The 26-year-old sim-racing veteran has been a fixture in iRacing’s top-level series, but despite 16 wins over nine years, he’d never hoisted the champion’s trophy. That all changed in Monday night’s championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, when Ottinger, the William Byron eSports driver, outdueled Bobby Zalenski on a triple-overtime restart to nab a fourth-place finish — the highest finisher among four championship finalists — good enough to win the title.
Fellow championship contender Ryan Luza looked like the driver to beat from the start, quickly taking the top spot from polesitter Keegan Leahy, who narrowly missed the Championship 4 after a late elimination. Luza swapped the lead with Zalenski back and forth throughout the opening run of the race, neither able to establish themselves as the dominant car.
The Championship 4 employed different strategies throughout the long green-flag run that opened the race; Ottinger opted to pit early on Lap 45, while Michael Conti made the decision to stay out until halfway — a contrarian call designed to minimize green-flag time on pit road and save tires in the event of late-race restarts.
A Lap 91 caution that flew just after Luza, the leader, had made his way down pit road under green looked as though he might have blown his chance at the title early; however, luck was on his side, as he was able to complete service and retake the lead as the rest of the leaders pitted under caution.
As the race progressed, Conti’s contrarian strategy looked like it may have been the way to outsmart the others — neglecting to pit after the second caution with 30 to go — but he quickly went backwards as the laps wound down.
In the closing laps, with Conti and Ottinger seemingly out of contention, the championship battle turned into a toss-up between Luza and Ottinger. But with $100,000 on the line, it meant a fight for every position.
With three laps to go, a battle for the lead between Luza and Ottinger ended Luza’s hopes at a second title when the two collided, sending the Williams Esports Ford hard into the outside wall.
As the lap counter increased — well into overtime category — so did the desperation. Out of fresh tires on pit road, Zalenski was forced to reckon with a hungry field of drivers, while Ottinger and Conti lurked deeper in the field, having saved a set of tires in the event of such a late final run.
With each overtime restart, Zalenski’s older tires proved more and more vulnerable. Chris Shearburn, a veteran of the series, emerged as a contender for the race win as most eyes were on the three-way championship battle.
Shearburn controlled the final restart of the race — in triple-overtime — while Zalenski desperately tried to hold off his hard-charging rivals in the final two laps.
Conti wasn’t able to advance much further through the field, while Ottinger dared to find — or make — any hole possible. Ultimately, with the white flag in the air, Ottinger made the $100,000 move past Zalenski and never looked back, finishing fourth.
Shearburn, meanwhile, went on to win the race, becoming the oldest winner in Coca-Cola iRacing Series history at 39 years and one day old. It was his first win in 71 races, and the first victory for Letarte Esports.
Chris Overland finished a career-best second, while Eric J. Smith finished third.
The championship for Ottinger was an emotional and hard-fought one, especially given an Internet outage at home in the week leading up to the race.
In addition to the championship battle, Monday night also meant it was the last chance for drivers to clinch their spot in next year’s Coca-Cola iRacing Series field by finishing top 20 in points. In the end, defending series champion Zack Novak was among those who didn’t make the cut, meaning he’ll need to re-qualify for the series over the winter through the iRacing Pro Series.
Ottinger’s championship meant the first title for William Byron eSports — in the team’s first season.
And now, after nine seasons, 150 races, 16 wins, Nick Ottinger is finally an eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series champion.
For the complete article and race highlights click here. Also, be sure to follow Steve Luvender on NASCAR.com.