He’d been on the podium in both of the IMSA iRacing Pro Series season’s first two races, but tonight, Nicky Catsburg became a first-time winner in a spirited 90-minute race on the virtual Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Driving the No. 10 BMW IMSA Team Black M8 GTE, Catsburg benefited from quick pit work to gain valuable track position over teammate Bruno Spengler and took the lead from Shane van Gisbergen when the New Zealander spun with 26 minutes to go. He also withstood a heavy challenge from Spengler – which ended with Spengler spinning in Turn 1 – going on to win by 3.157 seconds over Robby Foley.
“With tracks like this, it’s quite narrow and small,” said Catsburg, who moved into the series points lead as the only driver in the series with three podiums. “We knew it was going to get messy with traffic and indeed it got messy with traffic. There was quite some action with people touching each other and me. It was very intense but I think this is the first time I had something against Bruno. I mean the other two races he got the better of me and this time I was able to fight him and be quick.
“Robby was very close in the end and he got unlucky with traffic as well, which is unfortunately something that really is controlling the race. The traffic and people not being too careful. Honestly, very intense race again. It was super fun. I’m very happy with my first victory and hopefully we can continue this streak of podiums.”
Foley, who started the race second in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M8 GTE, had a bird’s eye view of the late-race battle between Catsburg and Spengler and inherited second when the Canadian spun off course in the No. 7 BMW Team Red entry. He put the pressure on Catsburg as the clock wound down, but lost contact after getting tangled up in a bit of lapped traffic and had to settle for second.
Nevertheless, it was the first podium result of the season for Foley, who started March’s season-opening Sebring SuperSaturday event from the pole position.
“As you saw in the race, tire wear was pretty critical, so I just tried to save the tires early on in the race and kind of have something at the end,” Foley said. “Lapped traffic definitely played a part, had a couple of minor contacts. But overall, it kind of went to plan. I didn’t execute quite the perfect lap in qualifying, nice job to Bruno for the pole. But finally, sort of a good race now after some bad luck in the first two, so I’m super happy to put the Turner BMW on the podium.”
BMW swept the podium for the third consecutive race, as Connor De Phillippi came home third in the No. 25 BMW Team Red M8 GTE. De Phillippi was making his second start of the season – he made his debut two weeks ago at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca – and he deftly avoided pitfalls that cost many others in the crowded, 49-car field on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn circuit.
“What a wonderful event,” De Phillippi said. “We put in a big effort and a lot of preparation. I started up front compared to my first race with these guys, so that made my life a lot easier, starting up in the top 10. It was just a clean race.
“We ran a great strategy, pitted on the early side so we made up a lot of ground while the others were in traffic and that put us in a good position just before the yellow came out. At the end, we had good tires so just tried to attack and hang with the leaders and found ourselves on the podium. I’m really happy, happy for BMW and happy to be a part of this whole project.”
Turning in what was perhaps the drive of the race – and certainly the most impressive charge – was Austrian Philipp Eng in the No. 26 Team Austria BMW. Eng battled from way back in 46th place on the starting grid to take the checkered flag in fourth place.
Harry Tincknell – who usually drives the No. 55 Mazda Motorsports RT24-P Daytona Prototype international (DPi) machine in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – finished fifth in the No. 55 Ford GT as the highest-finishing non-BMW.
Spengler, meanwhile, saw his two-race win streak snapped despite starting the race from the pole position. In addition to his spin while challenging Catsburg for the lead, Spengler was later involved in a multi-car incident in the Esses. He wound up sixth.
The next round of the IMSA iRacing Pro Series is set for the virtual Road America on Thursday, May 14.