Lando Norris has won the penultimate round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at the Circuit of the Americas in what was his first race in the series. The British driver looked on course for a comfortable win from pole position until a mid-race spin dropped him into the midfield.
Nevertheless, a late pass on Felix Rosenqvist saw Norris re-take the lead, with Lando holding off his Arrow McLaren SP team-mate, Patricio O’Ward, to take the chequered flag. O’Ward and Rosenqvist completed the podium.
It was confirmed mid-week that McLaren Formula 1 driver, Lando Norris, would be making his debut in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge after receiving an invitation from the series organisers. Norris, who spends a lot of time Sim Racing at the highest levels on iRacing, would also be bringing along his engineer from 2019, Andrew Jarvis, who moved from the Formula 1 team to the IndyCar squad for 2020.
As was expected, Norris really showed that he meant business throughout practice; frequently topping the time-sheets in the process. When it came to qualifying, he didn’t let up. Lando would secure pole position for the thirty-two lap race with a lap-time of 1:43.469. Will Power, once again, would secure second on the grid, with four-tenths of a second between himself and Norris.
Norris would get a great jump on the field at the start of the race, with the rest of the front-runners quickly moving into single-file formation behind him. By the end of lap one, Norris had a lead of over a second. By lap six, the gap had grown to almost three seconds.
Mercifully for the rest of the field, a competition caution would be held on the twelfth lap of the race. The caution, coupled with the estimated fuel run lengths, meant that the preferred strategy for the drivers would be to pit just before the caution and then once again inside the final ten laps to make it to the end on fuel.
Norris, as expected, pitted on the lap before the caution; as did the majority of the rest of the field. The only drivers who would elect to try a one-stop strategy would be the likes of Will Power, Felix Rosenqvist, Rinus VeeKay, Santino Ferrucci and Scott Dixon. As such, those five drivers would cycle to the front for the race restart on lap fifteen, with Norris leading the two-stoppers away from sixth-place.
Despite having time on his side as well as much newer tyres, Norris looked determined to get back to the front as quickly as possible. He quickly dispatched both Scott Dixon and Santino Ferrucci on the first lap back to green and he was soon gaining on VeeKay to move back into the podium spots.
However, at the end of lap fifteen, Lando looked to potentially throw his race away. He appeared to get a bit too greedy on the power out of the final corner, with the back of the car stepping out. He managed to catch the slide once, but a second slide would prove too much. His #04 McLaren would loop around, sending Norris all the way back to thirteenth place.
After a few expletives from his virtual cockpit, Norris would get back going once again, with his engineer letting him know that his pace was strong enough to put him back into contention.
At the front of the field, Power soldiered on. He would make his first and only planned stop at the end of lap seventeen, but disaster would strike a few corners later when the Australian would spin not once, but twice! Will clipped the sausage kerbs on the inside of the Esses section and then spun again in frustration whilst trying to get back going again; almost collecting his team-mate McLaughlin in the process. The time lost would all but write Power out of contention for the win once again.
With the two fastest drivers spinning and the remaining one-stoppers coming to the pits, the lead was then passed onto Patricio O’Ward. However, Norris was charging through the order. On lap twenty-one, Norris was back up into third-place and was closing up to the back of Scott McLaughlin. An easy move on the back straight would see Norris retake second-place, with McLaughlin immediately diving into the pits for his second and final stop; the first of the front-runners to do so.
The three-second gap between O’Ward and Norris would soon shrink to under a second. With nine laps to go, Norris elected to make his final pit-stop and attempt the undercut on his McLaren team-mate. O’Ward pitted with six laps remaining, but his clear-air at the front of the field would not be enough to see him maintain position over Norris, with Patricio exiting the pits over two-seconds behind Lando; such was the benefit of new tyres.
With O’Ward in his mirrors, Norris was now running in second place, with Felix Rosenqvist running ahead of him on the one-stop pit strategy. Due to the tyre advantage, Norris would soon cruise up to the back of Rosenqvist’s #10 Ganassi Honda. However, the almost inevitable change of leadership would be a little more dramatic than Lando would have foreseen.
With four laps to go, Rosenqvist would clip a sausage kerb in the Esses and would be sent spinning around, right in the path of Norris. Lando was forced to take evasive action, but the pair thankfully avoided making contact with each other. Norris would retake the lead as a result, with O’Ward closing up and passing Rosenqvist a few corners later at the end of the back straight.
