Team Penske‘s Simon Pagenaud has taken victory in the third race of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge series at the virtual Michigan International Speedway. Pagenaud managed to take the win in what turned into a fuel mileage race after the previous leaders, including Will Power and Sage Karam, had to pit an extra time. New entrant, Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished in third place.
After racing at Watkins Glen and Barber Motorsports Park for the first two weeks, the NTT IndyCar Series‘ iRacing counterpart series rolled into the virtual Michigan International Speedway for the first oval race of the season. With drivers still getting up to speed with the world of Sim Racing, the stage was set for what many expected to be a somewhat chaotic race.
Five new drivers would enter the series for Michigan, with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti finally getting into their Andretti Honda’s after Kyle Kirkwood and Scott Speed drove in their place in the first two races. Max Chilton and James Davison would also make their first start this weekend. The final new entrant would be former NASCAR Cup Series driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., much to the excitement of his fellow competitors and the fans.
Qualifying was as close as many expected, with just one-tenth of a second separating the top twenty-seven of the thirty-one car grid. Ultimately, it would be Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Marcus Ericsson who would claim pole position, with Team Penske‘s Will Power just four-thousandths of a second behind in second place.
The expected huge wreck would occur before the field even made it to the green flag to officially start the race. As the field bunched up prior to the flag, Felix Rosenqvist slowed after a car on the grid ahead of him disappeared due to their internet connection. Oliver Askew would then run into the back of Rosenqvist, turning the Swede around and collecting over ten cars further back. This left many cars damaged which led to a caution for the first few laps of the race.
This caution would, ultimately, shape the way the race would go for the remaining laps. With many drivers coming to the pits to use their one and only reset, as well as race control stating that they would not be throwing another caution for the rest of the race to ensure the race could be run in it’s allotted time window, many drivers would have to drive with caution rather than go absolutely flat-out whilst taking many risks.
The battle for the lead of the race would soon turn into a lap-by-lap duel between Will Power and Sage Karam; the winner of the Watkins Glen race. The pair would trade the lead lap after lap, with Carlin‘s Felipe Nasr sitting comfortably in third for the first half of the race.
Ultimately, the race-deciding moment for many would come during green flag pit-stops in and around the halfway mark. Much of the field pitted right around the lap 40-46 mark, which would see the drivers be on the absolute edge of being able to make to the end without an extra stop.
As the laps wound down towards the end of the race, it soon became evident that only the drivers who pitted on lap forty-five or after would be able to get back to the finish without pitting. The only drivers on the lead lap who could make it on fuel were the likes of Simon Pagenaud, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Scott McLaughlin. All, ironically, had been involved in the lap one wreck and pitted for repairs and, subsequently, a top-off on fuel; allowing them to go longer into the race than the leaders.
Will Power and Sage Karam remained locked in a duel for the lead of the race for much of the second half. The pair, along with Graham Rahal, would pull clear of the rest of the pack after managing to have a clean cycle in and out of the pits. However, with under fifteen laps remaining, Karam would dive down into the pits; consigning himself to the fact that he could not make it on the fuel. Will Power and Graham Rahal would follow soon after, as would much of the rest of the field as the final laps ticked away.
This left Ryan Hunter-Reay and Zach Veach battling for the lead of the race as the final five laps came around. Neither wanted to pit for a final time, but both would soon have their hands forced. Hunter-Reay would pit with five to go, whilst Veach waited until agonisingly having to pit at the end of the penultimate lap.
Through it all, the drivers who pitted after lap forty-five started to rise to the top of the scoring pylon. The final change of leadership would take place with three laps to go, as Penske’s Simon Pagenaud hit the front. From there, he would be unchallenged as he comfortably completed the final few laps, with his nearest rivals too far back to catch him.
Pagenaud would cross the line at the end of lap eighty-five to take his first win in the iRacing IndyCar Challenge, with the Frenchman giving thanks to his engineers for helping him out with what ultimately became the race-winning strategy.
Over thirteen-seconds would pass until second-place would cross the line, with Scott McLaughlin taking the runner-up finish for Team Penske. The New Zealander has finished all three races of the series inside the top four and has had a good week of Sim Racing after taking a Supercars Eseries win at Phillip Island.
Rounding out the podium on his debut would be Dale Earnhardt Jr., who used his many years of iRacing experience to drive a superb race on-route to third-place. Junior would comment after the race that he had a slightly damaged car after the first lap but elected not to use his reset in case he needed it later in the race. This meant that he would drive the remainder of the race with slight front-end damage, making his performance even more impressive. Dale also stated that he would be willing to return for the next race, providing that it is also held on an oval.
