Scott McLaughlin has taken victory in the final race of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at the virtual Indianapolis Motor Speedway after a highly controversial last three laps that saw three race leaders taken out of contention. Lando Norris, Marcus Ericsson and Oliver Askew all led the race in the last three laps only to be involved in crashes with Simon Pagenaud, Patricio O’Ward and Santino Ferrucci respectively.
Thirty-three drivers made it onto the entry list for the sixth and final race of the NTT IndyCar Series‘ sim racing alternative. Full-time IndyCar drivers, past Indianapolis 500 winners and previous IndyCar iRacing Challenge winners were all locked into the race, leaving four spots open for additional entries. In the end, Scott Speed, RC Enerson, Stefan Wilson and James Davison made it into the race, with Robert Wickens, James Hinchcliffe, Felipe Nasr, Kyle Kaiser, Spencer Pigot and Kyle Busch all missing out.
Qualifying for the race itself was held on Friday, with Team Penske‘s Scott Mclaughlin putting his newly re-liveried and renumbered Pirtek #40 Chevrolet on pole position, with Lando Norris joining him on the front row. The top thirty cars would be separated by just a tenth of a second.
After a great jump on the initial race start, McLaughlin would soon find himself under assault from the fast-starting #39 car of Scott Speed, who would take the lead into turn three. Norris would also pass McLaughlin to move into P2, with McLaughlin slowly falling back by a handful of positions in the opening stages.
An early caution on lap five following a collision for Alex Palou and Tony Kanaan would see a number of drivers towards the back of the field pit for a top-up of fuel; with the fuel window just a little shy of thirty-five laps which would enable the drivers to make it to the end on one stop.
Speed would continue to lead on the race restart, but a hard-charging Will Power would move from third to the lead on lap thirteen after passing Graham Rahal around the outside of turn one and then Speed at the inside of turn three. The move seemed to catch Speed by surprise, with the American running way up the track and losing multiple positions in the process.
For the rest of the first stint of the race, Power would hold the lead. The Australian built up a decent lead over second-placed Lando Norris and remained unchallenged. He, along with the rest of the leaders, would pit shortly before the half-way mark on lap thirty-two, but a slightly earlier stop for James Davison would see the Australian undercut both Power and Norris to take the net-lead for himself; with only those who had pitted under the first caution ahead of him.
It wouldn’t be long before a number of drivers started to commit themselves to their strategies to make it to the end of the race. Will Power pitted for a final time just over ten laps after his initial stop to get himself filled with fuel to make it to the end. Meanwhile, Lando Norris would continue to charge hard at the front of the field, fully committed to making a second stop later in the race. He would take the lead away from Davison on lap forty-seven, whilst McLaughlin would begin to purposely slide down the order to try and save enough fuel to make it to the finish without stopping.
Shortly after Norris, Davison and a number of the lead group made their final pit-stops – with just under twenty laps remaining – the race would be turned upside down. A three-car incident involving Speed, Davison and Wilson on the backstretch would bring out a caution. This allowed the drivers who had yet to pit to do so under the caution and subsequently not lose heaps of time to those who had already done so.
When the race restarted with fourteen laps to go, Graham Rahal led the field ahead of Simon Pagenaud, with Norris and Power in sixth and seventh having pitted just before the caution ahead of Newgarden and McLaughlin in tenth and eleventh as the first to have pitted during the caution.
A pile-up into turn three on lap fifty-eight would see Sage Karam, Josef Newgarden, Alex Palou and many more drivers further back in the field. This would trigger another caution period that would set up a final nine-lap sprint to the finish, with Pagenaud at the head of the field after passing Rahal for the lead just before the yellow.
Pagenaud would get a great jump as the race went back to green for the final time, but as is always the case at Indianapolis, the slipstream soon brought the pack back up to him. Rahal would take the lead on the inside of turn three, with Simon soon right back alongside on the run back to turn one on the outside. However, now Simon and Graham had Lando Norris for company.
Norris would send his #04 McLaren down the inside of both drivers at turn two, but net code looked to rear its ugly head. Despite no contact being seen, Rahal’s car would be sent up the track and into Pagenaud, with both drivers hitting the outside wall and being taken out of contention. Norris would continue in the lead of the race, now leading a 1-2-3 for McLaren with team-mates Oliver Askew and Patricio O’Ward in tow.
Lando’s lead, however, would be short-lived. As the field came towards the end of lap sixty-eight of seventy, Norris would have Pagenaud – now a lap down – ahead of him at turn four. On the exit of the corner, Pagenaud slowed suddenly. Norris would slam into the back of Pagenaud’s car and fly through the air; taking the Briton out of the lead and out of contention for the win. The Frenchman would claim post-race that he was trying to pit and intended to slow Norris up a little; though footage from Simon’s stream caught him outwardly planning to take out Norris. Simon would apologise to Lando after the race.
