October 30, 2013 – By Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online – For any fans out there that might not think that sim-racing provides every bit as much drama, excitement, heartache and jubilation as the big-time worlds of NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One, NHRA drag racing, sprint car racing or sports car racing, all you have to do is take one look at the 2013 NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship (NiSWC) season to see exactly what you’re missing out on.
From start to finish, the 2013 season was a memorable one, with surprise winners, record-breaking performances and a David vs. Goliath tale that played itself out from the first lap of the season to the final moments at Homestead-Miami this month. Here’s a look back at some of the highlights from the 2013 NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship:
Adam Gilliland breaks through in Daytona
How could we forget about the final lap insanity that started the season and handed a DWC young gun his first career win? In shades of the 2007 Daytona 500, Adam Gilliland and Jared Crawford dueled side-by-side to the line in a thrilling finish as the field crashed behind them. The two former NASCAR iRacing.com Pro Series competitors fought right to the checkered flag in a one-lap shootout that saw Gilliland outfox Crawford by two one-hundredths (0.02) of a second (coincidentally the identical MOV of Kevin Harvick over Mark Martin in 2007) to claim his first NiSWC victory in just 5 career starts.
The race also saw a qualifying session where the entire field was separated by just over a half of a tenth of a second (0.053 seconds from 1st to 43rd), and saw Michael Conti, last season’s title runner-up, miss the season-opening event.
Lewandowski shines on inaugural All-Star night
For the first time in NiSWC history, the drivers banded together, with 2-time and defending champion Ray Alfalla at the helm, to formally hold the first-ever NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship All-Star Challenge, featuring the stars of the series over the past 4 seasons, in late May. With a stacked field and a unique format, the event was all about adaptability and car setup. And at the end of the 90 lap All-Star event, it seemed only fitting that a driver out of the Drill Aisle/Alfalla stable went to Victory Lane, with Thomas Lewandowski taking his first win of any kind in NiSWC competition in almost two full seasons in a frenetic final segment dash for glory.
Alfalla reaches double digits; scores career wins 10 and 11 on the season
By Race Seven, when Ray Alfalla had not yet gone to Victory Lane after back-to-back titles, drivers and spectators alike were prepared to write him off as a non-factor for the 2013 title race. After all, he had had two finishes outside of the top 30 in the first 3 races, and it seemed preposterous that Alfalla could claw his way back into the fight.
And then Pocono happened.
In nothing short of true Ray Alfalla fashion, the champion staged a race where he was methodically in contention the entire way, taking advantage of a mistake by Nick Ottinger with 11 laps remaining in the event and never looking back to score his landmark 10th career win in the series; the first driver to attain double-digit status in NiSWC competition. Alfalla would go on to notch his 11th win later in the season at Michigan.
Conti goes back to back at Loudon; Hudson misses race and falls out of the points lead
After a season that had seen both heartache and triumph, Michael Conti, the young gun who last year had shocked the world by finishing second to Ray Alfalla in the points championship, came to his home track, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, looking to become the first repeat winner in the track’s NiSWC history. The race didn’t start to Conti’s liking, with Ray Alfalla jumping out to the point and looking primed to notch a win on the flat 1-mile oval.
But New Englanders have a fire at home that often means they will not be denied, and that was the case for young Mike Conti, who charged around Alfalla just before the halfway mark and would not be challenged again en route to his 3rd career NiSWC checkered flag, and second at Loudon, giving his hometown New Jersey fans a reason to pop the corks off their champagne bottles that evening.
Ottinger scores six wins but comes up short in the points race
For Nick Ottinger, 2013 was a season of many memories, but just as many heartaches. It seemed like for every triumph that the #05 Rheem Chevrolet would achieve, a freak accident would follow to put the team back where they started. With misfortunes including race penalties, crashes, handling issues and internet connectivity problems, Ottinger was never ultimately able to maintain enough momentum to challenge for the championship, finishing third overall, but became the winning-est single season driver in NiSWC history, winning six times in 2013 (including three consecutive) at Texas, Richmond, Darlington, Kentucky, Kansas and Dover to break Ray Alfalla’s former record of 5 wins in 2012.
Ottinger’s memorable and controversial win at Richmond was remembered for the bump-and-run maneuver that John Gorlinsky used to try and get the lead away from Michael Conti, which ultimately sent both cars up the race track and Ottinger on to Victory Lane.
