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.
Photo Credit: LAT / iRacing