Changes aplenty for 2023’s eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Championship 4 class

For only the second time in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series history, last season’s championship was determined at the NASCAR Hall of Fame as the four finalists on the 2023 season traveled to Charlotte to battle against one another in front of a live audience. 

In his second attempt in as many years, Steven Wilson outpaced rookie Tucker Minter, former series champion Nick Ottinger, and veteran standout Garrett Lowe when the checkers flew. It’s been just over four months since that night. Those four are all aiming to get back there in 2024, but it’s a whole new world for each of them this time around.

The only driver who isn’t on a new team this upcoming season is Ottinger, who returns to William Byron eSports for a fifth straight year. While he’s got team owner familiarity, unlike the three others, his world looks different in the sense that his teammate this year is now one of his rivals from the 2023 title fight: Minter moves from Team Dillon Esports to fill the #97 car vacated by Matt Bussa, who moved over to Kevin Harvick Inc. during the free agency period.

While Ottinger and Minter will be corporate teammates on track, off track they work for different setup teams. Ottinger is a mainstay with Team Conti, a setup team run by former eNASCAR champion Michael Conti. However, this will be the first season that Conti isn’t on track since he started racing full-time in 2012, as he decided to retire following the 2023 season.

“Speaking of Michael (Conti) as a person, you won’t find a better advocate to have as a friend because he’s just a great person,” Ottinger said following the championship race last season. “Sad he is retiring, but at the end of the day, it’s a celebration for the time we’ve had together as teammates, and celebration for what he’s accomplished in his career.”

Conti and Ottinger have been a pairing, together with Bussa, dating back to when Richmond Raceway eSports had the Chaos Crew before the official teams. Jimmy Mullis and Briar LaPradd are also on the backend roster this season, but for the first time since 2020, when Nick was paired with John Gorlinsky, he won’t be racing on the same official team as someone else from the backend.

Ottinger’s new teammate, Minter, still works with Altus Esports, which includes Michael Cosey Jr, Ryan Doucette, and newcomer Seth DeMerchant. It also includes his former Team Dillon teammate Jordy Lopez, who now drives for BS+COMPETITION eSports. Last year, Minter and Lopez won the team championship on the Team Dillon squad. Together, they won four of the 18 races, with Minter taking three.

“I think we proved everybody wrong,” Minter said about winning the team title with Lopez. “I think consistently, we were the fastest cars every week… Coming in as rookies, I tried to temper my expectations. Jordy was a little less tempered, but he got some ribbing that we weren’t going to be fast when we got to Coke. The Altus Esports guys, we struggled through Contender, and we knew it would be a challenge when we got here.”

It’s an interesting strategy for both drivers to split up after such a successful season, but being on the same backend and official teams isn’t always necessary to win. The very first team title was won by Ray Alfalla and Bobby Zalenski on Team VRS, but their setups came from different spaces of the virtual garage.

Minter is also teaming up with a driver who is a perennial playoff contender, a threat to win at any track, and one of the most decorated champions of the series in Ottinger. That could prove to be an early favorite.

Garrett Lowe, who moves on from Jim Beaver eSports to take control of the #89 Dark Horse Zebra Mustang, teams up with Lopez. Lowe, a driver for Legacy eSports on the backend, finds himself in a similar scenario to Ottinger as a veteran member set to compete with a sophomore standout, but unlike Ottinger, he and Lopez will compete on a brand new team to the series.

It was a breakout year in 2023 for the veteran Gastonian racer, collecting two wins “in protest” following a heartbreaking and controversial loss at Nashville to Mullis. While he finished the lowest of the four in the finale, it was still his best year to date. Lowe has also become one of the standouts in the eNASCAR College iRacing Series, racing for the UNC at Charlotte 49ers.

The college aspect for Lowe was a huge part of his story during the championship race a season ago. “It was hell,” Lowe said about juggling his exam schedule alongside his first chance at competing for $100,000. “I have four exams this week, and a senior design presentation on Wednesday.” He was “hardly sleeping” and said “trying to run consistent laps was a problem” as a result.

Having that experience might be crucial for Lowe, should he make a return to the spotlight in 2024. The driver who finished fourth in 2022 took the lessons he learned to go on and win it all in 2023. Of course, that’s Steven Wilson, the 2023 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series champion and another College Series standout.

One has to wonder how the defending champion will fare in 2024 in defense of his crown. No longer paired with Dylan Duval, and like his fellow Championship 4 competitors, also with a new teammate that’s not on the same backend, Wilson has a challenge to bring the newcomers at M80 to the top of the mountain.

Wilson is working on the M80 squad with Ryan Luza, formerly of XSET and currently with RYCO on the backend. Last season, Wilson made the swap mid-season to work with Norse Force Racing, which includes Donovan Strauss, the winner of the finale at Homestead-Miami last season. Norse Force has a huge crew that houses one-fifth of the field, spanning six different official teams.

It could mean nothing for Wilson. His car number and manufacturer stays the same, despite moving from Stewart-Haas Racing to M80. He’s working with the same group that won him a title a few months ago. The only real difference is that he’ll have the support of one of the top esports organizations behind him for the upcoming year.

When asked following his championship victory in September, Wilson said that he wouldn’t want to think about the 2024 season until “lap 1 at Daytona”, but when it was announced that Stewart-Haas Racing wouldn’t return to the series this year, he and his former teammate were both set to take on free agency once again.

“To prepare for 2024, I haven’t done much, I’ve just been enjoying my offseason,” Wilson said during Media Day last month. His free agency didn’t have too much worry either as he was signed by the end of the second day. “My conversation with M80 started with Ryan Luza, he hooked me up with them,” he added.

Wilson is one of the few drivers to have won a team title, back in 2022 with SHR and his teammate Duval. They came close to running it back again, but lost out to the potent Team Dillon duo of Minter and Lopez on their second try. Wilson is still one of only three drivers to have won both the team championship and a driver’s title.

Wilson knows he has a target on his back coming into the new season. He and Ottinger will both be gunning for their second career titles in 2024. Lowe and Minter will be looking to take what they learned in 2023 to claim their first title in 2024. 

They’ll all have to do it while overcoming the changes they’ve all been faced with through the offseason, plus they’ll have 36 other hungry competitors looking to knock them out of that battle on stage in Charlotte.

The quest for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series championship, and the road to $500,000, starts tonight at 8:00 pm ET, live on Tune in to the pre-race Countdown to Green to catch up on these moves, plus all of the other off-season shenanigans, starting at 7:00 pm ET.

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