On most alternating Tuesdays, eNASCAR fans are normally gearing up for the next round of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.
Touted as the 40-best virtual stock car oval racers, it’s remarkable to think about how each individual driver made their way to the top level of eNASCAR sim racing. Those Top-40 all did it their own, unique way, and for some, it wasn’t as clear a path as it’s set out to be nowadays.
This Tuesday night, and alternating with eNCiS on Tuesdays in 2020, a new season begins for the many hopefuls looking to write their own story about making it to the top of the game, as the eNASCAR Road-to-Pro kicks off at Daytona International Speedway, utilizing the current virtual NASCAR Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series vehicles.
When a sim racer signs up with iRacing, they have to advance through the license levels, unlocking new series and vehicles that they can compete in for the official series.
The Class A, blue-striped license level is the highest level a driver can reach by racing in the normal roundtable of the official pick-up race series. The more iRating that a driver accumulates, the higher a race split that they will be placed in. Splits exist because there can’t be hundreds of people on the same track at the same time, so drivers are grouped by drivers close to their own ranking.
If these drivers constantly finish at the top of their splits, their iRating level will continue to go up, and they will be moved into higher, more difficult splits filled with even higher-ranked drivers.
The higher an iRating that a driver has, the more likely they will end up in the top-most split with the highest ranked drivers in the iRacing community.
So how does a driver take the next step, from having thousands of iRating points and a Class A license, to moving up the ladder to the Pro Series, and eventually, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series?
The first true test on the ranking system is the eNASCAR Road-to-Pro Series.
Any driver with a Class A license and a safety rating over 2.0 is eligible to participate in the Road-to-Pro, but mainly drivers in the top splits will have the greatest opportunity to earn the most points during the season, and will have a greater chance at advancing to the iRacing Pro Series later in the season.
The Top 20 in the points when it’s all said and done will advance from the Road-to-Pro series over to the Pro Series, and it’s in the Pro Series where it’s determined who gets to join the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series roster.
“You really have to be in one of the first three splits to have a shot, so realistically, it’s 100 guys vying for 20 spots,” says Adam Gilliland, a former eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series driver from 2012 to 2018.
BEEN THERE, NOW TRYING TO GET BACK
Gilliland is one of many drivers who are hopeful in advancing from the Road-to-Pro series into the Pro Series this season. A former eNCiS winner, back at Daytona International Speedway in 2013, Gilliland has unfortunately been unsuccessful in the previous two seasons in his attempts to return to the top level of Sim Racing.
Regardless, the 24-year-old from McKinney, Texas, who is currently in school working towards a career in IT specific to CyberSecurity, is hopeful that he can once again return to the series in which he’s made 103 career starts already.
“I was fortunate to have a little bit of success early on in that series, which has me more motivated than ever with everything the series has going for it,” Gilliland said. “It takes a lot of time and commitment to be relevant and competitive, and that shows up in the results.”
A member of The ineX Racing Team in the upcoming 2020 season, Gilliland is excited to be working together with a former teammate again, that being Brad Mahar. Both Gilliland and Mahar were able to advance from Road-to-Pro to the Pro Series in 2019, but neither had the result they were hoping for. Now they’ve teamed up at ineX, and to Gilliland’s point, it could mean the start of something special for them both.
“I had the chance to work with Brad back in 2014, on Cody Byus Racing, which was a very good year for all of us over there,” Gilliland said. “We’ve remained in touch over the years and he’s been someone I’ve wanted to work with again.”
Gilliland has the most eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series experience out of all the drivers I talked to this weekend, but he knows that it’s still going to be tough to make it against the others competing against him this year, as well as managing the unique schedule this season.
“There’s a lot of really good guys that used to be at the (Coca-Cola Series) level that are gonna [sic] give it a run, so I definitely expect them to contend and be a factor,” Gilliland said. “Cody Byus and Jared Crawford, if he sticks with it, are definite locks in my opinion. With that being said, there’s a lot of talented drivers that have never been at that level and will be contenders.
“Daytona, historically, has been a track that I’ve had success at, so I always look forward to perhaps taking advantage of others misfortunes there. It could always go the other way and (I could) just as easily get wrecked, but I like to approach that track with confidence.
“Rockingham will be important, especially if Daytona doesn’t go as planned, but other than that, I really only see the Charlotte ROVAL and CTMP (Canadian Tire Motorsports Park) as wildcards.
“It’s neat to see some of the tracks iRacing incorporated this year, quite a few of them typically don’t get utilized in official races.”
— Brandon Hauff (@bhauff_549) March 10, 2020
Brandon Hauff, another former eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series competitor, competed in a full season at the top level in 2014, collecting a career-best finish of 15th at Michigan International Speedway, and coming home 29th in the overall standings that season. Hauff ran select races in 2015, but stayed mainly at the Pro Series level until the end of 2016.
Another 24-year-old sim racing competitor, Hauff hails from Wantagh, New York, and is a Communications Major from Malloy College. Hauff currently writes for Frontstretch.com and writes a weekly column that is published every Wednesday.
It’s been just about five years since Hauff’s last start in eNCiS, but he’s up for the challenge to get back to the series.
“Competition is better than it has ever been, so in that sense, it’s definitely harder than it was when I made the Pro Series in 2013. However, I feel like I am way more prepared than I was as well. In that sense, it’s easier,” Hauff said.
