Traxion.GG’s fifth ePreview for the upcoming 2023 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series is yet another team that’s not changing their drivers for 2023, but looking past that, basically everything else will be revamped in 2023 – That team is Williams Esports.
So far, we’ve gotten a look at Jim Beaver Esports, Team Dillon Esports, Stewart-Haas Esports and Rise Esports. Williams has no ties to NASCAR in general. However, they are one of the biggest racing teams in the entire world, well known for their efforts in Formula 1’s World Championship Series.
Williams Esports also has a huge presence in many top level sim racing competitions across multiple sim racing platforms. They’ve competed and succeeded in the Le Mans Virtual Series on rFactor 2, and on top of that, they’ll have a team ready for the inaugural edition of the ESL R1 on Rennsport in February.
Especially on iRacing, those recognizable blue and white liveries are often seen towards the front of the field. However, it’s been a rough go for the high profile team based out of Grove.
For 2023, Williams Esports will re-introduce Vicente Salas and Donovan Strauss back with the team after both signing on in 2022.
Salas, coming off of a playoff berth in his rookie season in 2021, was taking a leap to move from Spacestation Racing over to a new team with an incoming rookie, the Contender runner-up Strauss. On paper, this pairing was potent.
When the 2022 season was done and over with, it was anything but what they’d all hoped for. Looking ahead to 2023, there’s a lot of potential left to be fulfilled
Williams Esports has three wins in eNASCAR – all of which stem from former series champion Ryan Luza when he was with the team back in 2020 – but both before and after Luza’s near-title that season, they’ve been a consistent middle of the pack team. Will that change for the better in the 2023 season?
THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT
Throughout the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season, both Williams drivers showed their speed many times, but the lack of finding the finishes to back up the speed cost both dearly over the course of the 18 race schedule.
One glimmering aspect was that Donovan took him the 2022 Rookie of the Year honors with his 20th place finish in the points standings, staving off relegation in the process. Donovan was the only rookie in the 2022 class to finish above the cut line, and he’s one of four that are back in the series this year.
While both drivers entered the finale above the cut line, Vicente was sat out by Race Control at Phoenix and ultimately fell into relegation, 12 points outside the cut after coming into the night both 17 points ahead of Ray Alfalla and 26 points ahead of Keegan Leahy. Both would end up passing him after Phoenix, as Leahy also avoided relegation after winning the final race of the season.
Last season, Vicente ran in the No. 19 Toyota Camry while Donovan went to work in the No. 20 Toyota Camry. 2023 will see both drivers in numbers that are familiar to them after they opened up following the team announcements. Joe Gibbs Racing moves to the 54, Spacestation Racing is gone.
That means that Strauss can get in his personal number – the No. 51 – a number recently occupied by Ray Alfalla and before him, Malik Ray. It’s the number he utilized up the ladder through the Road To Pro. For Vicente, he returns to the No. 55, what he raced in his rookie year with Spacestation, and won with.
The eNASCAR side of the organization also moves over to Chevrolet for the first time. Often seen associated with Mercedes-AMG and BMW in other esports, the eNASCAR branch has supported both the Ford factory and the Toyota camp in their first four seasons. Now, they take on 2023 with Chevy.
STRAUSS SEEKS TO AVOID SOPHOMORE SLUMP
The top rookie in the 2022 class, Donovan Strauss is ready to take what he’s learned after a full season of eNASCAR competition to succeed.
“To be the Rookie of the Year in 2022, and to be the only rookie in the Top 20 to not face relegation, it means a lot to me and it proves what I did in Contender was not a fluke,” Donovan said. “I just need to continue to learn and improve on what I did last year, I started off really bad… Three races in, I was last in points. I had to climb my way back up.”
Avoiding the hole to start the season will be a key for Strauss, as the mental game can definitely be a factor. When Donovan attempted the Contender Series the year prior, even with a Richmond pole position, every bad finish kept piling up and led to a 38th points position finish in 2020.
In 2021’s Contender, it was a second place effort after learning from the year prior. A similar scenario awaits for Donovan in 2023. “I’m excited to be back and to learn and improve on myself… With everything we learned in the past year and how I’ve improved on myself… I think we can be in the Top 5 in the Team Standings for sure.”
Donovan is returning to Williams Esports, and from what it sounds like, he knew right away that he would be returning. “Free agency opened at 9:00 o’clock,” Donovan said. “It was agreed at 9:01 basically that I I was going right back.” This season, he’ll also be working together with Norse Force Racing on setups.
