Updated: Apr 15
85 minutes of tightly packed racing serenaded our screens on Saturday evening as 30 drivers took to Daytona for the third Grid Finder Invitational event of the year. A warm and clear evening awaited the drivers and their NASCAR trucks as they set out to fight for the honours of a Hidden Prints prize as well as boosted league status on the Grid Finder website, with the enigmatic pairing of Chris Buxton and Tom Gibson leading the commentary on the Twitch live stream.
As the drivers set their two flying lap times in qualifying, it became evident that the racing would be particularly close as the top 12 were separated by less than one and a half tenths of a second after the ten-minute session. Mike Aiello Jr of Lite Speed Racing League (LSRL) secured pole position with Russel Bratka of WOSCRL, a former two-time Pro 4 Tucson Raceway Park champion lining up alongside him. Bratka’s teammate Scott Ratliff gridded third and Chantelle Pottle of Pedal to the Metal Racing League began the race in fourth.
As the lights turned green for the first time the drivers slotted into their double formation with Chantelle Pottle taking an early lead. Despite only beginning her iRacing career in June 2020, the Pedal to the Metal Racing League driver demonstrated experience and tact as she controlled the race well.
Several cautions threw the race up into the air with the leading position changing hands after a dominant display from Chantelle for well over a third of the race. Russ Bratka lost out in lap 20 as he dropped onto the apron and was forced to rejoin safely at the back of the pack. Lap 22 produced further excitement as sparks flew between Chantelle’s teammate, Matthew Hoffert, who also began iRacing in June 2020, and the wall, allowing LSRL to take the lead and produce a masterclass in oval racing defending from the Pedal to the Metal Racing League drivers who now found themselves on the high line.
LSRL’s Mike Aiello Jr now in the lead on the low line was followed closely by his three teammates producing quite the spectacle, as their familiarity with oval racing began to show as they defended the high line well from rival teams, including Matthew Smith of WOSCRL who took advantage of a late pit stop by the LSRL and came to the front of the race for the first time.
A number of further cautions including ‘The Big One’ with just five laps to go blighted any chance of a breakaway victory, as the race finished under the pace car after an exceptional night of racing. The oval lived up to its unpredictable nature, as leaders chopped and changed and the whole line-up of the race altered lap by lap, proving, that anything can happen in 85 minutes of racing.
Mike Aiello Jr of LSRL took the chequered flag, albeit under the pace car, with Jeff Jerome of J2iCS in second, and Joseph Dupont of Apollo Racing in third. Apollo Racing narrowly missed out on winning the Twitch team’s poll to Pedal to the Metal Racing League who will enjoy a month’s worth of boosted Grid Finder status for having the most supporters in the chat. After an early lead, Chantelle Pottle was the victim of several incidents and only managed to finish in 23rd place.
Speaking after his win, Mike Aiello Jr was pleased with his team’s performance during the race, after they led 44 of the 75 laps of the race.
“The Toyota was just fast as lightning today, and I had some great teammates behind me, Landon, Matt and Joe. We know how to race around each other during our league races so we’ve got a lot of respect for each other. It didn’t matter who was in front, we were just going to work with each other and make sure that team LSR got the best showing that we possibly could”.
Despite their hard work, LSRL only managed to secure third in the team’s standings with 184 points. J2iCS took the top honours securing 203 points and Apollo Racing close behind with 186. Merrill R Miller, Jeff Jerome, Mike Costello, and Tyndall all contributed well to the race with two drivers in the top five, and will be rewarded with a print from the event’s sponsor, Hidden Prints.
The close scores are a testament to the tight racing we saw on Saturday, something that organiser Tom Bunty agrees with after watching his first oval race.
“That was fantastic. I didn’t have high expectations with oval racing, but I was so wrong. That was so much fun to watch and I think you could see the quality of racers we had. We get the best four drivers from each league competing against each other so, on one hand, you've got the most talented drivers competing against each other, but then, on the other hand, you've got this intense rivalry between the leagues so you don't really know what you're going to get. But that was really enjoyable."
Keep an eye out on our social media platforms for the announcement of the next Grid Finder Invitational event or follow the link to our Discord to join in the conversation and sign your league up for the next round. With the launch of the new website this week, Grid Finder is excited to be hosting more of these events and we hope to see you there!