Catching Up With Phillippe Denes
 May 4, 2020| 
  • Series News
Denes Feature 2020

The RTI iRacing eSeries champ looks at the differences and similarities between sim racing and real racing, and previews this week's new set of races that feature three oval events

Phillippe Denes dominated the recent five-race Ricmotech Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires iRacing eSeries, capturing three SimMetric Driver Performance Lab pole awards and three race victories on his way to the championship title.

But what makes a good sim racer? According to Denes, it’s the combination of equipment and effort: the 21-year-old Carmel, Calif., native, who competes in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, began iRacing in 2012, coinciding with the beginning of what would be a very successful karting career. Fast forward eight years and Denes was thrilled to take home the eSeries championship title: that he was able to race against drivers he has known his entire career made it that much sweeter.

“My iRacing membership started in 2012,” said Denes, “but I’d been doing racing games for years, on PlayStation and xBox. I’ve met a lot of friends through iRacing: Jacob Loomis, Braden Eves, Andre Castro, among others. We knew each other there first, and it brought us closer once we all started racing for real.”

RTI_TO_072019_C_8553Denes virtually grew up at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, tagging along with his father Zoltan, a renowned cardiac surgeon who worked on the race weekend medical team at the track. The next natural step was to try racing himself, so father and son signed on to the Jim Hall Racing School, racing karts together until Phillippe’s career began to take off. After a highly successful karting career, the young Denes went back to WRLS for the Skip Barber Racing School, competed in the F1600 Championship in 2016 then entered the final two races of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship at his home track, driving from 15th to seventh in his first race in the series.

Budget became an issue as Denes climbed the Road to Indy ladder. Completing partial seasons in Indy Pro 2000 in 2017, 2018 and 2019 – including a highly entertaining stint with FatBoy Racing! last season – Denes signed with 2019 champions RP Motorsport USA for the season opener. With solid pace until a late red flag in the lone practice session, Denes was preparing for qualifying when the weekend was cancelled due to the advancing COVID-19 crisis. But several weeks later, racing was back on his radar as the Road to Indy eSeries was announced and Denes raced into the headlines with his performance over the five-race series – a series that had its share of ups and downs.

“Well, the lowlights were definitely spinning into the pit lane at Road America, and the technical issue I had at Mid-Ohio – though I’m proud of that one as well, since I almost crashed about seven times because it was so hard to drive with that issue. But the third race at Indianapolis was the most exhilarating. The entire race was a build-up to the final lap, with Braden and I trading off the lead. We both knew it would come down to who would get the run on the front straight on the final lap. That was pretty nerve wracking, playing the scenarios in your head while you’re still giving it your all. That was a fun race and a great win.”

Denes SimBut for all his excitement in taking the top spot at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there’s one major problem with a virtual victory.

“It feels good when you win – then you do the interview with (the voice of the Road to Indy) Rob Howden, talking about how you beat all these guys. Then you stand up and you’re just in a room somewhere. So it can only get so exciting.”

Denes has worked long and hard on his sim racing efforts. An early sim version did not offer the performance that his current rig had, so it was more about learning the tracks and having fun. But when a sponsor purchased him a state-of-the-art sim setup, the online racing became almost as serious as his real racing.

“It feels like real life and it’s been a great way to get my name out there. I think it shows what I can do when everyone is on the same setup. I don’t really think that you drive differently on a sim than you do a real car. I jump in a car and figure out how to drive it, no matter if it’s sim racing or real racing. You get a feel for it and whatever feels faster is faster. But I do think that a driver’s flaws or inconsistencies get magnified on a simulator, so it can help to perfect your race craft and your consistency. You’re not quite as focused as you are in real life, but it’s close.”

But Denes warns that a driver can get too comfortable in the sim, with it’s lack of weather conditions and racetrack idiosyncrasies. After all, the track is always clean on a sim.

RTI_StP_032020__0361“You have to use the sim to learn a track but when you get to the track, you need to learn it in its own way. It’s definitely a trap, to think that you can just go out there and give it 100% right off the bat, especially on a street course like Toronto.”

This week will see a new iRacing series begin, with a new twist: the Road to Indy iRacing eSeries Presented by Cooper Tires will include three ovals in its five-event rotation. Denes believes that the addition of oval races will change the playing field considerably.

“I don’t know what to expect from these next races; I think it’s wide open. I haven’t done an oval race on iRacing in a while. It’s going to be interesting. You have to be really smart, keep it super clean and stay in the lead pack, which is just like real racing. I think you’ll be surprised at the guys in front, I think it will be the guys with more oval race craft, experience in placing your car in the right place and getting into the slip stream with the right guys.”

Like his competitors, Denes waits anxiously for the start of the real race season. He plans to run the first race of the season but hopes that his increased notoriety helps steer a sponsor his way.

“I would love to see the season come together with a sponsor and to be able to show what I can do with a good team, and fight for a championship.”

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