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2020 TReSports ePreview: Virtual Racing School

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the twentieth installment of the 2020 TReSports ePreview! The 2020 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series kicks off on February 11th, 2020, at the virtual Daytona International Speedway. This is the final ePreview for the upcoming 2020 season.

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A new team in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series in 2020, Virtual Racing School will have Ray Alfalla and Bobby Zalenski going for glory in the upcoming season. Logo from VRS, numbers recreated by Justin Melillo / TRE.

The Virtual Racing School (VRS) is a service provided for use on the iRacing platform that helps aspiring and veteran sim racers learn the ropes of racing in all of the different vehicles and tracks available for competition.

VRS provides members of the service to utilize their datapack collections, which include tutorials, techniques, and even setups to compete with.

A staple sponsor in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series for many years, VRS has provided their logos for use by many of the top racers in the series, some of which also happen to be coaches for the VRS program.

A new “official” team in the 2020 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, VRS has already had team members competing for them for years, and now they have two of the top drivers to officially carry their brand in the upcoming season and beyond.

The most storied driver in the history of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, Ray Alfalla will be back behind the wheel of the number he made famous in all four of his championship seasons.

Alfalla moves back to the No. 2 for 2020 after a stint in the historic No. 21 for Wood Brothers Racing in the 2019 season.

Entering his eleventh straight season, which is also the same number of seasons that the series has existed, Alfalla is looking to rebound from the tough time he had last year.

Despite the off year, Alfalla’s career is still unmatched; four career championships in 2011, 2012, 2016, and 2018, 24 career eNCiS victories, 19 career eNCiS pole positions, 86 career Top 5 finishes, 110 career Top 10 finishes, and all of that within 169 career eNCiS starts.

With the new team entry from Virtual Racing School, Alfalla finds comfort in returning to a bit of normalcy in the upcoming season.

“VRS has been with me now for four years,” Alfalla said. “They’ve been a great sponsor of mine, and just with the way it ended up last year, I couldn’t have them on the car in a full-time fashion.

“Once we got the confirmation that VRS was having their own team, it was pretty much a no-brainer where I was going to go. I did entertain other teams’ offers, but at the end of the day, VRS is my home.”

Opposite of Alfalla will be Bobby Zalenski, who also finds himself back in a place of normalcy, back in the seat of the No. 83 for the 2020 season.

Entering his fourth season of competition in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, Zalenski has done a lot in a short amount of time.

In 52 career starts, Zalenski has earned five career victories, six career pole positions, 17 career Top 5 finishes, and 30 career Top 10 finishes.

Before his stint behind the wheel of the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing, Zalenski drove the No. 83 VRS machine to a third place and sixth place points finish in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

Zalenski continued his relationship with Virtual Racing School during the 2019 season, as an associate sponsor on board his Interstate Batteries Camry.

During the free agency period, Zalenski says that everything worked out as he hoped it would for him during his transition from one team to the other.

“It felt like a mutual parting of ways,” Zalenski said. “Joe Gibbs Racing had a new sponsor coming in that preferred certain drivers. Virtual Racing School came into the series, which I‘ve had a three year relationship with them. At the end of the day, VRS had the more attractive offer and we went with that.”

Working together with Alfalla, Zalenski believes that they can go win it all, but also says it’s completely unpredictable.

“I would say I’m confident we can bring home the team title, just because both of us know how to score points efficiently through a season,” Zalenski said. “With this rules package, you never know how it will go.”

2019 ALFALLA / ZALENSKI RECAP

Coming into the 2019 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season, Ray Alfalla had just made history by becoming the first and only four-time Series Champion in 2018.

Bobby Zalenski was entering his third season in eNCiS in 2019, and statistically speaking, he was coming off of the worse of his two seasons that he had raced in, missing the Championship 4 and finishing sixth in the standings in 2018.

The 2019 eNASCAR iRacing draft came, and as expected, the four-time champ was taken first overall by Wood Brothers Racing. Zalenski came off the board with the fifth pick, heading over to Joe Gibbs Racing for the season.

Both drivers in iconic NASCAR Cup Series rides, Alfalla and Zalenski both had their sights set high for the 2019 campaign.

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Bobby Zalenski (18) leads Zack Novak (6) at Kentucky Speedway on July 9th, 2019. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

Zalenski started off strong, with two Top 5’s and three Top 10’s in the first three races of the season. The stretch was good, but Zalenski was searching for more, specifically a trip to victory lane.

When the series rolled up to Sonoma Raceway in June, Zalenski was the obvious favorite for good reason. In his previous two starts at Sonoma Raceway, Zalenski had led the most laps both times, and rolled into victory lane both times.

The same continued to be true in 2019, as Zalenski started on the pole, led every lap, and won handedly over the next closest competitor, Michael Conti.

Alfalla, meanwhile, was off to a start that he wasn’t used to experiencing.

By the time Sonoma came around, Alfalla only had two Top 10 finishes on the season, a seventh place at Auto Club Speedway and a ninth place at Kansas Speedway.

Sonoma sort of sealed the deal on whether Alfalla would compete to defend his title, as he ended his day early after an incident, finishing 38th.

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Ray Alfalla (21) drives ahead of fellow Virtual Racing School coach Keegan Leahy (62) at Pocono Raceway on July 23rd, 2019. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

The fight now to stay in the Top 20 in the standings, Alfalla finally picked up his first Top 5 of the season at Michigan International Speedway, and then picked up a sixth place finish the following race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Meanwhile, Zalenski was on the hunt to make the playoffs for the third straight season, and entering Bristol, he was on a hot streak of five-straight Top 10 finishes.

Having made the playoffs without issue, Zalenski’s goal shifted to making the Championship 4 race.

His first two finishes in the three-race series did not bode well for Zalenski’s chances, but his last chance to advance was a win-or-go-home shootout at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.

Zalenski succeeded and took the victory convincingly, and filled out the Final Four bracket alongside Zack Novak, Keegan Leahy, and Blake Reynolds to fight for the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Alfalla entered the ROVAL needing a solid performance to have a shot to make the Top 20 at the end of the season. It wasn’t meant to be, as his engine expired early, resulting in a 33rd place finish, and a deficit to climb to make the Top 20 following Homestead.

A seventh place at Homestead was the result for Alfalla, but after all that, he was out by two points and heading back to the iRacing Pro Series in an attempt to qualify back on to the 2020 series roster.

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Once again, Bobby Zalenski (18) battles Zack Novak (6) on track for the lead and championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on October 10th, 2019. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

Zalenski made his presence known all night during the title fight at Homestead, but came up just short of glory. At the end, Novak and Leahy had distanced themselves from the other two and the rest of the pack. Zalenski would finish fourth in the race, and third overall in the final standings.

After tying his best-career points finish following the 2019 season, Zalenski says that he’ll continue to take his goals for 2020 one goal at a time.

“You always want to aim for the championship, but one of my base goals for every year, and that I’ve done so far, is to make the playoffs,” Zalenski said. “I don’t really even think about a championship until I’m actually in the running for it.

“I would say the absolute baseline goal though, is to make the Top 20 and stay in the series, because you never know how badly a year can go as you saw with Ray last year.

“If he wasn’t safe, ain’t nobody safe.”

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Ray Alfalla was victorious early in the iRacing Pro Series, holding off the field to win at Atlanta Motor Speedway on October 29th, 2019. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

Alfalla, in having to return to the iRacing Pro Series, was finally able to change his luck streak around in the second race of the seven-race Pro Series season.

Winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway was only the start for Alfalla, as he followed up with a sixth place effort at Richmond Raceway and a third place result at Dover International Speedway.

A second Pro Series win came at Darlington Raceway for Alfalla, and going into the finale at Homestead-Miami, he would need a little help to get past Graham Bowlin for the title.

The important thing leaving Darlington, for Alfalla, was that he wasn’t going to miss out on competing in an eNCiS season for the first time in his career, as he was locked in to advancing back on to the 2020 roster.

Bowlin found trouble at Homestead, and Alfalla capitalized, winning the series title by only three points. Like an Xfinity Series Championship to a Cup Series regular, Alfalla was happy to have won it. His focus, however, remains on continuing his storied career in the Coca-Cola Series in 2020 and beyond.

“In the past, I would say that winning the title is the goal,” Alfalla said. “That’s a little bit too simple. I would say that making the playoffs is my big goal, just because it’s so late in the year, and you have to make the playoffs to be part of the talking points and be in contention.

“If you can make the playoffs, you’re in the championship hunt, and anything can happen in those final four races.”

***

The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season begins at Daytona International Speedway on February 11th, 2020. The race will be streamed live on the iRacing eSport Network, starting approximately around 9:00 pm ET.

If you are reading this sentence, all 20 ePreviews are completed! See you in Daytona Beach!

Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com

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