For the final three laps, the gap between Norris and O’Ward remained stable at around 1.3-seconds. O’Ward had more push-to-pass boost available to him, but Norris looked to have the pace advantage. In the end, Norris would cross the line at the end of lap thirty-two to take the victory, with O’Ward crossing the line just 1.4-seconds later to secure a 1-2 finish for Arrow McLaren SP.
After his late spin, Felix Rosenqvist would take his foot off the gas for the remaining laps to try and make it to the end of the race without running out of fuel. He would cross the line to take the final spot on the virtual podium in third-place, with eight seconds separating him from race-winner Norris.
Scott McLaughlin drove another strong race to take fourth place, with Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci completing the top five. Will Power bounced back from his brace of spins to take sixth-place. The Australian will likely be extraordinarily frustrated after a chance at a win escaped him for the fifth time in five races.
Rinus VeeKay and Marcus Ericsson would take seventh and eighth respectively. Alex Palou would take ninth place, but the result was far from indicative of his pace; with the Spaniard running right up with the leaders for much of the race before a late spin. Reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion, Josef Newgarden, would round out the top ten for Team Penske.
The winner of the last two races at Michigan International Speedway and Twin-Ring Motegi, Simon Pagenaud, would finish in fourteenth. Further back, Virgin Australia Supercars driver, Chaz Mostert, would finish in twentieth place on his debut in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge; substituting for Marco Andretti in the #98 Andretti Herta Honda.
After the race, it was announced that next week’s IndyCar iRacing Challenge finale would be taking place at the virtual Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Further details for the race will be announced in due course, but we already know that IndyCar Series full-time drivers will be locked into the race, as will former Indianapolis 500 winners who have taken part in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge and drivers who have won a race in the iRacing Challenge itself.
Any other driver hoping to race will have to qualify in a session to be held on Wednesday, April 29. The race itself will take place next Saturday, May 2.
2020 IndyCar iRacing Challenge – Circuit of the Americas – Race results:
|1||04||Lando Norris||GBR||Arrow McLaren SP||1:02:27.063|
|2||5||Patricio O’Ward||MEX||Arrow McLaren SP||+1.444|
|3||10||Felix Rosenqvist||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||+8.352|
|4||2||Scott McLaughlin||NZL||Team Penske||+13.188|
|5||18||Santino Ferrucci||USA||Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan||+20.771|
|6||12||Will Power||AUS||Team Penske||+24.617|
|7||21||Rinus VeeKay||NET||Ed Carpenter Racing||+26.676|
|8||8||Marcus Ericsson||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||+27.739|
|9||55||Alex Palou||ESP||Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh||+28.207|
|10||1||Josef Newgarden||USA||Team Penske||+30.835|
|11||9||Scott Dixon||NZL||Chip Ganassi Racing||+32.304|
|13||88||Colton Herta||USA||Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport||+56.369|
|14||22||Simon Pagenaud||FRA||Team Penske||+58.320|
|15||27||Alexander Rossi||USA||Andretti Autosport||+1:05.303|
|16||60||Jack Harvey||GBR||Meyer Shank Racing||+1:06.303|
|17||15||Graham Rahal||USA||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+1:06.457|
|18||41||Dalton Kellett||CAN||A.J. Foyt Racing||+1:07.110|
|19||29||James Hinchcliffe||CAN||Andretti Autosport||+1:16.678|
|20||98||Chaz Mostert||AUS||Andretti Autosport||+1:17.069|
|22||50||Ed Carpenter||USA||Ed Carpenter Racing||+1:20.765|
|23||14||Tony Kanaan||BRA||A.J. Foyt Racing||+1:27.271|
|24||4||Sebastien Bourdais||FRA||A.J. Foyt Racing||+1:36.430|
|25||45||Spencer Pigot||USA||Citrone/Buhl Autosport||+1:41.077|
|26||26||Zach Veach||USA||Andretti Autosport||+1:48.248|
|27||11||Kyle Kaiser||USA||Juncos Racing||+1 Lap|
|28||7||Oliver Askew||USA||Arrow McLaren SP||+1 Lap|
|29||20||Conor Daly||USA||Ed Carpenter Racing||+2 Laps|
|30||30||Takuma Sato||JAP||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+2 Laps|
|31||28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||USA||Andretti Autosport||+2 Laps|
|32||6||Robert Wickens||CAN||Arrow McLaren Racing||+2 Laps|
|33||24||Sage Karam||USA||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||+3 Laps|