After having to make a late stop for fuel, Penske’s Will Power would take fourth-place and would finish just over a second down on Earnhardt. Graham Rahal would complete the top five, with Meyer Shank Racing‘s Jack Harvey and Andretti Autosport‘s Alexander Rossi sixth and seventh. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished in an impressive eighth-place in his first sim racing event, with Ed Carpenter falling from fourth to an eventual finish of ninth-place after almost spinning at the pit-entry during his final stop.
The top ten would be completed by Dale Coyne Racing‘s Alex Palou. The Spaniard, arguably, was in the best position of anybody to win the race late in the day. He had more than enough fuel to make it to the finish and was comfortably ahead of Pagenaud before glancing the outside wall on the exit of turn four. The damage would be enough to force him to pit and drop him out of contention for the win.
Juncos Racing‘s Kyle Kaiser was trying his best to make it back to the finish, but the American would run out of fuel as he started the last lap. He started the final lap in second-place but would, ultimately, fail to get back to the chequered flag. He would be classified one lap down in twelfth-place.
Former race-leader, Sage Karam, would finish a lap down in fourteenth-place after being involved in a late-wreck after his second pit-stop for fuel. James Davison would finish just behind in fifteenth after also having been running with the lead group.
Another former race leader who hit trouble would be Carlin’s Felipe Nasr. The Brazilian was running comfortably in the top five early on before spinning in the pit-lane during his first stop. He would then be hit by Dalton Kellett whilst trying to recover. Felipe would finish in seventeenth, just behind Kellett in sixteenth. A few positions further back would be the pole-sitter, Marcus Ericsson, who slowly fell back to nineteenth-place by the end of the race.
Four drivers would sadly retire from the race early on due to wrecks. Colton Herta, Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon and Oliver Askew would all be classified as non-finishers. Patricio O’Ward, Robert Wickens and Max Chilton would also finish multiple laps down due to incidents.
The IndyCar iRacing Challenge will continue with its fourth race next Saturday, April 18. The track has not yet been announced but it will be chosen by the drivers.
2020 IndyCar iRacing Challenge – Michigan International Speedway – Race results:
|1||22||Simon Pagenaud||FRA||Team Penske||Leader|
|2||2||Scott McLaughlin||NZL||Team Penske||+13.388|
|3||3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||USA||IndyCar Provisional||+15.337|
|4||12||Will Power||AUS||Team Penske||+16.863|
|5||15||Graham Rahal||USA||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+19.017|
|6||60||Jack Harvey||GBR||Meyer Shank Racing||+21.605|
|7||27||Alexander Rossi||USA||Andretti Autosport||+26.365|
|8||28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||USA||Andretti Autosport||+31.647|
|9||21||Ed Carpenter||USA||Ed Carpenter Racing||+31.951|
|10||55||Alex Palou||ESP||Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh||+32.958|
|11||26||Zach Veach||USA||Andretti Autosport||+36.739|
|12||11||Kyle Kaiser||USA||Juncos Racing||+1 Lap|
|13||20||Conor Daly||USA||Ed Carpenter Racing||+1 Lap|
|14||24||Sage Karam||USA||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||+1 Lap|
|15||33||James Davison||AUS||IndyCar Provisional||+1 Lap|
|16||41||Dalton Kellett||CAN||A.J. Foyt Racing||+1 Lap|
|17||31||Felipe Nasr||BRA||Carlin||+1 Lap|
|18||14||Tony Kanaan||BRA||A.J. Foyt Racing||+1 Lap|
|19||8||Marcus Ericsson||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||+1 Lap|
|20||4||Sebastien Bourdais||FRA||A.J. Foyt Racing||+2 Laps|
|21||10||Felix Rosenqvist||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||+2 Laps|
|22||29||James Hinchcliffe||CAN||Andretti Autosport||+2 Laps|
|23||18||Santino Ferrucci||USA||Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan||+2 Laps|
|24||1||Josef Newgarden||USA||Team Penske||+3 Laps|
|25||5||Patricio O’Ward||MEX||Arrow McLaren SP||+5 Laps|
|26||6||Robert Wickens||CAN||Arrow McLaren SP||+6 Laps|
|27||59||Max Chilton||GBR||Carlin||+6 Laps|
|RET||88||Colton Herta||USA||Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport||Crash|
|RET||98||Marco Andretti||USA||Andretti Herta||Crash|
|RET||9||Scott Dixon||NZL||Chip Ganassi Racing||Crash|
|RET||7||Oliver Askew||USA||Arrow McLaren SP||Technical|