Peter Bennett finally stands victorious; wins in Homestead-Miami to complete Last Row’s rising
Last Row Motorsports began as just that, the NiSWC team that qualified nearly every race on the circuit in the last row. By the end of 2013, they were the stars of the show, and none moreso than one of their charter drivers, Peter Bennett. The Cromwell, Connecticut native who stated at the start of the season that his goal was simply to record two top-five finishes broke out of his shell and stunned the top-tier teams, putting together a silently impressive season that resulted in a seventh-place finish in the final points tally.
But the true highlight of the Bennett story came in the final race of the season, when Bennett was able to roll the dice on fuel strategy (his strategy of choice in the NiSWC) and accomplish a goal he said he hadn’t even thought about at the start of the year, winning an iRacing World Championship event. In the Valley of the Sun at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Bennett played the fuel game to perfection, holding off a charging Thomas Lewandowski and Tyler Hudson to seal the deal on his upset first-career NiSWC victory.
It can’t go without saying that Bennett’s teammate Joey Brown scored breakthrough performances of his own in the 2013 season, notching two more LRM victories at Atlanta and Charlotte to showcase the program’s dominance of the mile-and-a-half tracks in the 2013 season.
Hudson stages the ultimate comeback; ascends to the throne in David vs. Goliath title fight
And how do you tell the story of the 2013 NiSWC season without telling the story of the underdog champion?
With 5 races to go, no one gave Tyler Hudson a chance. ‘It’s over’, they said after the Mississippi native missed the midsummer event at Loudon, New Hampshire.
And then…Hudson won at Atlanta. And the tide of momentum shifted completely.
As Ray Alfalla found himself caught in problem after problem, including two crashes and a plethora of other issues, Tyler Hudson went on the most incredible stretch run in NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship history, finishing the final five races on the podium and vaulting from a race and a half, nearly 75 points out, to claim full control of the NiSWC landscape and pull to within two points of two-time champ Ray Alfalla going to Homestead-Miami.
And at Homestead, in a race when everyone else tried to play fuel strategy to outwit the competition, Hudson went on a full-bore, hold nothing back approach. He staged a thrilling battle with fellow contender Nick Ottinger late in the race and ultimately finished third and sealed the deal on an unimaginable first-ever iRacing World Championship, taking the title by 9 points over Ray Alfalla.
For the man who had won everything else there was to win in iRacing, to finally ascend to the NiSWC throne was a moment, he said, as surreal as Dale Earnhardt finally winning the Daytona 500.
“But here we are anyways,” the new champion proclaimed.
And as the Mississippi driver ascends to the pinnacle of sim-racing, he brings with him the close of what has arguably been the most competitive and exciting season of racing in NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship history. The latest chapter is closed, and now, preparation for the new chapter has begun. For the top 20 in this season’s DWC points, their tickets into the 2014 World Championship are punched. For all the rest, the road to the Pro Series and the last shot to make next year’s Championship now begins.
Next season’s World Championship will see a markedly different picture be painted than the one we’ve seen in 2013. Michael Conti, the New Jersey hot-shoe, is leaving full-time competition to pursue other life aspects and potential opportunities. Power teams such as Drill Aisle and JScho Motorsports who dominated this season’s campaign, have splintered and broken, leaving drivers without homes and new players rising to make their marks as 2014 looms large over all of the drivers’ minds.
It calls to question what the 2014 season can bring to the table, and if it can top the intensity and excitement that 2013 has provided all season long, from the introduction of the Gen-6 race cars to the series to the implementation of Ford vs. Chevy manufacturer competition for the first time and the rise of a first-time champion.
But one thing is certain: If 2014 is half of what 2013 was, then you’d better hold onto your hat. Because it’ll be one wild ride.
We’ll see you in Daytona.
Interview with 2013 NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Champion Tyler Hudson, of Brandon, MS:
Interview with 2013 NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship runner-up Ray Alfalla, of Cape Coral, FL:
Interview with 2013 NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship 3rd place Nick Ottinger, of Claremont, N.C.:
Interview with 2013 NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship 4th place Michael Conti, of West Paterson, NJ:
Interview with 2013 NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship Homestead race winner Peter Bennett, of Cromwell, CT:
PHOTO CREDIT: inRacingNews via iRacing.com