Donkey Bop Racing #002 Scores Podium At The iRacing 2021 12 Hours of Sebring
Epic race with the Donkey Bop #005 and #008 cars fighting it out all the way to the finish line in the same race – The inside story
“What elements make a race considered to be among the “best?” Quality of entries and closeness of competition are certainly key factors, although sometimes just a truly spectacular finish can make a great race.”Ken Breslauer, Sportscar365
March 27, 2021
(Sebring, Florida) – Every now and then, you see a race that is so thrilling, so dramatic, and so riveting, it reminds you of why you race, why you spend hours practicing, and why racing is a big part of your life…..but more about that in a moment.
First, the international endurance racing team Donkey Bop Racing had a big day at the 2021 iRacing 12 Hours of Sebring Special Event.
The Donkey Bop Racing (DBR) #002 car, driven by superstar driver Carlos Plaza (USA), Jim Ray (USA), and JF Godin (CAN) scored a brilliant podium in the 3rd of 7 splits with a strength of field of 1898. Plaza led the way with the fastest average lap at 1:52.101, but Ray had the fastest lap at 1:47.663 and the best safety performance with only 5 incident points incurred over 125 laps (0.040 incidents per lap).
Team Principal Jim Ray commented: “DBR #002 had a solid comeback all the way to the lead lap. Just phenomenal. We nailed the final fuel window to within ½ a lap.”
The race between the DBR #005 and #008 car was a truly epic race and finish. It reminds you of the real world 2019 finish at the 12 Hours of Sebring, which was the closest finish ever in that race, where the margin of victory was just 1 second.
Here’s the backstory to the magnificent race between the DBR #005 and #008 cars. This story is so compelling, it needs to be told in some detail.
Team Principal Jim Ray put the “old lion” and sim racing legend Milt Minter, Jr. and “Ironman” Ken Soszka – another very seasoned simracing driver, with new driver in training Chet Barkin in the #005 Car. In the #008 car, Ray harnessed up three very solid up and coming endurance drivers Hal Kemrite (USA), Kris Thompson (USA) and newer team member Andrew Kavanaugh (GBR). These two teams of drivers had average driver ratings within 42 points of each other. Sure enough, when the race registrations lists were announced the #005 and the #008 were paired together in the same race.
Both teams had steep obstacles put in their way in the during the initial stages of the race. Barkin lost internet connection, which was not remedied for the first 10 hours of the race. This put the full load on the backs of Minter and Soszka, who were doing triple stints, hoping against hope that Barkin would be up and running in time to qualify their car with the required minimum laps for each driver. As the race went on, Minter was having to rub and flex his aching legs at every pit stop. Yet he kept extending, little by little, the #005 lead. He drove two thirds of the race with intense leg pains and cramps. Legs that had pushed pedals in thousands and thousands of races over 4 decades. Minter ran an amazing 167 laps on those old, beat up legs. The DBR “Ironman” Soszka contributed another rock solid 153 laps.
In the #008 car, the drivers also had an early problem to overcome, incurring a repair in the pits lasting 1:40 (nearly a lap), putting them a lap down on the #005. But the three #008 drivers hung tough staying in touch, albeit at a distance, with the #005, but not losing much ground. Neither team said much about it on the DBR Team Discord comms channels, but you could tell there was increasing intensity as the race went on, and drivers in both cars started to race just a little bit harder keeping an eye on where their teammates were. Neither set of drivers would give an inch. Each team matching the other as the pace and ferocity of the battle grew.
Finally, in the last couple stints, it was “game on” between the #005 and the #008. The #005 was in P5, and #008 was closing in P6. With about 30 laps to go the #005 had a 30 second lead. And things were looking up for the #005. Barkin – the driver in training – had fixed his internet issue and rushed into the race sim just in time to get his minimum laps, and so he was in the driver’s seat, and ensuring the #005 would not be disqualified after all that hard work by Minter and Soszka. And there was hope in the #008 team that they could catch the #005, as their driver rotation set up by Team Principal Jim Ray worked out perfectly so that Kemrite, the most experienced driver on the #008 crew, was at the wheel in the last critical stage all the way to the finish.
DBR team members, hearing about the tight intra-team contest, now started hopping back and forth between the #005 and the #008 comms channel and livestreams. And the team buzz now started humming at a high pitch watching the drama unfold.
Kemrite, ever the stoic, commented “I really wasn’t focused on catching Chet, I knew the track temperature was cooling down and I had really good grip, and finally after dealing with a lot of traffic during most of the race, I had some clear track in front of me, and I just went hammer down to get the fastest lap times possible.”
Because of the position of the race leader, it appeared on the #008 race screens that they were still a lap down on the #005. But Kemrite launched a great charge over those last 30 laps, closing down the distance to the #005. With half a lap to go, when Kemrite cleared the hairpin, all of a sudden Barkin appeared on the race screen just 3.0 seconds ahead, and on the same lap. And Barkin was having to contend with major traffic, as was Kemrite. Barkin was driving his heart out trying to hold off Kemrite’s charge and get to the finish to reward his teammates for their heroic efforts. Kemrite picked up his already frantic pace and drove through the Cunningham, Collier, and the Tower Turns like a man possessed, knifing through the traffic, ducking inside and outside of slower cars Barkin (relatively new to road racing, but a very experienced stock car driver) refused to give up. He was up on his wheel getting every possible effort from his machine. Finally, as if there wasn’t enough excitement already, the engine on the #005 started coughing as Barkin approached the Gendebien and Le Mans Turns. He was at the very end of his fuel load, and Barkin was nursing his car to get to the finish line, less than a mile away now. He could see the back of the grandstands where the start/finish was.
