Bobby Zalenski had his worst-ever finish on a road course in Tuesday’s eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series race — he finished fifth. Zalenski’s top-five result wasn’t as much a signal of regression from the man who once dominated road courses but rather a statement from drivers like Steven Wilson and Casey Kirwan that the outcome of road races are no longer forgone conclusions.
Of Zalenski’s 10 career wins, six of them have come on road courses including three consecutive wins at Sonoma. Mitchell DeJong, meanwhile, racked up two wins in his rookie year, both on road courses. DeJong added a second-place finish at Watkins Glen.
Naturally, when the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series went to a road course for the first time this year all eyes were on Zalenski and DeJong. Would it be Zalenski, who uses an open-wheel style rim on ovals, or DeJong, the former X-Games gold medalist who is now a part of Porsche’s first eSports factory team?
The answer turned out to be neither as Wilson dominated the race, leading every lap en route to his second win of the season. Wilson’s performance, combined with a third-place finish from Kirwan, signaled to the pair of road course connoisseurs that their reign may be over.
“Slowly and surely every year I’ve been getting a bit better at the road stuff,” Kirwan said. “Even last year we kind of thought we would be a bit closer to Mitchell and Mitchell still kind of blew everyone out of the water.
“It was nice to come in here and run good. I think, hopefully, we can carry the speed to Watkins Glen, which would be nice. It was nice to compete with them and race wheel-to-wheel with Bobby for a bit was cool. I think truthfully, at times I felt like I had the pace to get up there and I think I was quicker than Mitchell at times and Steven as well.”
Wilson entered Tuesday night’s race relaxed after already having secured a spot in the playoffs with a win at Atlanta. Wilson focused much of his attention on qualifying, hoping that clean air would be the ticket to a win. The longest run he completed in practice was just twelve laps, less than half of the race distance.
“I was just really focused on qualifying the last couple of days so that panned out,” Wilson said. “I had the clean air, and it was just about holding on to that.”
The rest of the field catching up to DeJong and Zalenski was not a surprise for DeJong. He believes that the introduction of the Next Gen car cost them some of their advantage.
“We kind of had the signs in practice that we’d lost a lot of the elements of the old car where we had quite a lot of tire fall off,” DeJong said. “It was really difficult to drive the car and now you can drive it pretty aggressively as maybe you saw; our fastest laps were at the end of the stint.
“Obviously that takes a little bit of an element out of the finesse and being really smooth with the driving to make a difference later in the run,” DeJong added.
Wilson’s second win of the year was a relief for Kirwan, who is currently third in the points standings but without a win. With eight different winners this season, any new faces at the top could bump Kirwan out of one of the 10 playoff spots.
Three races remain before the playoffs, including Watkins Glen where DeJong and Zalenski will get another chance to retake their crown as road course kings. The four-race playoff to determine who takes home $100,000 will begin on September 13.