Race two for Season 6 of the Monday Night Racing league was this Monday at Twin Ring Motegi, utilizing the ARCA car. Twin Ring Motegi is an underused track on iRacing, with few league events or official series that use the Japanese race course consistently.
The lack of events at Motegi made for a massive shortage of on-track experience for most of the field with this car/track combination, myself included.
Until this week, I had only raced this track one other time. Twin Ring Motegi has a very awkward layout from a driver’s perspective, with wide straightaways and long sweeping corners, in my opinion making it one of the hardest ovals on iRacing.
The league held an all-day practice session on Sunday which I used to log some more practice laps. I wasn’t too far off on pace in practice, but I wasn’t really comfortable with the car at all and lacked just a little speed from the drivers at the top of the timesheet.
Heading into race day, I expected to be top 10 on speed but probably not race-winning or even podium-capable speed. I had much more speed in pre-race practice than I thought I would and then dropped off slightly to 6th in qualifying.
I started on the outside lane, which got a good jump on the start until a quick caution. I made my way into fourth before the second and third-place cars collected each other and both fell to the back of the pack. I found myself as high as second and finally back down to third while trying to conserve tires before more cautions slowed us back down after a short run.
Everyone was given three extra sets of tires in pit road, and lap 30 saw me and the rest of the leaders pit and take our first set under caution. I had a killer pit stop and jumped from third to first out of the cars that pit.
There were around 6-10 cars that stayed out on old tires, and I carefully picked my way through them with the help of my spotter/crew chief combo Robert Dorman and James Pike. After several laps, I took control of the lead and maintained a small gap ahead of the rest of the cars on my strategy.
A caution in the very middle of the race saw the field bunched back up, and the last of the cars on the alternate strategy in pit road for their stop. I led a few more laps after the next restart before eventual race winner Chase Cabre passed me. Chase was clearly faster, and although I tried my best to mimic his line, I couldn’t match him on speed.
The race ended with a long green flag run, including a green flag pit cycle. Some of the cars on the alternate strategy stretched the fuel to the finish, including my fellow championship 4 competitor from Season 5, Collin Fern.
NASCAR Truck Series driver Corey Heim caught me with just a few laps to go, and after a tough battle and even some mutual door-banging in turn one, he managed to clear me for third and set sail on second place.
I stayed close to Corey until turn one of the last lap when he took second from Collin Fern, who was on old tires and tight on fuel.
I had to check up for Collin in turn one and cut below him on the exit of turn two. After looking inside off two, he blocked me 2-3 times until I was eventually pinched under him at his quarter panel all the way down on the white line entering turn 3.
As a result of that, I couldn’t make the corner with that shallow of an entry which caused me to wash up 1-2 lanes and hit him in the door mid-corner. We continued to battle off of turn four but ultimately the contact, which neither of us wanted or intended to happen (but was a result of both of our aggressive driving styles), led to me finishing third and Collin right behind me in fourth.
I’m happy with finishing third, especially considering how uncomfortable I was with the car/track in practice. Two top-five finishes to start the season puts me in the points lead going into race three next week, which is MX-5’s at Daytona Road Course. You can tune into the broadcast next Monday, November 21st, at 7:45 PM EST on Podium eSports and follow Monday Night Racing for more information.