Kemrite came charging through the last couple GTE’s in between the two cars and he overtook Barkin at the head of famous Ulmann Straight. Fittingly, the iRacing fireworks went off just at that moment, as the race winner was passing the start finish. Kemrite, unaware of the #005 fuel issue, and seeing Barkin still right on his tail, was flat out all the way down the straight.
Kemrite said “All I was thinking to myself was ‘don’t screw up Turn 17!’” He hung on tight, working the wheel hard, using body English, going around Sunset Bend at top speed and took the P5 at the finish. Barkin coasted in right behind him, out of fuel – broken hearted but proud that he had raced so hard. What a race.
In the #008 car, Thompson had the fastest average lap time at 1:55.627. Kemrite and Kavanaugh’s average lap times were virtually the same as Thompson’s, and all three within 15/1000ths of second of each other. But Kemrite was the “hero of the day” running 173 laps total out of the 381 laps in the race, notching the fastest lap at 1:49.353, and the best safety performance, incurring 13 incidents (a rate of .075 per lap).
In the #005 entry, Minter had the fastest average lap at 1:55.289, and the fastest lap at 1:49.795, proving the “old lion” can still roar when it counts. Soszka was the cleanest driver, with only 7 incidents (a rate of .045 incidents per lap).
Milt Minter gave an interview and takes us inside the #005 team:
“I don’t recall ever being part of a race where teammates were that close throughout the entire race, right up to the finish line. It was nerve wracking not knowing about Chet and his internet. Chet was reporting about the cable company repair crew outside his house, and how they were just standing around smoking and joking. I told Chet to go out there, grab them by the ear and tell them to get on it, you have a race going on!”
Minter went on, “I was just expecting to run a couple leisurely double stints and then kick back drink some beer and let the younger guys – Ken and Chet do the heavy lifting. Instead, here I was, doing hardcore triples for ten straight hours with Ken, and we are in contention for a podium. In racing you never know. Good and bad luck come to you when you least expect it sometimes, and one right behind the other.”
“Finally, Jim Ray took desperate measures and got Chet into the sim using a cell phone tether, but Chet could not talk using his mic. With about three stints to go, we were running in P4, and had a very good shot at podium, but then every time we looked over our shoulder, there was the #008…. still hanging around close behind us. We just couldn’t shake them off the entire race. Hal and I were matched up on stints for a good part of the race, as were Ken and Kris, and I kept thinking to myself about Hal ‘this guy, he ain’t goin’ away…’ And the #008 was pitting right with us on the exact same rhythm, stint after stint.
“Chet is finally in the car, and with all the internet connection chaos and circumstances, I felt bad for him because I’m sure he was feeling a ton of pressure on his back. As Chet begins his stint our first thought was to let him do his bare minimum fair share, then get Ken back in the car. Then Jim, Ken, and I talked about it, and it seemed right to let Chet get his laps in to the end of the race. He had put in so much work during the two weeks before, running seven official sprint races at Sebring in preparation for this big race. Seven sprints just to prepare for our team race. That is dedication, and you have to respect that.”
“Then we started trying to sort out our fuel and we got more and more concerned. We could see Hal coming on strong on the leaderboard, and I made the comment ‘Here comes Hal, he’s mowing through dudes…” With three laps to go Chet had 3.1 estimated laps left on his fuel gauge. Then 2.1 estimated laps left with two laps to go, then 1.0 estimated laps left on the gauge with one to to. We couldn’t pit him for a splash and go, because Hal was screaming down the track coming up behind us. Chet was driving so hard, he was elbowing his way through traffic the very best he knew how, putting his stockcar skills to good use. Then Hal tracked him down and got him on the Ulmann. I was so proud of both cars and all our DBR drivers in this race. This is what Donkey Bop is all about. Damn what a race.”
But Donkey Bop was not done yet. The team fielded three more cars in the race.
In the DBR #001 car, British Driver Stephen Jones (GBR), Matthew Maseko (CAN), and Jason Glaze (USA), all very fast drivers, competed in an SOF 1819 race. They had a tough day, finishing P21, which is a very rare occurence for these three drivers. But this edition of the Sebring race seemed to carry a much higher than normal rate of carnage. Glaze had the fastest average lap time at 1:52.501. Jones had the fastest lap at 1:47.786 and the best safety results with 5 incidents over 124 laps (a rate of .040 incidents per lap).
The DBR #003 and #004 cars also ended up in the same race with the #003 taking home the bragging rights with a P9 finish in this SOF 1705 race. The #004 carrying Chris Phillips and Joh Hall had a very respectable race given the quality of the competition, finishing a strong P12.
The #003 featured Larry Krupp (USA), Jerry Foehrkolb (USA), and Danny Falcon (USA). Foehrkolb had both the fastest average lap at 1:53.352, and the fastest lap at 1:48.489. Foehrkolb also took home the “DBR Safe Driver Award” for the best safety performance on the entire team with zero incidents over 130 laps….an amazing achievement given the elevated level of carnage in this race.
The two #004 drivers were John Hall (GBR) and Chris Phillips (USA). Brit John Hall had the fastest average lap at 1:52.421 and the fastest lap at 1:47.574. Both had a tough day on the safety side, but Phillips was the best of the two with 18 incident points in 186 laps (a rate of .096 incidents per lap).