In the Car and in the Garage, the Stars Aligned for CraigSetupShop’s TCR Title Effort
It was a combination of elements so new and different that successfully conquering it would be like capturing lightning in a bottle.
As part of the new 24H SERIES ESPORTS format announced last summer, the car lineup would include the Audi RS 3 LMS TCR — the first-of-its-kind touring car on iRacing.
With just a week after its release for prospective teams to prepare for pre-qualifying, it would take a group of setup masters to tune the car on such short notice, along with some driving talents to get up to speed in a hurry.
Enter CraigSetupShop, which is where this story begins — and in the case of the series’ TCR championship, also where it ends.
So dominant was their team that they successfully took a car almost designed to be draft-locked to its counterparts and managed to break the slipstream — and in the process, break the class standings wide open in their favor.
For as well-executed of a season as they had, they did it in a somewhat unconventional way. CraigSetupShop is not a professional sim racing team à la Williams Esports or MSI eSports — the other class champions this season.
Instead, they’ve made their name in the iRacing world as a subscription-based setup service, and at that, one without the same promotional budget or pro-team support as the likes of Virtual Racing School and Pure Driving School.
They’ve grown largely by word-of-mouth, particularly among iRacing’s Twitch streaming community, and through their fun-loving, meme-infused style, branding the best setups as “OP doks” and emblazoning their webpage and the sides of their cars with the silhouette of founder and namesake Craig Williams.
While as a service, CraigSetupShop is well-prepared with its weekly setups for more than a half-dozen official series, their first venture into endurance racing as a team came together so late and so informally that it almost didn’t happen.
Each of CSS’s drivers last season has previously been or is currently a part of a separate race team. In the past, Williams competed in the NEO Endurance Series with Team Buschfink Racing and more recently served as a crew chief for G2 eSports in its world championship series efforts.
Lead driver Jack Sedgwick remains a part of ineX Racing, and last weekend began his second campaign for the team in the Porsche Tag Heuer eSports Supercup championship. And Simeon Lynch has previously competed for the likes of Buschfink and Race Clutch.
However, a chance combination of availability made CraigSetupShop’s entry into the 24H SERIES ESPORTS a reality.
“ineX to my knowledge had no intention of racing in NEO, and Simeon was teamless at the time if I remember correctly, so I threw the question out a few weeks before pre-qualifying and both seemed onboard with the idea,” said Williams, the team manager last season.
For Sedgwick, it didn’t take much convincing. And despite being a world championship-level driver in the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, which was also in the 24H SERIES ESPORTS lineup, having a shot at a proper touring car was tough to pass up.
“For me, the TCR is probably my favorite car in iRacing,” said Sedgwick. “So running it for a league such as NEO seemed like a no-brainer. Once the idea of running a CSS car got traction, I was all in.
“And anyway, I get to drive the Porsche enough during the regular season!”
After their entry was confirmed, the first hurdle for the team was advancing through pre-qualifying to earn one of only eleven grid spots available among the thirty teams that registered.
Sedgwick and Lynch combined to post the third-quickest average lap time from each of their best ten-lap runs, but such short stints effectively hid the team’s secret weapon all season — their sustained pace on worn tires.
That even surprised the team itself, as their expectations entering the season were much more modest than the five wins and class championship they compiled.
“At the start, I would have been happy with one win or a podium, but having Jack and Simeon behind the wheel just made for a ridiculous partnership, and having a clear setup advantage at the start allowed us to gain a decent championship lead,” said Williams.
That early points lead almost didn’t materialize, though. Entering the final two hours of the season-opener at Spa, Lynch made contact with the Gold Racing Team 991 car entering Les Combes and sent the Porsche spinning.
A 15-second penalty during their final pit stop dropped CraigSetupShop out of the lead and forced Sedgwick to give chase.
In the last hour, he overcame an eight-second deficit to their season-long rivals from CoRe SimRacing and used that long-run pace to pull away for the win.
For Lynch, it was a tough spot to be in after costing the team the lead, but Sedgwick’s recovery drive was an even bigger relief.
“As with any new series, we came into this with a relative unknown as to where we would be in a field of very strong drivers,” said Lynch.
“Receiving a penalty during the race for my mistake gave me a few nerves at least for the final hour or two, but all in all, I think getting that first win was the moment that started the CSS snowball for this season.”
Indeed, after their come-from-behind victory at Spa, momentum was on their side in the rounds that followed.
Sedgwick put their Audi on pole at Circuit of the Americas, and once Lynch got in the car, he drove away from CoRe and the rest of the field, this time without penalty en route to another win.
In setting the fastest lap at COTA, Lynch showed he had the speed to be the lead driver for pretty much any team in the TCR field. But for the driver who describes his sim racing career — from its beginnings on the Codemasters F1 games to his current time on iRacing — as “just running special events with friends when I can,” it was an easy adjustment for Lynch as the relief driver for CraigSetupShop, and a role he relished against other teams’ second drivers.
“I knew Jack was the stronger driver out of the two of us throughout the season, so I knew if he could keep the car clean through the opening stints, then I could have the middle of the race to manage the gap and keep to our strategy until he got back in the car for the end,” said Lynch.
As for Sedgwick, establishing that strategy was critical, especially when he found himself mired among the draft train early in several of the races.
“You went from places like COTA, where fuel saving in the first stint was essential to a good strategy, to Barcelona, where our strategy relied on being at the front and in clean air so we could extract pace from the tires,” he said.
“We also felt that it was overall beneficial to be at the front of the train anyway, because the second time getting lapped by the GT3 cars would generally split the field up due to it overlapping with the Porsches lapping us for the first time.”
The team’s one-two punch of Sedgwick and Lynch continued to find success as the season went on, winning the first five races as their competitors wondered how they were consistently so fast.
According to Williams, there are a few reasons — one of which may come as a surprise, given that he’s the namesake of a paid setup service.
“The setup both is and isn’t very important in this car,” he said. “If you get it wrong, you’ll think you are fast, then later in the stint go backwards really quickly!”
As for tire management, at which CSS seemed to excel, Williams advises “looking after the front tires, and to a similar extent the rears, and not drifting through the corners or overheating the fronts.
“Also, saving fuel is always more important than you think,” he added.
For most of the season, seemingly the only team that could come close to CraigSetupShop was CoRe. Their fight apexed at Monza, where the battle for the win came down to contact when CoRe overdrove the first chicane with three laps to go.
Williams said there were no hard feelings on either side after that race, which was expected given the long-lasting relationships between drivers on both teams.
“CoRe have some very quick drivers, and they proved that over the season, but we are friends, so we know we can race each other cleanly and fairly. The guys proved that at Monza,” said Williams.
“Plus, Sindre [Setsaas] works with us at CraigSetupShop, so it would be awkward if we didn’t get on,” he joked.
“The battles we had with CoRe at Silverstone and Monza were both aggressive and fair, which was a blast,” said Sedgwick.
While Williams watched most of the season from the virtual pit box, he was always just one call away from getting behind the wheel — and that call finally came for the season-ending 12H BARCELONA.
“I was going to drive as a fill-in if Simeon or Jack were unable to race, that was the idea until the final race as Catalunya, where both drivers could not do the full race,” he said.
As for those stints at Barcelona, Williams looked sharp in setting the fourth-fastest median lap time in the TCR class. But looks can be deceiving, as Williams admitted of his emotions in the car.
“Honestly, I was scared to death,” he said. “We could still have lost the championship due to my speed.
“But we gained a lot of time in the first two stints and had enough of a gap to CoRe for me to be much more relaxed, which was good for my times.”
While they locked up the championship, they also lost the race — and their undefeated season — as MSI took a cue from CSS’s playbook and ran away with the win.
Williams joked that one change could have helped them earn the victory: “not have me drive.”
Ultimately, though, the day-into-night finale presented a challenge that few other rounds this season could replicate, which caught CraigSetupShop off-guard.
“We got the strategy correct at the start, but it quickly went completely the other way as the track cooled, and we failed to realize until it was too late to come back,” he said.
That one miscalculation is hardly characteristic of their entire season. Williams describes the team’s recipe for success with three simple-sounding steps.
“Having Jack and Simeon in the car was a good starting point. Having a very good setup allowed the drivers to push more easily. Having a McLaren engineer — George Simmons — working out strategy was also pretty crucial.”
One thing’s for sure: the achievements for CraigSetupShop this season were also good for their bottom line as a setup service.
“TCR growth showed over the NEO season, and I’ve received many private messages through iRacing and Discord congratulating us on the performance and asking for tips and advice regarding the car — even from Williams Esports and SimRC drivers — so yes, I would say NEO was good for business,” said Williams.
And for any CSS subscribers wondering how the TCR setups compared to the ones Sedgwick and Lynch drove to five 24H SERIES ESPORTS class victories, Williams says the team’s NEO knowledge is infused throughout their downloadable doks.
“There is very little to change on the TCR, but that means the changes you can make are quite important,” he said. “The setups for NEO are slightly different so the tires don’t ‘fall off a cliff’, so to speak, but they are quite similar.
“If anything, the CSS ones are much more aggressive for the 30-minute IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge races.”
For the up-and-coming Jack Sedgwicks and Simeon Lynches of the world — perhaps drivers even using the CSS setups — the opportunity to follow in their footsteps to the TCR championship may come sooner than expected.
“With Jack taking part in the Porsche eSports Supercup series, Simeon attempting to run for the Porsche eSports Sprint Challenge series, and the expansion of CSS taking a lot more time than expected, it seems unlikely we will return to NEO next season,” said Williams.
The possibility of the reigning champion not returning to defend their crown may sound surprising, but it really shouldn’t in this case, especially when you consider the circumstances that brought this team together in the first place, like a bolt from the blue.
That’s the funny thing about lightning, whether you manage to bottle it up or only see its brilliance flash before your eyes.
Either way, it rarely strikes twice.