The Speed51 Elite Racing League JoinAPS.com Cup Series set the field for Wednesday’s season opener at the virtual version of Daytona International Speedway, lining up the 40 franchised teams, and locking in three open drivers.
Josh Robbin started the season off with good momentum, scoring quick time for next week’s 200-lap feature with a lap of 47.233 seconds. Sean Leasure also secured his position on the front row, missing the pole by .006 seconds. Caleb Thompson led the Open cars (drivers without a secured spot in the field) with a lap time of 47.251, edging out Joey Bailey by .003 to grab one of only three available spots in the starting grid.
With qualifying completed, drivers were divided into two 40-lap duels to determine the starting order for next Wednesday’s race. Open cars were divided evenly between the two, with the highest-finishing driver locking into the field of 43. 52 drivers registered for the Duels, meaning 9 cars would be going home.
Chris James came from the back of Duel One to win the first 40-lap preliminary race following a technical difficulty in qualifying that prevented him from taking time. With pushing help from teammates Marcus Fruchenicht and Damien Leininger, James avoided “the Big One” on the white flag lap to secure his spot in the field as an Open car.
On the final restart, James worked with his teammates to manipulate the inside and outside lines so he could move down in front for a friendly push. According to James, this was always part of the plan.
“There was a little bit of strategy [on the restart] involved in that, as well as we were prepared for what was going to happen on the ensuing two laps. We planned for Damian to be there at the end, but it didn’t work out.”
When asked about his feelings about making the 200-lap season opener, James was still in shock.
“Excited, nervous, a lot of emotions right now. That was intense. My hands are still shaking.”
Logan Shea took advantage of two late-race restarts to win Duel Two with the help of teammate Josh Personette. The race appeared to be heading towards a clean 32-lap run to the finish, but a late caution stacked the field, bringing the Personette-Riggs Motorsports team to the front. Shea took to the high line to move into the lead, then slid in front of Personette on the final restart to secure the lead, outrunning his teammate to the line.
Shea knew that teamwork was going to be what won the 40-lap feature.
“Honestly I was trying to do all I could to keep my teammate behind me. I knew if I had the 18 in my rear view mirror, we were going to win the race. I had a pretty good feeling coming out of turn four. Actually didn’t see the wreck behind me until I saw the replay. I just can’t thank my teammate enough, he definitely helped me win that race.”
While Shea and Personette were locked into the field, they felt like they needed to take advantage of the opportunity to learn how the cars handled in the draft.
“To tell you the truth, there were a few moments where I thought ‘this is getting bad’ or about to get bad, ‘I should back out’, but I wanted to learn as much as I could for the race next week. Figured to just keep my nose in there and see what we could come home with.”
Austin Beers was the last drive to lock into the 43-car field after being the highest-finishing Open car in the second Duel. Jared Dixon was originally scored as the highest-finishing Open driver, but was assessed a penalty post-race for a restart infraction.
With the field set, next week is set to be an exciting week for Speed51 eSports. Our week of free live streams kicks off Monday with the Speed51 Elite Racing League Homeplace Brewing Company Grand National Series season opener at 7:45 PM ET. Tuesday sees the return of the Speed51 Elite Modified Tour at 8:30 PM ET, followed by the Western Super Series at 10 PM ET / 7 PM PT.
Wednesday features the 200-lap Speed51 Elite Racing League JoinAPS.com Cup Series season opener at Daytona. Replays of all eSports streams will be available for free following the conclusion of the race. A full schedule of Speed51 eSports events can be found here.
-Story by: Patrick Hahe, Speed51 Technology Coordinator – Twitter: @PatrickHahe_S51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com