Denes, Castro Share Watkins Glen iRacing eSeries Honors
 May 28, 2020| 
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PALMETTO, Fla. – Californian Phillippe Denes solidified his lead in the TireRack.com Road to Indy iRacing eSeries Presented by Cooper Tires by scoring yet another virtual victory this evening at the iconic Watkins Glen International road course in upstate New York.

Credit also to native New Yorker Andre Castro, who spun out of contention in the opening race, then bounced back magnificently in Race Two, climbing from 16th on the grid to score an unlikely victory for Legacy Autosport.

A succession of incidents during two action-packed 20-minute races led to six different drivers splitting the podium honors. New Zealand’s Hunter McElrea finished second in the first race for Pabst Racing, chased home by Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport). In the nightcap, Kory Enders (DEForce Racing), who hails originally from Warwick, N.Y., had to be content with his second place after a thrilling battle with Castro, while Christian Brooks, from Santa Clarita, Calif., chased them home in third for Exclusive Autosport.

Denes, from Carmel, put all of his iRacing experience to good use in qualifying as the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires contender clinched yet another SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award. McElrea lined up second on the grid ahead of Castro, with the other chief title protagonist, Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, rounding out the second row of the grid.

The long back straightaway at Watkins Glen affords a tremendous drafting opportunity and virtually assures that the race leader is unable to shake off his pursuers. So it proved this evening. But the fastest part of the 3.37-mile track also leads into one of the trickiest sections – the notorious Inner Loop “bus stop” chicane, which is always a magnet for trouble. Again, so it proved this evening.

Denes narrowly held onto his lead for the first couple of laps before, predictably, the drama reached its crescendo at the Inner Loop. Three cars entered the corner virtually abreast, with Eves somehow emerging in the lead – from fourth place – Denes falling to fifth and Castro spinning all the way to the back of the pack.

McElrea took his turn in the lead next time around, with Eves, Denes, Brooks and Jacob Loomis (BNRacing), from Corinth, Texas, all jockeying for position. An error by Eves at the Inner Loop on Lap Six cost him a few places, while Brooks also fell out of contention when he spun at the same place a couple of laps later.

The final stages saw Denes and McElrea fighting for top honors, with Denes eventually prevailing by just 0.366 of a second.

An even closer battle for third place saw Eves squeak ahead of Loomis on the final lap, with Prescott Campbell (Exclusive Autosport), from Newport Beach, Calif., surviving as best of the rest in fifth.

Singaporean Indy Lights racer Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport) followed in a distant sixth ahead of Max Kaeser (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), from Keystone, Colo., and a steady Nate Aranda (Juncos Racing), from Albuquerque, N.M., who earned his best finish so far in eighth. Irishman Peter Dempsey (Turn 3 Motorsport) ran ninth until the final lap when he lifted off to allow Enders past, thereby ensuring himself a 10th-place finish and the coveted pole position for Race Two.

Another fraught encounter saw Dempsey and Eves exit the fray when neither of them was prepared to give an inch to each other as they fought for the lead of Race Two entering the Inner Loop for the third time. Both were out on the spot.

Enders gratefully took over the lead but it wasn’t long before Denes, who had started 10th, began to fill his mirrors. Castro, too, had taken advantage of a series of incidents to charge through the pack into third.

The decisive moment in the race came after six laps when Denes was assessed a drive-through penalty for his part in an incident a little earlier which caused the unfortunate Kaeser to spin out of the race.

Enders continued in the lead, but Castro soon had him in his sights. The pair then staged a thrilling – and clean – battle in the waning stages. They exchanged positions several times before Castro timed his run to perfection and executed a nice pass into the Inner Loop on the final lap to secure his second win in as many weeks.

Enders backed up his podium finish from WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca a couple of weeks ago by finishing a close second, with Brooks a lonely third after Indy Lights racer Ryan Norman (Andretti Autosport) lost ground with a quick spin just a few laps from the end. Norman held on for fourth, while Denes overcame his penalty to slip past Dempsey for fifth on the final lap.

Another late change of position saw eSeries debutant Toby Sowery (Belardi Auto Racing), from Cambridge, England, slip past Campbell for seventh, with Flinn Lazier (Lazier Racing) from Vail, Colo., and Aranda completing the top 10.

Denes continued to display his mastery by claiming the TSOLadder.com Fastest Race Lap Awards in both races. Consequently, Denes now holds a commanding 34-point advantage over Eves heading into next week’s concluding pair of races at the Iowa Speedway oval in Newton, Iowa.

Provisional championship points after eight of 10 races:

1. Philippe Denes, 191

2. Braden Eves, 157

3. Andre Castro, 134

4. Max Kaeser, 121

5. Hunter McElrea, 110

6. Danial Frost, 103

7. Jacob Loomis, 85

8. Flinn Lazier, 81

9. Kory Enders, 73

10. Michael Myers, 69

Phillippe Denes (#5 Fire Flighters-RP Motorsport USA iRacing Pro Mazda): “That was a tough race. Andre spun early in the race and I had to slow down to avoid him, so a few cars got around me. I had to work my way back up, but there were a lot of mistakes out there and I was able to capitalize. It was very tough to pull away. As far as the championship goes, that’s not really on my mind: I’m focused on winning races and the rest will come after.”

Andre Castro (#77 Metalloid Corporation-Legacy Autosport Pro Mazda): “That was insane. It was my best race of the series, coming back from 16th. It was such a big mess of cars early in the race but when I saw Phil and Braden in front of me, I knew I had a chance. These cars are so skittish over bumps, so you have to be careful, but I had good pace and it was just about keeping it clean for the win. The battle with Kory was a lot of fun, especially that last lap. I did that outside pass into the Bus Stop about three times in that race – if you're half a car ahead, the guy on the inside doesn’t have the angle into the turn and he’ll have to lift before you, you just to have to have faith that he’ll do it! But Kory raced me really clean. He could have thrown it in there on the last lap. And it was great to get a win in my home state! Thanks to the guys at Legacy Autosport for having me on, even though it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been in the USF2000 car. This is really cool.”

Kory Enders (#7 MB Sugar Land/McLaren Houston-DEForce Racing Pro Mazda): “It was definitely a close race, hats off to Andre for the win. He set me up going into the Inner Loop on the last lap, which is really the only place to pass on the outside. I knew one of us would have to lift and he just held it in there a little bit deeper, so great racing for him. But it was nostalgic to race here again – like Andre, I’m from New York, so to be able to race at my ‘home track’ is really cool. Hoping to get my first win here soon.”

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