Eng Wins Second Straight in GTLM Class at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca
No matter if it’s sim racing or the real world, when it comes to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, races are won and lost in the famed Andretti Hairpin and on pit lane.
That was proven once again Thursday night, when the IMSA iRacing Pro Series Presented by SimCraft Powered by VP Racing Fuels featured a 60-minute, two-class battle on the virtual WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
After qualifying second overall and in the LMP2 class to polesitter Daniel Morad, Italy’s Mirko Bortolotti deftly maneuvered his No. 888 GRT Grasser Racing Team/GazX Dallara P217 around Morad’s No. 70 Alegra Motorsports/Moradness machine in the hairpin – otherwise known as Turn 2 – just after the green flag dropped on the hour-long race.
“The key was trying to put the nose in front of Daniel as soon as possible,” Bortolotti said. “He made just a small mistake at the start, which put me into a position to get into the lead, which was crucial, I think. It’s quite hard to overtake on that track, and if you can get through the traffic in front of your opponent, it’s definitely better, because it can give you a chance to open up a gap.”
It took Bortolotti a little while to open that gap, however, as Morad kept the pressure on throughout the first quarter of the race before the No. 888 machine finally got a little bit of breathing room. With 19 minutes left, Bortolotti came to pit road for his lone stop of the race, handing the lead back to Morad.
The Canadian brought his Dallara into the pits one lap later, but his efforts to overtake Bortolotti were hampered somewhat by slower traffic on his in-lap. Then, a brief slide into the dirt navigating the pit lane hairpin while exiting gave Bortolotti a bit more comfort and he went on to win by 2.449 seconds for his first IMSA iRacing Pro Series victory.
“It’s actually quite tough to race the simulator, to keep the concentration, so it’s actually good practice,” Bortolotti said. “It’s always good fun. The first part of the race was quite intense with Daniel there. It was a really good fight, and then I think he had a small mistake on the pit exit, which gave me a little bit of breathing room. So, I had an easier time in the last 15 minutes, but still I wanted to go safely through the traffic. In the end, I managed to do it, so I’m quite happy. It’s cool to win this race, actually.”
Although he didn’t win the race, Morad’s runner-up result – coupled with his second-place run two weeks ago in the season opener at Sebring International Raceway – moved him atop the LMP2 driver standings by one point, 64-63, over Bortolotti heading into the final race of the season in two weeks at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. James French completed the LMP2 podium at WeatherTech Raceway with a third-place showing in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Dallara.
Eng Goes Back-to-Back in 1-2 BMW Sweep
The GT Le Mans (GTLM) race followed a similar arc to LMP2, albeit with some subtle differences. Rodrigo Pflucker qualified on pole for the fourth time in his IMSA iRacing Pro Series career dating back to last season and the Peruvian racer was looking for his second series win – and first of the season – aboard the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports / PRT Ronin Simsport Ferrari 488.
It looked good early for Pflucker, who kept the field at bay for the first 17 minutes until Austria’s Philipp Eng found his way past in – you guessed it – the Andretti Hairpin and into the lead in his No. 89 BMW Team RLL / BMW Team IMSA M8.
“I think he had slightly more (tire) degradation than us,” Eng said. “I prepared the move for two or three laps, and it worked out in the end. It was just a small mistake by him, but he drove fantastically and was very fair.”
Eng never looked back from there, making a clean pit stop with 12 minutes to go without relinquishing the lead. He went on to win by 8.332 seconds over his BMW teammate, Connor De Phillippi in the No. 25 machine. Eng also won the season-opening race at Sebring and now has a 12-point advantage, 70-58, over De Phillippi in the championship.
“It was an incredible race,” Eng said. “We had such a good car today, and Elias, my spotter, he was spot-on. He did amazing. Our strategy was spot-on. We pitted a bit earlier than we wanted because we were a bit tight on fuel.
“Rodrigo had very good pace in the first few laps and I just sat there and waited, saved some fuel. But the car just got quicker and quicker. It’s my second win in a row and I’m just enjoying my time here.”
De Phillippi wrested second place from Pflucker on the penultimate lap of the race to make it a 1-2 sweep for BMW. Pflucker held on for third in his Ferrari.
The IMSA iRacing Pro Series Presented by SimCraft Powered by VP Racing Fuels season finale is set for Thursday, May 6 at 6 p.m. ET from Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta