• Justin Prince

Eik wins at Auto Club after firework-filled finish

After a massive crash coming to the checkered flag, Andreas Eik has won the first oval race of the ISOWC season.


Eik took the checkered flag in the third race of the season after Valtteri Alander and Christian Steele made significant contact and went airborne down the frontstretch coming to the flagstand.


Alander hit the right rear tire of Steele trying to build up a run down the straightaway, sending both cars flying at full speed into the outside SAFER barrier. Alander was sent airborne in the incident, sending him flying across the finish line upside down.


Alander was scored in 15th position a lap down as a result of the crash. Steele finished in 14th.


Alander, Joshua Chin, Eik, Steele and Austin Espitee had gone side-by-side for several laps, making bold moves in the pursuit of the first oval win of the 2021 campaign.


Chin, Espitee, Oscar Mangan and Joao Valverde completed the top five.


Team Talent and their affiliate drivers dominated much of the way with their organization finishing in four of the top five positions.


“We went from struggling at Sebring to really nailing it here,” said Chin. “I can’t say that I have much to take credit for the contribution for how fast we were. I didn’t have a lot of time this week. Everyone at Team Talent did a great job this week getting things going.”


Espitee, who gained 14 positions during the race, said the race for him was pretty fun.


“I had a good car, I just didn’t have enough at the end,” said Espitee. “I used too much tire. I was content with fifth, then when (the wreck for the lead) happened, I prayed I wouldn’t get involved. I lost the left front coming to the line, but who needs a left front anyway.”


Team Talent and its affiliate drivers controlled the tempo of the race early with Philip Kraus and Andreas Eik swap-drafting up at the front for several laps.


Attrition and strategy swaps were the main points to consider though much of the race.


The first caution of the race came out after Dean Woods tapped the back end of Bence Némethi exiting Turn 2 while trying to navigate around the damaged car of Sai Andra on Lap 20. The incident immediately broke the left front wheel of the Yas Heat car, sending him into Andra and the outside wall.


Alexander Walton also received damage in the incident.


Andreas Eik and Valtteri Alander elected to stay out under the caution.


On the following restart on Lap 24, Xavi Ros got loose coming into Turn 1 and spun his car from the top of the track to the bottom groove. While saving his car, Peter Zuba slammed into the back wing of Ros, sending both spinning around with significant damage.


While dodging the debris, João Vaz was hit from behind by Alex Ellis in Turn 2, sending both drivers into the outside SAFER barrier.


Severi Seppa and Ilkka Haapala also received damage in the crash.


Ros’s issues continued on Lap 39. The Aurys Racing Team driver looped his Dallara IR-18 around coming off Turn 2, bringing out the caution once more.


Ros was disqualified for the incidents.


The yellow shuffled the field as several competitors elected to stay out on the track, including Kraus, Espitee and Chin.


The yellow flags continued to fly on Lap 52 after Vilda Wallin washed up the track out of Turn 2 into Manuel Domingo. The contact sent Domingo spinning down the track onto the apron. Domingo was able to lock up his brakes and avoid any contact with the inside wall.


Once more, the strategy was shuffled with Henry Bennett, Eik, Steele, Brendan Lichtenburg and more staying out.


After the ensuing restart, Alander charged through the pack, coming from sixth position to the lead in the span of 10 laps.


Alander was in the lead when Riley Thompson brought out the next caution on Lap 76. Thompson, in a similar situation to Ros, looped his car coming out of Turn 2 and down the backstretch while trying to pass Domingo at the bottom of the track.


The entire field came down to pit during the caution period, evening out the strategies. Bennett led the race off the pit lane with Alander following closely behind.


Chin charged his way through the pack after the restart, making his way to the front by Lap 93. The PRIVATE LABEL Team Hype driver utilized the draft and the high line to power his way to the point past Alander.


The first and only set of green flag pit stops for the leaders started on Lap 117 when Alander elected to go for the undercut. The KOVA driver came down the lane by himself and triggered the majority of the lead pack to come down the next lap.


Carnage happened on the pit entry on Lap 120 when Andrew Kinsella sent his car deep onto the apron, hitting the back of Kraus. The incident immediately destroyed his front wing and sent him spinning into the frontstretch grass. Kraus did a full spin on the apron before he entered the lane.


Kinsella was awarded a drive-through penalty for the incident.


After the cycle, Alander and Chin cycled to the front with Eik, Steele and Espitee half a second behind.


Alander and Chin immediately started to battle hard for the lead, allowing the rest of the lead pack to enter the fight.


Eik remained committed to the top line throughout the fight, trying to save his tires while Alander and Chin scrapped and swapped spots several times per lap. Steele meanwhile changed his lines several times, utilizing both the top and the bottom to make passes.


The side-by-side for the lead continued until seven laps to go, when Eik’s third line started to work.


He made it three-wide for the lead, ripping second away from Alander and putting him into the swap draft position.


On Lap 146, lapped traffic played a major factor. Domingo and Némethi were used as picks by Chin to drive away by several tenths.


Steele was the first driver to carve his way through the traffic, moving him into the second position with two to go.


Steele utilized the draft to reel in the drivers before Alander made a three-wide dive into Turn 3 to take the lead coming to the white.


Steele got the run back into Turn 1 after taking the white flag and looked to be in good position to win until the final straightaway.


Next time, ISOWC will be staying in the State of California for the fourth race of the season at the Long Beach Street Circuit on June 26. The green flag is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET on RaceSpot TV.


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