A Legends Car competitor, Donovan is one of the few who gets to experience the real-world action alongside the top level of eNASCAR competition. He attributes a lot of his knowledge in the real-world to the simulation.
“iRacing was the main thing that helped me with Legend Car racing,” Donovan said. “The overall basics of driving and being fast… it’s just about being really smooth. The tire actually reacts similarly, where you can’t slide the tire around too much, or else your tires will be overheated.”
The same mentality applies with iRacing’s NASCAR NEXT Gen vehicles. With a year of eNASCAR Coke Series racing under his belt and things on the positive up swing, that could prove to be a breakout year for Donovan and the Williams team.
SALAS READY TO PUT 2022 IN THE MIRROR
After an incredible rookie season with Spacestation Racing in 2021, Vicente Salas made a bold move over to Williams Esports for the 2022 season. The successes just didn’t come to fruition during 2022, unfortunately and it led to another trip to the eNASCAR Contender iRacing Series to close the year.
“In 2022, I definitely made my fair share of mistakes,” Vicente said. “There was a reason I wasn’t back in the Top 20, and there was a reason I had to run [Contender]. I think [Contender] was probably the best thing that could have happened to me this year because it really taught me a lot of things.”
One of the top drivers of this year’s Contender, Vicente may have been knocked down, but he’s come right back up with a higher stock than ever following a short season that included a win, three poles and three Top 5 finishes.
Now for 2023, Vicente will drive his third different manufacturer in the series after starting in the Ford (with Spacestation) and racing in the Toyota for Williams last season. He’ll also get the No. 55 back, a number that was much better to him than the No. 19 was last year.
As it was with Donovan, the choice seemed fairly easy for Vicente when Free Agency came around this year. Williams was quick to snatch back their two drivers from last year.
“The Williams guys never wavered their support for me,” Vicente said. “It was a very, very easy decision. All those guys at Williams have supported me and Don so much over the last year. Even when I dropped down into [Contender] they were like hey, we want you to run our paint scheme. The support they’ve given us means so much.”
Also like Donovan, Vicente’s season will hinge on having a strong mental game. From what it sounds like, confidence has returned to the third year Coke Series competitor.
“You have to keep mentally focused, so if you can keep focused on what’s ahead and always be in that mental mindset for a race, it’s not over till the checkered flag is thrown,” Vicente said. “You can win anything, you just have to keep focused. I think that’s the biggest thing that Racing has helped me with.”
With the addition of both Milwaukee and Monza this season, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series begins to shape its own identity among the other official NASCAR racing series. No longer will the series be an exact slice from the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, but there are still plenty of similarities.
For the most part though, whatever schedule lies ahead for either driver, they are ready to take it on. “Nashville, Richmond, Charlotte for sure, and Darlington,” Donovan listed off. ‘Those are the races that I’m excited for, as well as Homestead, where I ran really well, I just got wrecked on the last lap last year.”
“A track I have circled on my schedule has got to be Richmond,” said the 2021 Richmond race winner Vicente. “I’ll never forget that race, we definitely put up a performance and I know we can do that again. I’m looking forward to all the flat tracks too, like Milwaukee and Gateway.”
REALISTIC GOALS FOR 2023
For both Salas and Strauss, 2023 is a year of opportunity. Goals were high in 2022, but for the most part, they weren’t hit and it led to disappointment. Realistically, both drivers just want to improve on what went down in 2022.
“I think our goal is just to aim higher than we were last year,” Vicente said. “Hopefully we can be in the Top 5 in Team Standings, but I think the goal is just to grow. I just wasn’t up to par or at the game I wanted to be, so I think this year I’m just going to try and grow my mental state, be in a better mental state going into these races, hold that mental state through the races and finish the races off.”
“I’d say my goals for the 2023 season are to improve and stay focused mentally,” Donovan reiterated. “If I can just stay focused, and stay in a good mindset, then I think I can contend for the playoffs. I think I can reach my goals and make the playoffs win a race and maybe compete for a championship, but it’s all up to myself to correct my mistakes. I’ve got to just stay focused on the track and off the track.”
This is the fifth entry of a 20-part eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series ePreview series for Traxion.GG. The 2023 season begins officially on 14th February with Race 1 at Daytona International Speedway. Race broadcasts start at 8:30 pm ET with the Countdown to Green on eNASCAR.com/live.