DEGROOT IS “DE” MAN IN FLORIDA
By: Max Davies
Homestead Miami Speedway
Wednesday October 14th
Winner: Nick DeGroot
2nd Place: Jorge Anzaldo
3rd Place: Brandon Passalacqua
They say opposites attract and in Dark Horse IndyCar circles that is very much the truth. For although the second race of the series’ second season at Homestead Miami Speedway was a caution-filled extravaganza and its predecessor a season-opening flat out green flag race to the end, both attracted plaudits aplenty from drivers and observers alike.
With a car setup and weather conditions that prompted overtaking, the race required drivers to time their passes, manage tires, and keep their respective bucking broncos under control as the fuel stints lightened and the grip levels diminished.
Mastering the conditions, newcomer to the series but nevertheless a ‘name’ in iRacing circles, Nick DeGroot came from 11th on the grid to claim his debut win in the series ahead of Jorge Anzaldo (famed admin of the Lionheart IndyCar iRacing series) and Dark Horse Series regular Brandon Passalacqua. With last seasons championship runner up Joe McAdory just missing the podium ahead of Gary Corley finishing 5th, Josh Garner took 6th ahead of Nick Wnuk, defending champion Charles Teed, Cameron Baustian and AJ Musselman rounding out the top ten. Post-race penalties subsequently saw Corley dropped to 10th, with a litter of further transgressions and penalisations surely to be handed out throughout the field.
With a strong 24-car field, it was Davies in the #51 car who led the drivers to the green flag having taken his maiden pole position in the closing minutes of the qualifying session. The race quickly settled into a no holds barred bare knuckle fight with drivers swapping places lap after lap at over 215mph. It was inevitable perhaps that the dicey racers would soon bring out the yellow cautions and on lap 18 we had our first of many as the #88 of Michael Spell rear ended the #65 of Joseph Madigan. After the stops for fuel and tires, the battle out front raged as the #89 of DeGroot and fellow newcomer in the #3 car Hayden Loll fought tooth and nail with the #27 of Teed and Eric Peterson in the #36 content with lining up behind, saving fuel and tire wear before entering the fray a couple of laps later.
Further down the field the manic nature of the racing was no less exciting as Davies battled with the #131 of Craig Forsythe – both starting the race with tire and fuel management in mind, eventually joining the battle at the front and the #50 of David LeClair leading a train of cars before slamming into the outside of the turn 2 wall which didn’t bring out a caution.
Lap 41 and with it, Loll and DeGroot came together as the #3 car oversteered heading out of the final turn thus leaving the #89 car with nowhere to go.
“It just snapped on me,” declared Loll on the live broadcast. “There was no warning, it hadn’t done that any other lap. I wasn’t even behind anyone, I’m baffled…”
Be that as it may, both drivers took one of their respective ‘fast repairs’ in the pits and were able to re-join at the back of the field under the second yellow flag caution of the day.
Ah the fabled yellow flags…
On occasion, such is the way with iRacing, it can develop a mind of its own and the drivers and tv broadcasters TMG Racing Network were then forced to spend the next several minutes trying to figure out the correct positions for all pilots to be in, ready for the restart.
Eventually, iRacing decided it did want to play ball and at the green flag, it was Musselman who grabbed it and led the players back out onto the field at over 200mph on lap 48. Predictably, the heat at the front was intense with those that started in the lower half of the pack now at the top of the leader board and all keen to prove their speed and tenacity with the lead changing multiple times and all drivers separated by only ten seconds. Despite the shenanigans of the yellow flag glitches, the likes of McAdory, Davies, Degroot, Teed and Forsythe all began their quests to climb the ladder with each dicing with others repeatedly until the yellows were out once more on lap 66 as the #36 of Peterson came down his team mate Benjamin Combs in the #77 car.
Turn 4 claiming yet another pair of aces…
Ever the racers racer, Peterson was quick to claim fault for the accident declaring: “I just got loose. It was hard to tell but I knew he (Combs) was there and I’m just glad I didn’t take him out.” Honest and fair in their self-assessments some drivers are.
With their pitstops made during the caution that followed, the field took the green once more on lap 71 and it was business as usual at the front with DeGroot battling with Passalacqua and Michael Spell. Behind the top three the racing was no less intense with drivers throughout the field passing and re-passing each other lap after lap.
This really was IndyCar racing at its very best.
