After whittling down a field of 92 cars to just 37 competitors, Sunday’s second running of the Virtual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway came down to pit strategy and a little bit of luck.
The 300-lap replication of the Snowball Derby started off with Speed51 Super Select Series Champion Parker Retzlaff leading the fixed-setup event, meaning that all drivers were racing with the same setup provided by Maconi Setup Shop. He wdominated the first 100 laps, leading into the first competition caution. Alex McCollum and Retzlaff battled through the middle of the event, with Retzlaff eventually ceding the lead to iRacing Pro Series driver McCollum.
Tides turned after the halfway mark, as McCollum suffered an internet connection issue that resulted in him being knocked out of the lead, returning Retzlaff to the point. At the second competition caution on lap 200, Retzlaff stayed out, attempting to wait as long as possible to use his second set of tires. He made his move to pit lane during a caution with 65 laps to go, shuffling him back to 23rd position.
Thomas Axsom moved to the point on the pit cycle, but his biggest threat emerged in the form of Parker Retzlaff. A caution at the front of the field following a restart stacked up the entire field coming off turn two, but a call from Retzlaff’s spotter kept him out of trouble. He ducked to the inside apron and rode the inside wall through one and two, avoiding all of the carnage in front of him. The move put Retzlaff back into the top five, then back to second.
But Retzlaff’s return to the front was stunted by a combination of Axsom’s late-race restarts and a few untimely cautions. Retzlaff would get one more shot at Axsom with a green-white-checkered restart, but he was unable to get around the Northeastern spotter’s Super Late Model in time to take the checkered flag.
Thomas Axsom was jubilant that his strategy paid off, saying, “A little shy of lap 200, we figured we should take tires now and see what happens. Everybody else has to pit at lap 200. See if we can stay up front and play defense on that set of tires. Once we hit lap 205-210, it was either this set of tires, victory lane, or dead last.”
Axsom, who races against Retzlaff on a weekly basis, wasn’t fazed when he saw the black 42 in his mirror. “I got plenty of experience racing with Retzlaff, he’s fast everywhere he goes. It’s like he’s watching your throttle. It’s a lot better when you’re in front of him than behind him.”
Now Axsom’s attention turns to the Open Setup Snowball Derby in two weeks, providing another opportunity at a big win. “This is a pretty cool race, the big open race is coming up. Huge momentum going into the open setup race. Definitely a huge win with the names in here, a couple Pro drivers, definitely some top-notch guys.”
Speed51 eSports will have another busy weekend of Virtual Snowball Derby action on December 11-13. Make sure to watch on Speed51.com/eSports for our full lineup of league racing events.
Fans can also watch the real world Snowball Derby on December 2-6 on Speed51.TV. Click here to order your video ticket today.
-Story by: Patrick Hahe, Speed51 Technology Coordinator