The inaugural Speed51 Elite Snowball Derby got off and running for its first of three parts on Sunday night with Street Stocks racing for 50 laps on the sim counterpart of Five Flags Speedway. After more than 40 Elite Racing League drivers attempted to make the field, 36 made the starting grid.
In the end, it was one driver who managed to shine above the rest, backing up similar success in Speed51 Elite Modified Tour competition at Five Flags back in October. Brandon Wilkinson proved once again that he had a knack for getting around Five Flags, also making a statement heading into the Late Model and Super Late Model portions of the eSports Snowball Derby this coming Monday and Wednesday.
“The guys didn’t make it easy on me tonight,” Wilkinson said after the race. “Like I said after I won the Modified race, Five Flags is a really good track for us, and I’m really looking forward to this whole week. I think we’re going to have three really good shots, especially on Wednesday in the Super, because that’s our bread and butter.”
It was a near perfect night for the real-world spotter from Ashaway, Rhode Island, who recorded quick time in time trials, won his heat race, and led all but three laps of the 50-lap feature. Racing hard against fellow Northeast competitor Jake Matheson early on, some hard racing sent Matheson into the marbles and out of contention. Wilkinson managed to survive a late assault by Conor Horn for the victory.
“I just wanted to come out here and have fun tonight,” Wilkinson said. “I set the pole in qualifying and went a little crazy. In the heat race, I found out what I needed for the feature there, because I got super tight in the heat. It was crazy racing with Matheson. I got into him a little bit down there in three, but with the way everybody was racing, I knew I had to keep the lead there and that was my only shot to win the race.”
A series of late yellow flags, including one which ended the race, curtailed Horn’s attempts to snatch away the win.
“I think what we needed was caution laps to not count, all these cautions took away all the green flag laps we had,” Horn said. “Those two or three restarts I had in second, if they went on longer I thought I could get clear of Lutz and maybe make a run at the bumper of Wilkinson. They kept wrecking back there, just a bit disappointed.”
Third-place finisher Ryan Lutz expressed a similar disappointment in the late yellows.
“Really needed a couple of green flag runs to get going. I felt like we had a fast car on the long run, think we proved that in the heat race. I just needed one more restart at it. I felt like we had something at the 55, and if I could just shove him off the bottom where he was putting the 024, we could’ve had a shot at it. We didn’t get the break we needed, but it was still a good run for us.”
Next up for the Speed51 Elite Snowball Derby is the Late Model portion, the eSports Snowflake 100 on Monday night, with a 7:30 p.m. ET post time for qualifying. Watch the first official Snowball Derby eSports event throughout the week live on Speed51.com.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT