Dreyer & Reinbold Racing‘s Sage Karam has taken a dominant victory in the innagural race of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Watkins Glen. The American, driving the virtual #24 Chevrolet, started the race on pole position and quickly disappeared up the road, coming home with an advantage of over three seconds.
With physical racing in the NTT IndyCar Series on hold due to the global COVID-19 outbreak, IndyCar kicked off their first-ever virtual counterpart series today with the first of a six round season held on iRacing.
In the short qualifying session held immediately prior to the race, it was Sage Karam who would take pole position ahead of Felix Rosenqvist. Both drivers were amongst a number of drivers taking part in the event that had plenty of prior experience on iRacing, having raced on the simulator in their own time.
Karam and Rosenqvist were quick to use their grid spots to their advantage, as both sprinted away into the lead of the race at the drop of the green flag. Further back, however, the predicted carnage began early with a big crash involving Alexander Rossi at the bus-stop chicane. Unlike the real series, the IndyCar iRacing Challenge will be run without cautions on the road course races, thus putting any driver who got into an incident into a big hole to try and climb out of.
As expected with such a mixture of drivers with varying degrees of experience racing virtually, the race was somewhat of a survival of the fittest. Only seven drivers would end up finishing the race on the lead lap. Even the drivers that would go on to finish on the lead lap would not be immune from incident, however. Scott McLaughlin was one driver involved in an accident early on after making contact with Oliver Askew. Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden would also be caught up in the incident; thus meaning that three of the four Penske’s would be in trouble early on.
After qualifying in third-place, the fourth Penske driver, Will Power, would drop back early on and would fall behind Andretti Herta’s guest driver, Scott Speed, and Dale Coyne Racing‘s Alex Palou. After trying for several laps to get past Palou, Power would be eventually released when the Spaniard pitted. Power would lay down the fastest lap of the race at the time during the pit-phase and would ultimately emerge from his own pit-stop ahead of both Palou and Speed.
For Speed, things looked to be going smoothly. His experience on iRacing was evident by the way he was able to ease his #98 Honda around the virtual Watkins Glen. However, just as the race commentators picked up on this, Speed would spin into the barriers; a perfect showcase of the commentators curse. This would put Scott out of the race after what had been a great start.
As the race drew to a close, the man on the lead lap who looked like he had the most to gain was the aforementioned Scott McLaughlin. The Virgin Australia Supercars champion – who had been due to make his IndyCar debut at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis next month prior to the race’s postponement – had worked his way back up to fifth-place after his early incident and was rapidly chasing down the man he made contact with; Oliver Askew in the McLaren.
With just six laps to go, McLaughlin would get a superb run up through the Esses and would move to the outside of Askew heading into the Bus Stop chicane. Under braking, it would be McLaughlin who would get the edge and swoop his way into fourth-place. Due to the prior incident, the gap between himself and third-placed Power would be far to big to bridge in the remaining handful of laps.
In the end, after surviving forty-five laps of avoiding those spinning and crashing around him, it would be the polesitter, Sage Karam, who would take the chequered flag to win the first-ever IndyCar iRacing Challenge event. The Dreyer & Reinbold Racing driver managed to keep Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist at bay, with the pair finishing the race with 3.6-seconds between them.
After his great pit-stop phase earlier in the race, Will Power would come back to finish in third-place. His team-mate, Scott McLaughlin, would hold on for the final few laps to keep his fourth-place finish, with Oliver Askew rounding out the top five. The last two drivers to finish on the lead lap would be the remaining two Penske cars, with last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud, finishing in sixth and last year’s reigning champion, Josef Newgarden, finishing in seventh.
Santino Ferrucci and Kyle Kirkwood would fall off of the lead lap inside the final few laps of the race. Kirkwood was driving the #28 Andretti Honda due to the absence of Ryan Hunter-Reay. Conor Daly would finish just behind Ferrucci and Kirkwood to complete the top ten.
Further back, NASCAR Cup Series seven-time champion, Jimmie Johnson, would take his #48 Ally Racing Chevrolet to sixteenth place. Johnson, who has only recently made his debut in sim racing, finished two laps down and will jump back into his virtual #48 Hendrick Motorsport Chevrolet tomorrow for the second race of the NASCAR iRacing Pro Invitiational Series at the virtual Texas Motor Speedway.
Six cars would be classified as non-finishers by the end of the race. After running in the top five early on, Alex Palou would retire from the race later on and would be classified in twentieth-place. The aforementioned Scott Speed would be classified just behind in twenty-first.
Colton Herta, Sebastien Bourdais and Tony Kanaan would all hit strife early on and would be classified in positions twenty-two through twenty-four. Twenty-fifth would go the way of James Hinchcliffe, who was unable to even start the race due to a technical glitch.
The next round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge will take place next Saturday, April 4, at the virtual Barber Motorsports Park.
2020 IndyCar iRacing Challenge – Watkins Glen – Race Results:
|1||24||Sage Karam||USA||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||Leader|
|2||10||Felix Rosenqvist||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||+3.618|
|3||12||Will Power||AUS||Team Penske||+11.416|
|4||2||Scott McLaughlin||NZL||Team Penske||+47.923|
|5||7||Oliver Askew||USA||Arrow McLaren SP||+50.435|
|6||22||Simon Pagenaud||FRA||Team Penske||+1:22.711|
|7||1||Josef Newgarden||USA||Team Penske||+1:26.439|
|8||18||Santino Ferrucci||USA||Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan||+1 Lap|
|9||28||Kyle Kirkwood||USA||Andretti Autosport||+1 Lap|
|10||20||Conor Daly||USA||Ed Carpenter Racing||+1 Lap|
|11||41||Dalton Kellett||CAN||A.J. Foyt Racing||+1 Lap|
|12||11||Kyle Kaiser||USA||Juncos Racing||+1 Lap|
|13||5||Patricio O’Ward||MEX||Arrow McLaren SP||+2 Laps|
|14||15||Graham Rahal||USA||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+2 Laps|
|15||59||Felipe Nasr||BRA||Carlin||+2 Laps|
|16||48||Jimmie Johnson||USA||IndyCar Provisional||+2 Laps|
|17||27||Alexander Rossi||USA||Andretti Autosport||+3 Laps|
|18||8||Marcus Ericsson||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||+5 Laps|
|19||26||Zach Veach||USA||Andretti Autosport||+5 Laps|
|RET||55||Alex Palou||ESP||Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh||Crash|
|RET||98||Scott Speed||USA||Andretti Herta||Crash|
|RET||88||Colton Herta||USA||Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport||Crash|
|RET||4||Sebastien Bourdais||FRA||A.J. Foyt Racing||Crash|
|RET||14||Tony Kanaan||BRA||A.J. Foyt Racing||Crash|
|RET||29||James Hinchcliffe||CAN||Andretti Autosport||Technical|