Friday, February 21, 2014

The iRacing Daytona 500

Every year iRacing holds the simulated Daytona 500 and each year my luck in this event is, well, horrid. Two years ago I took the lead on lap 163 and that also was my last lap ran as a car that had previously been damaged lost control in front of me. Last year the first 113 laps went caution free and then on lap 113 I was caught up in the first yellow. So last night I was looking to change my luck and wanted, more than anything, to see what the 500th mile felt like.

I started from the 13th position and I didn't know whether I should stay up front or play it safe and fall to the back. Both strategies have pros and cons and I went in thinking that I would fall back, but as competitive as I am I just couldn't convince myself to do so. Thankfully, the first 40 laps were rather calm at it essentially was 32 cars nose to tail in a 200mph parade.

Before I continue on my recounting of this race I should tell you that iRacing is the premiere racing simulator on the PC and for myself it is about the best thing possible to not actually racing. I said I'm competitive and iRacing allows me an outlet to compete with drivers from all around the world.

The cars may be simulated but they also have simulated amounts of fuel so near the lap 40 mark it was time for pit stops. I don't drive the cars of the NASCAR series all that often on iRacing as I primarily drive the Indycar, but stopping a stock car from 200mph to the pit road speed of 55 while in the midst of a crowd was something I was sure I was going to screw up. Thankfully, I was able to slow down, but I did so too much and then the whole process of stopping in the right pit box wasn't the easiest of things and in the end I lost abo
ut five seconds.

On the next run I was running with three others about five seconds behind the leaders. We were positions 22-25 and in need of a yellow flag which would bunch the field up. This stayed this way for another 40 laps when the three cars in front of me all pitted without warning which left me on the track by myself for a lap. It's hard to explain for those that don't know, but racing at Daytona is all about the draft and two cars are faster than one, three faster than two, and if you are by yourself you'll lose about two seconds a lap. I was in that position so I pitted the following laps and I came out by myself, all alone. My race was not going the way I envisioned it.

I fell back to about half-a-lap down when another driver in the same boat as I got together and started drafting. Then, near the halfway point, the first yellow flag. This was a relief for me as I was now back in the race with a chance. During the yellow it was time to pit again and the entire field made their way on and once again I had pit issues as I missed my stall and had to come in the next lap. This wasn't that big of a set back because I was already going to be in the back as is.

On the restart the racing was a little bit more intense and about 10 laps after the green came out trouble! I saw smoke in front of me and here was my view of+ the incident.
Call it luck and maybe a bit of skill, but I was able to get through that and as amazed as I was it was time to refocus. On the restart I was on the move. 15th, 12th, 8th, and then somehow over the course of the next 20 laps I made it to the lead.

Ah, the lead; remember that I said two years ago my race ended when I took the lead and this was in my mind. It felt great leading the race though, but after several laps history nearly repeated itself (I'm the #3 car)

Whew! that was a close one and I still, today, have no idea how I didn't end up with a race ending incident after that. Because of this incident, though, there was now a five second gap between the front five and sixth place and thankfully I was part of the top five.

The final fourth of the race became intense as even though those in the top five had a big gap the drivers around me were not content to just stay in line. This was allowing the cars behind to slowly start the reeling in process. Then, as they were just about to catch us, the yellow came up on lap 160 which meant there would be no green flag pit stops to decide the race.

I knew the final segment was going to be intense and the positions were changing every lap. I'd make it to the lead, then fall back, and one lap you'd have a friend and the next lap they'd dump you for someone else. Speaking of being dumped, with 12 laps to go I was pushing this guy and I pushed him all the way to the lead and then, instead of waiting until I could come into the low lane, that driver just turned hard left and left me with no help on the outside and no one came to my assistance. After being so close to the potential race lead I was bleeding positions. 3rd, 5th, 7th, 8th, then 10th.

I began by saying that I wondered what the 200th lap felt like but after being so close to the lead I was now highly driven. This was unacceptable! I had a chance at this win but now it felt like such a difficult task to reach. Then, with nine laps to go, I saw smoke.

Yet another close call which could have ended badly for me, but with all the drivers involved in that crash I'd be restarting 3rd with six laps to go. I now had a very realistic chance at not only finishing this race, but winning it.

On the restart I got clear of the driver who started 2nd and now I had to decide when and how to make my move. The leader was defending his line and was somewhat blocking, but all his moves were legal. Each time off of turn two I'd look high but only to have my line impeded. So, with four to go, coming off of turn two I looked high, but then I took a page from the movie Days of Thunder by faking high and going low. This worked! I was alongside the leader and in the process of making a pass when I saw in my mirror another crash. "Come on car... come on !" I yelled as I knew the yellow was going to fly at any point in time which would freeze the field thus ending the race and then, there it was, the yellow flag.

I was in shock. I fell short of taking the lead by just one or two seconds. The gap, as seen by this photo, is what I lost the Daytona 500 on iRacing by. To work for three hours and come up that short hurt. Sure, I finished ahead of 30 other drivers and I can say I ran a near flawless race, but I had a chance to win! I wasn't in this race for points, this race was all about the win and the last few laps of green in this race was the most intense I've felt, in terms of competing, since I was racing in a real race at Road America in a kart six years ago. Because of this, after the race, I was still rather intense and it took several hours before I could finally go to sleep as I kept replaying that final lap under green and then I kept reliving lap 200.

What was lap 200 like? On one hand I was proud, I'm not going to lie, that I was able to finish 2nd, but it was a bittersweet lap as we came to the finish line because I had to wonder what this lap was like for the driver in front of me. It's something I may never know, but for all the trouble I had to avoid I should be happy, right? to finish 2nd. But that's not me, I came so close and fell short. Typically I'm content with 2nd if that's all I had, but this... I should have had this. This will be the one race I always think of as "the one that got away."

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