Scott McLaughlin is a rookie in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this season, but he burnished his reputation as the king of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge by winning the Season 2 finale Thursday, April 1 at virtual Sebring International Raceway.
McLaughlin passed pole sitter Alex Palou with three laps to go and held on for a victory by .801 of a second in his No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet. He ran out of fuel just past the finish line on the bumpy, 17-turn, 3.74-mile circuit located in south-central Florida.
“That was a ride,” McLaughlin said on his Twitch stream. “Great race. I thought I was going to run out of fuel. That was a race. That was good for my mind.”
McLaughlin earned his third win in two seasons of competition in the virtual racing series, more than any other driver. He won at Barber Motorsports Park and on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
Palou, celebrating his 24th birthday today, fell just short of earning his second win in the three-race Season 2 in the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. He won the opener March 18 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.
“That race was really fun, to be honest,” Palou said. “But it wasn’t the best present for me. I think I have to talk with Scott a bit more.”
RC Enerson finished third in the No. 75 Top Gun Racing Dallara, just .895 of a second behind winner McLaughlin and .094 of a second behind Palou.
Pole sitter Palou lost the lead to Race 2 (Homestead-Miami oval) winner Sage Karam midway through Lap 1. Karam pitted on Lap 13, the halfway point of the 26-lap race. But he spun into the tire barrier on cold tires on his out lap after his pit stop and was eliminated from the race.
Palou cycled back into the lead when McLaughlin and Enzo Fittipaldi in the No. 52 Dale Coyne Racing with RWR Honda were the last drivers in the 15-car field to make their pit stops.
McLaughlin passed Enerson for second with eight laps to go and was 2.1 seconds behind leader Palou. But McLaughlin began ripping off fast laps and pulled to within two-tenths of a second of the leader with four laps to go.
Then McLaughlin and Palou exited Turn 17 – the famous Sunset Bend – side by side as they roared down the main straightaway with three laps to go. McLaughlin nosed ahead entering Turn 1 and never trailed thereafter, biting his lip in full intensity while racing in his home simulator rig while wearing his racing gloves and driving boots – serious business.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES now will shift from the virtual world to the real world. The next event is the 2021 season opener, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst on Sunday, April 18 at Barber Motorsports Park (live on NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network).
“I’m really excited to get on with it,” McLaughlin said. “I’m sick of driving my simulator, for now. I just want to get into the real stuff.”
Give the People What They Want
Conor Daly decided to let fans make very important decisions for him during the race tonight as he drove his No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.
First, Daly asked fans in the chat room of his Twitch stream to choose which lap he pitted in the race tonight in his No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. Daly’s strategist, team engineer Stan Sandoval, joked, “I’m really glad the chat didn’t put you on reds (Firestone alternate tires) for a 14-lap stint.”
Then toward the end of the race, Daly asked fans to choose what he should eat for dinner after the race. The choices were a Lean Cuisine microwave dinner, a salad or vegetable egg rolls. The winner was a Lean Cuisine tortellini. Bon appetit!
Dog Days for Kellett
Mechanical failures are one of the most frustrating experiences for any race driver, but Dalton Kellett was eliminated from tonight’s race in a unique fashion.
Kellett dropped from the race in his No. 4 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet shortly before the halfway point due to internet connection issues, a failure unique to the virtual world.
Kellett blamed his German Shepherd dog, Poppy, for unplugging his home router, which disconnected him.
Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly was in peak comedic form during the finale of Season 2 tonight. A sample of the gems from his Twitch stream:
During practice: “We’re here to have fun, guys. This is a mental exercise. It’s a mental exercise.”
About his trip to the dentist today: “I went to the dentist today, and I feel like I was assaulted.”
During the early laps of the race: “We’re going to have a great race back here, and by that I mean I am going to slowly watch the field pull away from me.”
Daly finished ninth in the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
iRacing provides an uncanny simulation of many aspects of racing, including sophisticated tire grip and wear.
Tires were a hot topic throughout the race. Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin predicted before the race that tire degradation and managing tires could be the deciding factor.
McLaughlin was right.
On Lap 7, leader Sage Karam said, “Tires are starting to go.” Karam started the race on Firestone “red” alternate tires, which offer more grip but less durability than their “black” primary cousins.
Then Karam crashed out of the race on cold tires during his out lap after his pit stop on Lap 13 in the No. 98 Andretti Autosport Honda. He finished 14th.
Robert Wickens made his Season 2 INDYCAR iRacing Challenge debut tonight, driving the No. 6 Chevrolet fielded by Arrow McLaren SP. Wickens, who suffered spinal injuries in a racing accident in 2018, used special hand controls on the steering wheel of his sim rig for throttle and brake. He and another driver collided early in the race, sending Wickens into the tire barrier in Sebring’s famous Sunset Bend turn. Wickens ended up 11th … Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin had a bit of the famous driver’s “red mist” while he dueled with Braden Eves for fifth place early in the race. “Coming through, angry dude coming through,” he said.