While IMSA may be virtual racing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Thursday, plenty of the 50 entered drivers have successful real-life experience at the famed California circuit.
Eight IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship drivers and one from the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge have found their way to victory lane at WeatherTech Raceway. They are looking to do so again, albeit from their simulator in Thursday’s 90-minute invitational race presented by Motul.
And while they may be considered "ones to watch," several of them are needing a little extra virtual practice.
For Patrick Long, the second-winningest IMSA driver at WeatherTech Raceway, he admits it's been about five years since his last drive on the simulator.
"I am excited to jump back into the sim/online community," said Long, who will drive the No. 45 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 RSR on Thursday. "It's been amazing to see the surge of enthusiasm and attention that these unique times have brought to the very advanced and successful online community that's existed for a decade. I commend IMSA for providing a platform for our fans to engage and even compare their lap times to some of their favorite drivers."
Fellow Porsche driver Nick Tandy – whose lone win at WeatherTech Raceway came in the GTC class in 2013 – shares the same sentiment.
"I'm looking forward to the IMSA races coming up," says Tandy, who’s slated to drive the No. 911 Porsche for his WeatherTech Championship Porsche GT Team. "I've missed the competition and I hope we can give something for the awesome IMSA fans to follow. I don't expect to win as I'm not the most experienced online racer, but be sure we've been putting some practice in."
Long and Tandy will have to contend with the factory-supported BMWs, which proved their strength at the inaugural round at Sebring International Raceway three weeks ago with a podium sweep.
But the BMWs also have been strong in real life at WeatherTech Raceway, with BMW Team RLL collecting back-to-back wins in the WeatherTech Championship GTLM class in 2017 and 2018. Connor De Phillippi was part of the winning lineup in the latter year and will slide behind the virtual wheel of the No. 25 BMW M8 GTE.
"Taking part in my first professional IMSA e-sports race at a circuit that I've previously won at like WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is pretty special," said De Phillippi. "I'm learning a lot, getting up to speed and I'm confident that I have all of the resources at my disposal to get me to the top level of sim racing with thanks to BMW. It's a long race, which means strategy will play a role. I'm ready for a 2018 victory repeat!"
One driver looking for a 2019 victory repeat will be Gavin Ernstone in the No. 61 Road Shagger Racing BMW. Ernstone drives with the same team in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, and WeatherTech Raceway is where he and co-driver Jon Morley scored their first series win last year.
"This is very new territory for me," admitted Ernstone. "Although I used iRacing all last season to learn the tracks, I have never actually done an iRacing race. It's a very different feel with the car too, as in the Pilot Challenge TCR class, all of our cars are front-wheel drive and I certainly miss our Audi RS3. I have a suspicion we won't do quite as well as the last time we were at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in the non-virtual world, the site of our first IMSA win.
"It is of course fantastic that we are involved in possibly the only sport in the world that can compete virtually. And it will certainly be a great honor to race against the astoundingly high level of drivers that are in the field. I can't wait!"
Thursday's race goes live at 6 p.m. ET from the virtual WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and is available on the iRacing YouTube and Twitch channels, as well as the iRacing Facebook page. IMSA Radio's John Hindhaugh again will be anchoring the commentary team.
A special edition of The Torque Show with Justin Bell and Tommy Kendall will be streamed live starting at 5 p.m. ET on the Torque Show's Facebook page.