Lap 96 and yet again, there was contact. This time it was the #7 of Corley who made contact with LeClair in the #50 and with it, another caution period. A racing incident? It was a tough call to make but nevertheless for both drivers, it was a clumsy error that cost both any chance of victory.
With a further run of pitstops completed, lap 100 saw the #19 of Anzaldo take the green flag restart ahead of DeGroot but before the front runners could get into a groove, there was a multi-car pile-up and another yellow flag came out. This time, it was Loll in the #3 machine who got into Rd1 race winner AJ Hobson as the two entered turn 3 – with the #63 appearing to lift the throttle ever so slightly and Loll keeping his foot hard down at the same time. The contact was not slight and saw Hobson then collect the #76 of Jim Brooks and the #77 of Combs who tried to take avoiding action as the three ahead were bouncing off the turn 4 wall very hard – good job this is virtual racing otherwise the Homestead medical facility would have been overstretched today…
The green flew once more on lap 107 but not for long as yet again, the caution was out after McAdory hit Spell between the first two turns before collecting Eric Schuss. The accordion effect now fully in play, Joe Nitro hit the back of Davies who had had to back out of the throttle to the colliding cars ahead, before Spell then hit Madigan, collecting Musselman on the way before being hit hard by the fast approaching Madigan.
With the red mist now seemingly descending over his eyes, it was a surprise to then see Madigan apparently drive deliberately into the stricken Spell who was stationary on the pit exit. Rumour at the time was that the stewards of the race and the admin could look upon this most unkindly post-race.
Oh how long ago the 100-lap green flag race a week before in California now seemed…
The madness now over, racing resumed on lap 114 and at the front it was DeGroot, from Anzaldo and Passalacqua with the chasing pack trying to duplicate their breakneck speed. Further back the battle for fourth reigned supreme with McAdory, Forsythe and Corley chasing each other hard whilst trying to stay in the draft of the leaders. Alas, exiting turn three two laps later and Corley was involved in another incident as the #7 and #131 of Forsythe touched causing the latter to spin and despite the entire pack somehow managing to avoid him, it was enough to bring out the caution once more and with it, the end of the race.
Safe in the knowledge he could coast behind the pace car to the chequered flag, DeGroot was delighted to become the second debutant in a row after Hobson to visit victory lane.
“I was very lucky with that scoring incident under the iRacing glitch,” confirmed the race winner. “With it I automatically gained 8-10 spots so that really helped me in my charge back to the front. Once I got there, my main thought was to hold that bottom line for as long as I could.”
There was no doubt, sometimes, the cards just fall for a driver and this race was no different but DeGroot was a little disappointed the final yellow flag meant there would be no last lap battle with Anzaldo
“Even though I won I was a little bummed we never got to have our finish - cos I wanted to see what Jorge was gonna pull out of his bag of tricks and try to get me at the end, overall it was an awesome race up front with him all the way through and I look forward to the next race – this is a great league!””
Disappointed he was unable to try and make a last lap pass for the win, 2nd placed Anzaldo was content with his debut performance too declaring: “I wasn’t happy with my qualifying effort but was satisfied with my race pace. Ultimately, I gave up the bottom and the lead after having fought so hard to get up to the front. Nick drove a great race and was deserving of the win today.”
With an impressive display, Passalacqua took a fine third place. “I found myself very fortunate to be in the right spot at the right time when the scoring glitch glitch occurred,” he said. “That led to running Top 5 for the rest of the night and continued to learn as the night progressed. I’m very satisfied with a P3 finish.”
With McAdory, Corely (later dropped 5 places to 10th), Garner, Wnuk, Teed, Baustian and Mussleman completing the top ten, there were many drivers who came away feeling they would have got more of a result if not for some of the on-track battles and the less than fair driving from some. One thing is for certain, there will be much for the admins and stewards of the series to review in what was a chaotic race that delivered plenty of action-packed racing, albeit with perhaps a few too many doses of exuberance and occasional self-indignation.
Next up is World Wide Technology race at Gateway and another oval that promises yet more wheel to wheel racing in what is fast becoming a championship of some recognition.
Will Peterson or Davies be able to maintain their qualifying form and take another pole? Will they be able to turn such speed into a race win or will DeGroot take his second in a row or will it be Teed, Musselman or perhaps another first time winner?
Find out next week in the third round of the Dark Horse IndyCar Series.