The fifth annual iRacing Pro Race of Champions held Wednesday night featured a great field, but a runaway performance by 24-year-old Kiwi rising star Richie Stanaway.
Stanaway, a full-time competitor in both the GP2 Series and the FIA World Endurance Championship, the latter with Aston Martin Racing, led flag-to-flag from pole in the 20-lap race at the Watkins Glen International short course.
The race saw 24 drivers compete online in BMW Z4 GT3s; Stanaway will also have $2,500 in his name dedicated to the Justin Wilson Children’s Fund.
NASCAR’s Timmy Hill and Jay Beasley completed the podium, with Chris Dymond and Ben Waddell rounding out the top five.
Other notables who competed included 24 Hours of Le Mans overall winner Nick Tandy, Alex Gurney, Michael Lewis, Spencer Pumpelly, Tommy Kendall, Justin Bell, Martin Plowman, Ron Capps, Benny Simonsen and Bradley Philpot.
But no driver was worth watching as much as Sam Schmidt, in a specially designed CXC Simulator in California, in his first race of any kind since an accident in testing an IndyCar in 2000.
Schmidt, using only his head and mouth to operate and steer the car in the same way he did in a modified Corvette from Arrow Electronics, finished 16th after starting 23rd. He’d only qualified a little more than two seconds off Stanaway’s pole time, which was mightily impressive.
“This process started two years ago… then got thrown together in four months,” Schmidt said, via PSR TV, which hosted the live stream of the race via iRacing.com/live.
“Doing Long Beach and stuff like this is incredible. The technology is very realistic, very intuitive. It’s allowed me to drive. I think God for the people at ARROW who took this on. It’s opened a lot of doors for a lot of people.”
Schmidt had to pit early in the virtual race but kept pressing on. Noting his competitive nature, the IndyCar team co-owner wanted to do better than 16th!
“Someone was completely facing me, I guess if I could have seen the replay … but 3:30 in pits killed the whole race. I drove rest of race without incident. Yes, 16th was disappointing. But considering the nature of the field and how much others drive, it was a blast. So much fun. Everyone has said this would be super cool.”
Schmidt isn’t slowing down, and as he continued the interview, he noted some future goals.
“We started in a simulator with all of this bolted on. Then bolted it from sim to the Corvette. They think it’s real elaborate swap over, and it’s not.
“The simulator allows them to do the testing.ARROW bought a new Z06. The target for 16 is to get our license. Maybe we do Pikes Peak and a few others.”
Schmidt’s already planning an encore for the iPRoC.
“If I get invited back, I’ll do it again. I’d love a top-10 finish. I had a blast. Can’t wait for next year.”