Simon Pagenaud has taken victory for a second straight weekend in the iRacing IndyCar Challenge after picking up the pieces late in the race at Twin Ring Motegi. Two of his Team Penske team-mates, Will Power and Scott McLaughlin were running first and second inside the final ten laps of the race until an incident with a lapped car damaged both and took them out of contention.
The fourth of six races in the iRacing IndyCar Challenge saw the drivers head to the virtual Twin Ring Motegi in Japan for a second oval race in a row. Once again, the size of the grid grew to it’s largest number yet, with thirty-three drivers set to take the green flag.
Four new drivers would join the grid for the fourth round of the season. Takuma Sato, Rinus VeeKay and Helio Castroneves took the reigns of the virtual versions of their real NTT IndyCar Series machines. The fourth entrant would be yet another cameo from the NASCAR Cup Series. Following in the footsteps of Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr before him, reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Busch joined the grid this time out, piloting the #51 Rowdy Energy IndyCar Provisional entry.
As usual, qualifying would be held just moments before the drop of the green flag to start the race. A superb lap from Arrow McLaren SP‘s Robert Wickens would see the Canadian take pole position for the race, with Robert getting more and more comfortable at the wheel after making his series debut one week late at Barber Motorsports Park.
The start of the race was, thankfully, much calmer than last week’s race at Michigan International Speedway; where much of the field was collected in a wreck before they even technically started the race. This time, the field got into single file very quickly on the run down to turn one, with Wickens holding onto his lead ahead of Jack Harvey and Will Power.
Robert’s strong start, however, would be undone a few laps later. After losing the lead to Oliver Askew and Harvey, contact whilst battling with Power would see the Canadian fall down into the mid-field after a miraculous save. Thankfully, he was able to maintain a top ten position when a caution followed on the fourth lap after a collision involving Helio Castroneves, Sebastien Bourdais and Takuma Sato on the exit of turn two.
Askew would bring the field back to the green flag for the start of lap nine, with a vast majority of the field not opting to pit due to the length of the fuel window in the race. A few laps later, Power would storm back into the lead of the race, with Harvey and Scott Dixon moving up into the top three soon after. For the rest of the opening stint of the race, the drivers would largely settle down; contempt to stay in their positions and hold off on fighting hard for position until after the first of two planned pit-stops.
After last week’s fuel mileage win for Simon Pagenaud, many were wary of the possibility that the same could happen this time around. However, due to the length of the race, 113-laps, it looked almost impossible for anybody to stretch their mileage to pull-off a one-stop strategy. The entire field pitted before the halfway mark, therefore almost dispelling all hopes of successfully pulling off a one-stop.
Power would hold the lead of the race after the first pit-stop, with Scott Dixon moving up into second and Scott McLaughlin into third. For the second stint, Power and Dixon would trade the lead regularly, with the draft proving powerful enough to prevent the leader from pulling away too much. As the final pit-stop drew near, Power started to struggle with his tyres, therefore allowing Dixon to take the lead and open a gap of over two seconds.
However, with Dixon still new to iRacing; his pit-entry and exit during his final stop would not be as fast as those he had been battling. This would cycle Dixon back to a net-fourth place on the road after the final stops, with Power regaining the lead ahead of McLaughlin and Simon Pagenaud.
As the race entered it’s final twenty laps, just three of the leading drivers had yet to make a second pit-stop. Josef Newgarden was leading ahead of Oliver Askew and Felix Rosenqvist, but all three would have to save ten laps of fuel to have any hope of making it to the end. One by one, the three would admit defeat and come in for a final stop, with Newgarden finally relinquishing the lead to Will Power with thirteen laps to go.
The battle for the win looked to be firmly between Penske team-mates Power and McLaughlin, with McLaughlin right on the gearbox of Power at various points. However, with ten laps to go, disaster struck. Oliver Askew was attempting to un-lap himself in his #5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. He moved to the inside of Power at turns three and four, but the pair would make contact.
The contact would send Power up the race track and into the side of McLaughlin, with Scott then spinning hard into the outside wall before crawling into the pits to repair his destroyed car. Power, too, would suffer damage, with his front-wing looking massively out of shape. Power, however, was determined to continue, despite the obvious damage that would slow him down for the remaining handful of laps.
Power tried everything he could to defend his lead when his team-mate, Simon Pagenaud, came up to take the lead. With Pagenaud moving to the outside on the exit of turn two, Power would leave him next to no space. The pair made contact for virtually the entire length of the backstretch, but ultimately, Pagenaud would secure the lead. Scott Dixon would also swoop past Power and would set his sights on Pagenaud for the final few laps.
Dixon managed to get right up to the gearbox of Pagenaud as the pair started the final lap. However, when the New Zealander tried to take the lead at turn one, his gap on the inside line would close too much for him to get through. He would back out of the move and thus lose momentum for the final tour of the speedway.
