Rodrigo Pflucker wins IMSA iRacing finale; Bruno Spengler wins title

LAT / iRacing
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Rodrigo Pflucker won the season finale Thursday of the IMSA iRacing Pro Series at virtual Watkins Glen International while Bruno Spengler rallied for the season championship.

Pflucker qualified His No. 47 Precision Performance Motorsports Ford GTE on pole position and led virtually the entire race, winning by 1.784 seconds over the No. 97 AIM Vasser Sullivan Porsche 911 RSR of Shane van Gisbergen.

John Edwards finished third in his BMW M8 ahead of Nicky Catsburg, who came up six points short in the championship standings of Spengler, another BMW teammate.

‘IT FELT LIKE REAL LIFE’: IMSA drivers go sim racing

Spengler, who won the first two races of the six-round series, finished a season-worst 14th after crashing on the opening lap at Watkins Glen. But with only the best five finishes counting toward the standings, he was able to outpoint Catsburg 153-147.

Click here for the results of the IMSA iRacing Pro Series finale at Watkins Glen.

Click here for the final points standings in the six-race IMSA iRacing Pro Series.

IMSA’s next race will take place in real life at Daytona International Speedway.

The IMSA WeatherTech 240 At Daytona will be held at 6 p.m. July 4 on NBCSN as IMSA resumes its 2020 season that has been on pause since the Rolex 24 because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The July 3-4 event at Daytona and a July 17-18 event at Sebring International Raceway will be held without fans in attendance.

Here’s the recap of the IMSA iRacing Pro Series finale from the IMSA Wire Service:

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Rodrigo Pflucker finally proved the speed he’s shown throughout the IMSA iRacing Pro Series season was no fluke in Thursday’s 90-minute race at the virtual Watkins Glen International presented by Konica Minolta.

After putting his No. 47 Precision Performance Motorsports Ford GT on the pole position for the third time this season in qualifying, the Peruvian racer didn’t put a wheel wrong throughout the race – effectively leading every lap en route to his first series victory in the season finale. The only laps he didn’t lead were during the midrace pit sequence, but once he regained P1, he kept it all the way to the checkered flag.

“I was focusing on driving,” said Pflucker, who also won the 2019 IMSA Prototype Challenge championship with Forty7 Motorsports. “I think that helps a lot for the driver to be focused on what he needs to be focused.

“We did four tires; I think it was the smartest option because we were in the front. It worked very well at the end. Shane (van Gisbergen) was super fast, so it was a thing about maintaining the pace. When he was getting close to me, I did a really good lap, even really close to my fastest lap so I’m happy with that also.”

Whereas Pflucker’s route to the victory was somewhat straightforward and without incident, the same could not be said for Bruno Spengler’s pursuit of the IMSA iRacing Pro Series championship. After opening the season with back-to-back victories and finishing on the podium in four of the season’s first five races, the Canadian encountered a nightmare scenario coming out of Turn 1 on the opening lap of the race.

After starting eighth, Spengler collected a spinning Richard Heistand in the No. 11 Ford GT, sending his championship-leading No. 7 BMW IMSA Team Red M8 high into the virtual sky and into a series of barrel rolls. Spengler quickly hit the reset button and got back to the pits, but lost a lap in the process while his lone contender for the title – Nicky Catsburg in the No. 10 BMW IMSA Team Black M8 – quickly slotted into second place and within striking distance of the lead.

As the race went on, however, Spengler continued to battle his way back, returning to the lead lap following the competition caution at halfway. He would end up finishing a season-worst 14th. But with IMSA iRacing Pro Series rules calling for each driver’s lowest finish to be dropped in the point standings, it meant Catsburg needed a victory in tonight’s race to take away the title.

The Dutchman wound up fourth, handing the title to Spengler by a count of 153-147.

“First of all, I’m super happy to win the championship,” said Spengler, who also won the 2012 DTM championship. “It’s a special adventure with what happened in this period of time. It was just amazing from IMSA to organize such a championship. It was special. To win at the end, it’s a lot of emotions. There’s a team and BMW Motorsport behind us; the teamwork is very serious out there in iRacing. Everyone is good. You have to work on your setup to get a feel for the track, the car.”

Australian Supercars superstar van Gisbergen closed out his IMSA iRacing Pro Series season with his third podium result of the year in the No. 97 AIM Vasser Sullivan Porsche 911 RSR. “The Giz” also finished second at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and VIRginia International Raceway en route to fourth in the season championship standings.

“It’s been cool; great something to do during this period,” said van Gisbergen. “I’ve also raced the Supercars e series as well, it’s been a lot of fun. Good to keep the brain ticking. Still thinking about race cars; good for going back racing. It’s been a lot of fun. Seeing how much everyone has improved from the first race. Not a fan of the early morning start, but good fun. My first race back is with Supercars; the next race back is the real thing in Sydney.”

And for the second consecutive IMSA iRacing Pro Series race, three different manufacturers were represented inside the top three finishing positions. This time, the third manufacturer was BMW, which returned to the podium after a one-race absence courtesy of 2020 Rolex 24 At Daytona GT Le Mans (GTLM) class winner John Edwards, who finished third in the No. 23 BMW IMSA Team Black M8.

“I have to say it’s been really impressive,” said Edwards of BMW’s iRacing efforts. “You saw how BMW was so dominant the first few races with dramatic experience. That showed in the beginning, but everyone started to catch up and get more competitive.

“When I first joined, not having a lot of sim racing experience, it functioned almost like real life with the teamspeak server. We talked and asked questions. It felt as close to being organized like the real thing as it could. It’s been really good to do during the stay-at-home period.”

Finishing one spot behind Catsburg and rounding out the top five was yet another BMW M8, the No. 96 Turner Motorsport entry driven by Robby Foley.

The IMSA iRacing Challenge Series also reached its conclusion on Thursday, with the third and final race also being held at Watkins Glen earlier in the afternoon.

Dorian Mansilla in the No. 44 Redline Racing Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport took the victory by 2.781 seconds over Nils Koch’s No. 98 BMW M4 GT4. However, it took a bump-and-run maneuver by Mansilla approaching Lap 20 of 31 to grab the lead. Koch was spun in the Toe of the Boot on track, but finished runner-up as the two cars held a healthy 10-second lead before the incident. Robby Foley in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW finished third.

With the IMSA iRacing Pro Series now complete, all eyes now are focused on the return of the real-life IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Daytona International Speedway. The IMSA WeatherTech 240 At Daytona will feature the Daytona Prototype international (DPi), GTLM and GT Daytona (GTD) classes and will be televised live on NBCSN beginning at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 4.

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”