RICHMOND – At an earlier point in time, the virtual Richmond Raceway was not one of Garrett Manes’ best venues. It wasn’t until the eNASCAR Pro Series this past winter that the simulated version of his home track really started to click with him.
“It comes down to understanding what you need in the car,” Manes said. “I understand what I need there now.”
Within the past six months, he’s emerged as one of the front runners on the virtual raceway.
After he earned his first Pro Series win there in December, Manes, from Powhatan, finished second at the three-quarter-mile short track in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series on April 13 behind Vicente Salas.
The runner-up result is Manes’ best career finish to date in the Coca-Cola series, which is the premier NASCAR-sanctioned esports league run on the iRacing simulation platform.
“It definitely was a swing of momentum in our direction. I’ve kind of known that Richmond was going to be one of my strongest tracks on the schedule,” Manes said. “I really wanted that win. I thought we had a really good shot at it – just came down to dirty air, just I couldn’t make the pass. Vicente drove a flawless race and didn’t matter what I did, I’m not going to get by him. We’re all in the same equipment. Just wasn’t meant to be, but to be able to get out there and perform the way that we did…it was really cool to be able to, as a team, to be able to build a car that was that good at the top level.”
Salas and Manes started 1-2 and ran that way throughout the race. Salas, who like Manes in his rookie season, was Manes’ Elliott Sadler eSports teammate in the eNASCAR Pro Series and still does work with ESE.
“It was really cool – he’d worked really hard with everybody on the group, too, to get the car where it needed to be,” Manes said. “I think we’ve put in 5,000 laps apiece, and at the end of the day, with everybody putting in the time, it goes to show…teamwork can pay off for sure.”
Manes’ runner-up result, which was his second top 10 in the Coca-Cola Series this year, elevated him to 17th points with 12 races remaining in the 18-race season.
Manes has outperformed where he currently sits in the standings. He was running near the front of the field on the last lap of the season-opener at Daytona when a big crash triggered at the front relegated him back to 13th. He also drove from 22nd to a 10th-place result at the 1.5-mile oval of Atlanta Motor Speedway and from 33rd to a 13th-place finish at the 2-mile oval of Auto Club Speedway.
“If I did not have a good finish at Richmond, I would have been very disappointed, because I knew that that was the best chance I had for a win on the schedule at least so far – maybe New Hampshire will be the next one,” Manes said. “I feel like I’ve got a lot of strong tracks for me, but Richmond was the one that was kind of like a make-or-break opportunity for me, and so if that came away as a poor finish or a DNF, that would’ve been a heartbreaker.”
Manes feels that he and his team have learned a lot from Richmond.
“We weren’t really expecting the track to drive the way that it did, but I feel like we had a really good package, and for whatever reason, we’re able to take some of that information places we didn’t think we’d be able to take it,” Manes said.
“That car, it was pretty darn fast,” he added. “Hopefully we can do it again.”
In addition to New Hampshire, Manes expects that the road courses – Road America, Circuit of the Americas and Watkins Glen among them – could lead to some of his stronger finishes this year.
The Coca-Cola iRacing Series will next visit Kansas Speedway on Tuesday, April 27 before featuring COTA on Tuesday, May 18. Both races begin at 9 p.m. They will be livestreamed on iRacing’s Twitch.tv channel.
“I feel like we’ve been on the right track, and considering we’re one of the really small teams in the series…it’s been a learning curve for a lot of us and I feel like it’s been handled really well,” Manes said. “We’re taking away a lot of information that’ll be beneficial for seasons to come, and hopefully we’ll be in the top 20 and locked in for next year.”