Preview: ISOWC ready to start 2021 campaign at Watkins Glen
This weekend, the ISOWC Sim Racing Series and its drivers will be firing their engines for the first time since 2015 at iRacing’s Watkins Glen International.
The 60-lap race will feature 50 drivers from 15 countries looking to take home the checkered flag in the series’ return to competition on May 8.
This season features a prize pool of $7,000, with the champion taking home $1,500. The winner each week will earn $100.
“I'm feeling super excited,” said Zac Campbell of Apex Racing Team w/ Team I5G. “I've always been an open-wheel guy at heart, and I've always loved American Open-Wheel Racing, so it's awesome to see a championship of this caliber in these cars and something that's going to be extremely competitive. I'm probably more excited for this than maybe any other championship I've competed in.”
Campbell, who competed in the 2021 Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup season, said the level of competition and organization behind the series is what attracted him to compete in ISWOC this season.
“It ticks all the boxes for me between live race control, full-course yellows, group qualifying, I could go on and on,” said Campbell. “It's something I've seen come together over time and everything I heard when this was being put together just amped me up more and more to get on track.”
VRS Satellite Racing’s Alex Ellis said his organization joined the series to take its next step toward being a top-level team.
“ISOWC seemed like a logical place to continue that growth and my teammate Adam Crane is very well versed with IndyCar,” said Ellis. “All of these things considered, ISOWC is a no brainer.”
On Wednesday, Campbell set the fastest lap in Free Practice 1 with a 1:25.001.
Xavi Ros (1:25.175), Ramez Azzam (1:25.190), Phillip Kraus (1:25.306) and Markus Dec (1:25.641) rounded out the top five.
Adam Blocker, a Trackside Support Engineer for Ilmor Engineering, said he expects the race to be really close.
“It’s so competitive because we have the top IndyCar specialists mixed in with World Championship drivers (current and former) as well as some top drivers in other open wheelers and prototypes,” said Blocker. “I think it’ll be a really close field, so track position and strategy will be important for a good result. I think it will be difficult to pass largely because of how similar everyone is on pace, although tire compound differences and tire management differences should allow for quite a bit of overtakes still.”
Campbell also said track position could mean a lot for this weekend’s race due to the dirty air the cars provide. He thinks the racing could bring some risks for drivers.
“It's definitely high-risk, high-reward,” said Campbell. “Watkins Glen is already a track with hardly any room for error and when you toss a high-horsepower, low-downforce open wheel car on the track it's incredibly fun. But, you have to be alert all the time and it can really bite you if you push it just a little too far.”
Ellis, who competed in Firestone Indy Lights in 2010, said it is his first competitive series in the Dallara IR-18. He said he loves Watkins Glen.
“The track itself is amazing with the fast, flowing nature,” said Ellis. “The surrounding area is amazing as well. I visited the track for the first time with Sai Andra in 2017 during the IMSA weekend and loved it. The track really has an old school feel and it sets up for some great racing.”
Drivers are expected to utilize a three-stop strategy in the race, according to Campbell. He said he feels the fuel window is too tight to risk going further. Campbell said the tire compounds available to the drivers this season - reds and blacks - are going to be a big part of the strategy.
“The biggest question marks we have are how the track will rubber in and how much the track will cool down,” said Campbell. “For the first part of the race, I don't see any point to staying on the reds for more than just that first stint in getting to the fuel window, but there could be a crossover point on that second or third stop where you may see people get back on the reds.”
Blocker also is thinking about the potential of the tire compounds, particularly the fall-off.
“The blacks and reds are pretty equal on average pace over a stint for me but the reds start off 0.75 seconds faster and fall off to 0.75 seconds slower than black,” said Blocker. “On old reds it is also much easier to make a mistake if you overheat the tires or start overdriving.”
Ellis said he has not had too much time to prepare for the race so far. He has only done 15 minutes of practice so far. His goals are to keep the car clean and learn as much as possible from those around him.
“Luckily, my teammates Adam Crane and Sai Andra have been putting in some hard work and have a great platform for us to race this weekend,” said Ellis. “I'll be hoping to get at least an hour of practice before Saturday, but I know I'm approaching the weekend behind the eight-ball. I'll likely be the most unprepared when we show up on Saturday, so we'll see what I can manage.”
Blocker has also had issues with preparation due to real-life commitments and other competitions. He has been testing a lot over the past few days and feels he will be in a solid position for qualifying and the race.
“My goal is to finish in the top five for the race,” said Blocker. “I know it won't be easy but that's the goal.”
Campbell said his expectations for this season are pretty high. He feels he is part of “one of the only teams with an incredibly strong grasp on this car on the road courses, street courses and ovals.” His overall goal is to win the championship.
“I think personally I'd like to come out with at least a podium, but probably a win,” said Campbell. “With the work I've put in and the organization we have, I am really putting all the chips down. I really feel like anything less would be a disappointment.”
Live coverage of the ISOWC season opener starts at 2 p.m. ET on RaceSpot TV.