BY STEVE LUVENDEROCTOBER 12, 2021
Two years ago, Keegan Leahy came up one spot short of an eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series championship. Now, he’s the 2021 champion—and $100,000 richer.
The world’s 40 best sim racers competed throughout a grueling 18-race season and playoffs, and it came down to four finalists battling at Texas Motor Speedway Tuesday night: Leahy, Logan Clampitt, Mitchell deJong and Bobby Zalenski.
For the sixth time in 2021, 23XI Racing rookie deJong qualified on pole position alongside Leahy, his teammate and fellow championship finalist. Zalenski started ninth, while Clampitt rolled off deep in the field, 31st position.
Texas Motor Speedway hosted the championship race for the first time ever, posing a new challenge to the championship hopefuls—especially considering none of the four had ever won at the recently-repaved intermediate oval.
It looked like deJong was the car to beat for much of the night, leading the field throughout the opening run and beyond the first round of green-flag pit stops, Leahy waiting in his tracks at each point. Clampitt, meanwhile, made quick work of the cars ahead despite his rough starting position, reaching the top 10 by Lap 50.
During the second run, however, roles reversed for the 23XI Racing teammates.
Having trailed deJong for long enough, Leahy made his move to the lead on Lap 92, and then set sail as the lap count continued to dwindle.
Green-flag racing was the theme of the night, despite the intensity created not only by the championship battle, but also for the relegation battle. Unique to the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, only the top 20 drivers in final standings keep their seat in the series in the following season, while the rest are on the hot seat. The bottom 20 racers face 20 up-and-coming drivers in the seven-week Road to Pro Contender Series over the winter. The top 20 in that series graduates to join the returning top 20 Coca-Cola iRacing Series drivers in 2022.
With Leahy out in front, all eyes in the closing laps turned to 21-year-old Logan Clampitt, who’d raced all the way up to second place—on raw speed, without the aid of cautions or strategy.
Leahy, the calculated and even-keeled 27-year-old from Nova Scotia—and the oldest of the championship finalists—didn’t fret over the hard-charging William Byron eSports Chevrolet in his mirror as the remaining-lap count reached the single digits.
And then the final lap, Clampitt still in tow.
It’s important to take a step back in time … slightly.
In the 2019 championship race, Leahy was in position to win the championship—and, at the time, a $40,000 prize—but opted to race eventual champion Zack Novak cleanly on the final lap, even though a tap to Novak’s bumper would have turned into a championship ring with Leahy’s name and a heck of a payday.
It was a crushing loss at the time for a driver who’s made sim racing a full-time career. To reach the peak, taste victory, and to fall just short …
Fast forward to 2021, again.
The racing gods must have remembered Leahy’s discipline that night two years ago, and awarded him something even better: a clean, hard-earned championship trophy, as he held off Clampitt in the end to earn the win and the championship.
And $100,000, more than double the winnings he gave up last time.
In the long run, it pays to be clean.
Clampitt earned $25,000 for his runner-up effort, part of the $330,000 awarded throughout this year’s Coca-Cola iRacing Series season.
Mitchell deJong came home in fifth place—third in the championship as a rookie—and Letarte eSports driver Bobby Zalenski finished 12th, a non-factor for much of the evening in his fourth Championship 4 appearance.
Leahy’s victory was the 11th of his career in his 75th start, tying him for fourth-most all time with third-place finisher Michael Conti.
In the fight for the top-20 relegation battle, past series champs Zack Novak and Ray Alfalla barely squeezed by safely, while Jake Nichols, Garrett Lowe, Blake Reynolds and Chris Shearburn were among the drivers who finished behind 20th place Garrett Manes in the final standings.
But, until next season brings more racing action from the world’s fastest sim racers, Leahy and 23XI Racing go into the history books as champions.