No. 86 Acura alongside season-long drivers Mario Farnbacher and Matt McMurry.
The penultimate round of the IMSA iRacing Pro Series is scheduled for next Thursday, May 28 at 6 p.m. ET. Michelin Presents IMSA iRacing at VIRginia International Raceway will stream live on the iRacing Youtube and Facebook channels, with the voice of IMSA Radio, John Hindhaugh, leading the commentary team. The Torque Show will stream a pre-race show once again beginning at 5 p.m. ET on its Facebook page.