As preparations ramp up for a real-life return to the racetrack with the WeatherTech 240 At Daytona on July 4, the end of last week and the weekend put a bow on sim racing for many full-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship racers.
From Thursday night’s IMSA iRacing Pro Series season finale at Watkins Glen International to the Le Mans 24 Hours Virtual on Saturday and Sunday, there was no shortage of action, nor a shortage of world-class performances from WeatherTech Championship competitors. Let’s take one more look in the rearview mirror with our three takeaways.
Fast Start Key to Championship for Spengler, BMW
BMW went all in from the drop of the first green flag of the IMSA iRacing Pro Series season with the Sebring SuperSaturday race on March 21. Bruno Spengler claimed the victory, leading a podium sweep for the manufacturer.
Spengler did it again in Round 2 at the virtual WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, leading another BMW podium sweep. That gave him and BMW an early edge in the championship standings, which proved all the more valuable as other manufacturers began to gain ground over the second half of the season.
In the end, Spengler’s two victories, a runner-up result in Round 4 at Road America, a fifth at VIR and a sixth at Mid-Ohio turned out to be just enough to give him the championship by five points over his virtual BMW teammate, Nicky Catsburg.
"For IMSA to organize a full iRacing championship series on short notice, we were all so excited," said Spengler immediately following last Thursday night’s iRacing season finale. "To win the first race was a big highlight. Then this last race is also one, because I went from thinking the championship was over (due to an opening-lap incident), to winning the championship. I said to the guys on the team, it’s the same feelings as winning the DTM championship. You want to win what you’re doing. I’m super happy with it."
Manufacturer Parity Highlighted Second Half of iRacing Season
Following the first half of the six-race IMSA iRacing Pro Series season in which BMW swept the podium in each of the first three races, some were openly wondering if Balance of Performance needed to be established by iRacing.
Starting with Round 4 at the virtual Road America, however, the presence of other manufacturers was being felt. Nick Tandy scored the victory in that race in what could have been a 1-2 sweep for Porsche after Rodrigo Pflucker dominated the first half of the race after starting from pole in his Ford GT.
BMWs did finish second and third in that race, but almost more the result of happenstance than performance. In the penultimate round of the season at VIR, there were no BMWs on the podium, as Kenton Koch won in his Ford GT, followed by Shane van Gisbergen – who switched to a Porsche for the final couple of races after starting the season in a BMW – and the Ferrari of Agustin Canapino in third.
Thursday’s season finale once again featured three different marques on the podium. Pflucker scored his first win in the Ford, followed by van Gisbergen’s Porsche and John Edwards in a BMW.
"You saw how BMW was so dominant the first few races with dramatic experience," Edwards said. "That showed in the beginning, but everyone started to catch up and get more competitive."
Tandy Wins Le Mans Again… Virtually
Tandy’s iRacing Pro Series victory in the No. 911 Porsche at Road America proved to be his swan song in the series. But the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans overall winner was anything but done with sim racing.
Over this past weekend, Tandy teamed up with Porsche Junior Ayhancan Guven – another early season IMSA iRacing Pro Series competitor – and professional sim racers Josh Rogers and Tommy Ostgaard to win the Le Mans 24 Hours Virtual in the GTE class co-driving the No. 93 Porsche 911 RSR.
"This win is balm for the soul," Tandy said. "We have some very difficult months behind us. The long break without real racing was and is a real strain for everyone at Porsche Motorsport, as well as for the fans and the drivers.
"On this very day five years ago, I climbed to the top step of the podium as the overall Le Mans winner. Now to win the virtual race, it doesn’t get much better."