“I felt like I wasn’t ready to take on the Pro Series back then, and when I made it, I didn’t know how to handle it. Now, I feel ready to make it back, and I’m confident that I have the right people and the right mentality this time around.
Hauff intends to compete in this upcoming season with Norse Force Racing, a somewhat new team, but a well known group that intend to contend this season.
“Matthew Forthun is the team owner, and he’s done a great job of establishing a group to run for Pro this season,” Hauff said. “We’re looking forward to having a successful season… My team and I plan on having two team tests per week, even on off weeks, to prepare. We have a few bases we build off of and then take it from there to come to a final decision on what’s best.”
Since the Road-to-Pro came into existence, Hauff has attempted both seasons in partial, collecting a split victory at Martinsville last year. He hopes to see it out in full this season, and has a decent idea on how to tackle the format.
“It’s just gonna [sic] take patience during these races, and not getting too much, too early,” Hauff said. “I learned the last few years that you can get in trouble early on in the season by being overconfident and driving over your head, and it leads to bad races.
“A strong start is key, as well as staying out of trouble. These races can be a mess sometimes, so staying out of it will be another one of the key factors.”
— Nicholas Morse (@NicMorseCO) March 1, 2020
With the 69th highest iRating on the iRacing service currently, Nicholas Morse has been around pretty much since the beginning. Currently a Co-Manager for one of the teams vying to take as many spots in the upcoming Pro Series later this season, High Performance Motorsports (HPM), Morse is more than confident that this is his year to make it big time.
Residing in Fort Collins, Colorado, Morse is 33-years-old, has earned his Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, and is currently the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for a health care provider in Northern Colorado.
Morse had a brief stint in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series in 2013, where he was able to qualify for four races at the end of the season as a Pro level driver, and collected a best career finish of 13th at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Along with Gilliland and Hauff, Morse has tasted what it’s like to race at the top level, and is looking to make his way back in short time.
Before the overhaul to Pro Series came in 2018, Morse collected four career Pro Series split victories dating back to the beginning in 2009, and his best overall standings finish came in 2017 when he finished 22nd overall in the ten-race series.
In the most recent eNASCAR Road-to-Pro season, Morse was close to returning to the Pro Series, but ultimately, a bump in the road had him, well, not so enamored with one of his competitors in that event.
“Well, not getting intentionally sent firewall deep by John Gorlinsky for third place when I was 20th in points with one week to go will certainly help,” Morse said when asked what it would take to overcome what was eventually a 24th place season effort in the 2019 Road-to-Pro series.
Who says drivers don’t hold on to grudges?
Feelings aside, Morse added that his own mistakes played a role in the previous season, and that minimizing them in the upcoming campaign is what will guarantee his advancement.
“2019 was a tidal wave of mistakes. Daytona I tried to play it safe and lost the draft, no caution ever came. I got the pole at Atlanta, Dover and had pit road penalties and got caught in the back, ending in a wreck. Charlotte I forgot to take tires under green and went from a winning car to 11th place. Chicagoland I didn’t take tires on the last stop and went from winning to 3rd place, and that would have bumped me over the point threshold to make Pro. Between those five races, I left 800 plus points on the table, and only one of the races wasn’t my own personal mistake.”
“I’ve been testing more than I ever have to prepare to get over those hiccups. 2019 was the first year since I came back in 2017 that I was in top notch equipment. I forgot what it was like to race up front, versus just being in a race. I paid the price, and now have that experience to not repeat that situation again.”
“I will make Coke again next year,” Morse added with confidence.
With the team aspect of the Pro Series, Morse is not only confident in his own team, but aware of the evolution of how things roll in the current day and age.
“We (HPM) plan to do the same thing we did in 2019, when we had four cars in Pro, and two made Coke. We’re just doing it with higher quality people so they stick around this time. We expect all of our drivers to make Pro and that’s the level we operate at,” Morse said.
“There are more people, and up until this tire came out a few weeks ago, it was low talent driving attached to high caliber setups. You saw independents fade away and consolidation of forces because setups were a premium. You used to be able to get away with a two or three man crew, but these mega teams figured out if you give 30 people a setup with a 5,000 rating or higher, you are going to put a lot of guys in contention. So it has gotten a lot harder to make Pro and Coke than in 2008.”
Compared to how it was back when he started, for Morse, the path to the top level is more difficult in comparison due to the current configuration of the series and schedules.
“We race less, and that makes each race so significant,” Morse said. “For example, 15 percent of the schedule this year will be at road courses, and with only one drop (week) available over 13 races, if you have two bad road races, your chances of making Pro are nearly gone.”
Still, even with the increased difficulty, Morse believes that the system works as designed, for the most part.
“Most of the time, the best 20 guys will always make it, but with the current method there are some abnormalities that occur to let people slip into Pro who aren’t ready or prepared to be there. It is certainly much more difficult than before.”
It’s clear that Morse has a vast insight into the inner-workings of what it takes to make it through the ladder system, and isn’t afraid to be blunt about his points of view.
From where it started and to where it is today, Morse can appreciate what has gone into making the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series what it is today.
“We’re just thankful iRacing has done so much work to grow the sport… It’s incredible to still be around and see it develop… It’s just fantastic to be alive, be a part of this community and privileged to race on iRacing.”
EDITORS NOTE: This is part one of a three-part series previewing the eNASCAR Road-to-Pro Series that will kick off on Tuesday, March 10th, 2020. Part two, “Try, try again”, will be released on Tuesday afternoon.
Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com