This left Oliver Askew in the lead of the race ahead of Patricio O’Ward and Marcus Ericsson, with the trio soon coming around to start the final lap of the race. As the McLaren duo headed down the backstretch for the final time, Ericsson in the #8 Ganassi Honda made his move. A superb pass on the inside of turn three would see Marcus move to the front, but an ill-judged attempt at a re-pass by second-placed O’Ward into the final corner would see Ericsson sent into the outside wall whilst O’Ward lost all of his momentum.
Now, it was Askew and Santino Ferrucci on a drag-race to the finish line. Ferrucci didn’t quite look to have enough momentum to beat Askew to the line. Instead, Santino clearly and deliberately turned into the right-rear of Askew’s McLaren, sending both cars into the outside wall just before the finish line. The line was just far enough away to deny both drivers the victory, with Scott McLaughlin coming out of nowhere to steal the victory inside the final one-hundred feet of the race.
McLaughlin, post-race, would liken his victory to that of Steven Bradbury’s famous gold medal victory in short track speed skating in the 2002 Olympic Games; where the Australian avoided fallen competitors all around him on the final lap to take the win. Either way, the win would be McLaughlin’s second in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge having won the second race at Barber Motorsports Park. The New Zealander would celebrate, fittingly, with a glass of milk.
A stunned Conor Daly would weave through the chaos on the final lap to take second place in the #31 Carlin Chevrolet. Santino Ferrucci and Oliver Askew would spin across the line in their wrecked cars in third and fourth-respectively; with Santino earning criticism from many of his fellow competitors after an ugly end to the race and the series.
Patricio O’Ward would complete the top-five in his damaged #5 McLaren, with A.J. Foyt Racing‘s Sebastien Bourdais and Andretti Autosport‘s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Zach Veach following behind in seventh and eighth. The trio of Chip Ganassi Racing car’s would come next, with Felix Rosenqvist and Scott Dixon leading the unfortunate Marcus Ericsson in positions nine, ten and eleven.
Incidents towards the end of the race would cost Will Power a shot at the win for the sixth race out of six. A number of drivers found themselves on the receiving end of Will’s favourite insult as the Australian came home to finish one lap down in fourteenth place.
After being taken out of the lead late, Lando Norris would be classified two laps down in twenty-first place, with Simon Pagenaud a further two laps down in twenty-fifth as the final classified finisher.
This brings the six-round IndyCar iRacing Challenge to a close. As it stands, the real NTT IndyCar Series is set to get back underway on Saturday, June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, though the current schedule is subject to change due to the ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic.
2020 IndyCar iRacing Challenge – Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Race results:
|1||40||Scott McLaughlin||NZL||Team Penske||Leader|
|3||18||Santino Ferrucci||USA||Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan||+0.669|
|4||7||Oliver Askew||USA||Arrow McLaren SP||+0.690|
|5||5||Patricio O’Ward||MEX||Arrow McLaren SP||+0.903|
|6||4||Sebastien Bourdais||FRA||A.J. Foyt Racing||+2.752|
|7||28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||USA||Andretti Autosport||+3.117|
|8||26||Zach Veach||USA||Andretti Autosport||+5.589|
|9||10||Felix Rosenqvist||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||+8.720|
|10||9||Scott Dixon||NZL||Chip Ganassi Racing||+9.144|
|11||8||Marcus Ericsson||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||+9.619|
|12||27||Alexander Rossi||USA||Andretti Autosport||+12.590|
|13||15||Graham Rahal||USA||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+27.530|
|14||12||Will Power||AUS||Team Penske||+1 Lap|
|15||39||Scott Speed||USA||Andretti Autosport||+1 Lap|
|16||911||Helio Castroneves||BRA||Team Penske||+1 Lap|
|17||98||Marco Andretti||USA||Andretti Herta||+1 Lap|
|18||60||Jack harvey||GBR||Meyer Shank Racing||+1 Lap|
|19||33||James Davison||AUS||BYRD / Petry / Hayward / Belardi||+1 Lap|
|20||99||RC Enerson||USA||Top Gun Racing||+1 Lap|
|21||04||Lando Norris||GBR||Arrow McLaren SP||+2 Laps|
|22||1||Josef Newgarden||USA||Team Penske||+2 Laps|
|23||59||Max Chilton||GBR||Carlin||+2 Laps|
|24||21||Rinus VeeKay||NET||Ed Carpenter Racing||+4 Laps|
|25||22||Simon Pagenaud||FRA||Team Penske||+4 Laps|
|26||55||Alex Palou||ESP||Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh||Crash|
|27||24||Sage Karam||USA||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||Crash|
|28||20||Ed Carpenter||USA||Ed Carpenter Racing||Crash|
|29||25||Stefan Wilson||GBR||Juncos Racing||Crash|
|30||30||Takuma Sato||JAP||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||Crash|
|31||41||Dalton Kellett||CAN||A.J. Foyt Racing||Technical|
|32||88||Colton Herta||USA||Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport||Crash|
|RET||14||Tony Kanaan||BRA||A.J. Foyt Racing||Crash|