This left Pagenaud all but unchallenged for the rest of the final lap, with the Frenchman crossing the line to take the chequered flag with an advantage of three-tenths over Dixon. The win would be Pagenaud’s second in succession, having won at Michigan a week previously. Dixon would have to settle for second place, something he didn’t seem too happy about as he careered into the back of Pagenaud’s car after the finish; leaving Simon to perform celebratory burnouts without his front-wing.
A determined final ten laps saw Will Power take the final spot on the podium despite heavy damage to the front-end of his #12 Penske Chevrolet. The Australian will be undoubtedly furious after running in contention for the fourth race in a row only to miss out on the victory.
Marcus Ericsson would come home with a fourth-place finish to join his Chip Ganassi Racing team-mate, Dixon, in the top five. The third and final Ganassi Honda of Felix Rosenqvist would finish down in fourteenth. Rounding out the top five would be the pole-sitter, Robert Wickens, who rallied back from his early incident with Will Power to take a solid fifth-place. Meyer Shank Racing‘s Jack Harvey, who also led the race at one stage, finished in sixth.
Seventh-place would go the way of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing‘s Sage Karam. The Watkins Glen winner started the race down in thirty-first after not setting a lap in qualifying. He stormed through the field in the early stages, picking up ten spots in the first ten laps en-route to his top ten finish. Zach Veach, Santino Ferrucci and Graham Rahal would complete the top ten, with Conor Daly just outside in eleventh place.
Two series newcomers would take twelfth and thirteenth respectively. Takuma Sato would edge out Kyle Busch by just over two-tenths of a second at the finish. Their fellow newcomers – Rinus VeeKay and Helio Castroneves – would be further back in twenty-third and twenty-ninth respectively; with both taking the chequered flag off of the lead lap.
After the late tangle with Oliver Askew, Scott McLaughlin would have to settle for twenty-fourth place in his damaged #2 Penske Chevrolet. He would finish the race one lap down, with Askew finishing on the lead lap in twenty-first place.
Four of the thirty-three drivers would sadly not take the chequered flag at the end of the race. A.J. Foyt Racing‘s Tony Kanaan would retire in the second half due to accident damage in his #14 7-Eleven throwback-liveried Chevrolet. It was a disastrous race for Carlin, with both Felipe Nasr and Max Chilton retiring within laps of each other in the early stages. Nasr was parked by race control due to his unstable internet connection, whilst Chilton’s #59 car was too damaged to continue after early wrecks.
The final driver on the leader board at Motegi would be the #29 Andretti Autosport Honda of James Hinchcliffe For the second time in this series, Hinchcliffe would be unable to start the race due to technical gremlins.
The penultimate round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge will take place next Saturday, April 25 at the virtual Circuit of the Americas.
2020 IndyCar iRacing Challenge – Twin Ring Motegi – Race results:
|1||22||Simon Pagenaud||FRA||Team Penske||58:06.634|
|2||9||Scott Dixon||NZL||Chip Ganassi Racing||+0.341|
|3||12||Will Power||AUS||Team Penske||+3.235|
|4||8||Marcus Ericsson||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||+4.960|
|5||6||Robert Wickens||CAN||Arrow McLaren SP||+5.816|
|6||60||Jack Harvey||GBR||Meyer Shank Racing||+6.456|
|7||24||Sage Karam||USA||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||+7.360|
|8||26||Zach Veach||USA||Andretti Autosport||+8.232|
|9||18||Santino Ferrucci||USA||Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan||+10.185|
|10||15||Graham Rahal||USA||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+10.874|
|11||20||Conor Daly||USA||Ed Carpenter Racing||+10.915|
|12||30||Takuma Sato||JAP||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+11.291|
|13||51||Kyle Busch||USA||IndyCar Provisional||+11.505|
|14||10||Felix Rosenqvist||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||+11.957|
|15||1||Josef Newgarden||USA||Team Penske||+12.067|
|16||28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||USA||Andretti Autosport||+14.749|
|17||50||Ed Carpenter||USA||Ed Carpenter Racing||+16.659|
|18||88||Colton Herta||USA||Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport||+16.987|
|19||41||Dalton Kellett||CAN||A.J. Foyt Racing||+19.044|
|20||4||Sebastien Bourdais||FRA||A.J. Foyt Racing||+22.786|
|21||7||Oliver Askew||USA||Arrow McLaren SP||+23.031|
|22||55||Alex Palou||ESP||Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh||+23.688|
|23||21||Rinus VeeKay||NET||Ed Carpenter Racing||+1 Lap|
|24||2||Josef Newgarden||USA||Team Penske||+1 Lap|
|25||98||Marco Andretti||USA||Andretti Herta||+1 Lap|
|26||5||Patricio O’Ward||MEX||Arrow McLaren SP||+1 Lap|
|27||11||Kyle Kaiser||USA||Juncos Racing||+1 Lap|
|28||27||Alexander Rossi||USA||Andretti Autosport||+2 Laps|
|29||3||Helio Castroneves||BRA||Team Penske||+3 Laps|
|RET||14||Tony Kanaan||BRA||A.J. Foyt Racing||Crash|
|RET||29||James Hinchcliffe||CAN||Andretti Autosport||Technical|