IndyCar is set to bring back its iRacing Challenge before the real-world season begins in April, The Race has learned.
During the coronavirus pandemic lockdown from March to May last year IndyCar ran a six-event series on iRacing, which featured almost the whole real-world grid alongside special guests.
It appeared on NBC television for its entirety and proved popular. It led to drivers like ex-Formula 1 regular Marcus Ericsson calling for a winter version of the challenge.
The Race understands IndyCar contacted teams and drivers earlier this week about restarting the series for a shorter – three or four events – during pre-season.
Real-life IndyCar action is set to get underway at Barber Motorsports Park on April 18, having been delayed by the continued pandemic from the original plan of starting in St Petersburg on March 7.
It is not yet clear how many of the iRacing races would appear on television or if IndyCar would look to attract special guests again. Formula 1 driver Lando Norris, Australian Supercars’ Chaz Mostert and NASCAR stars Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr were among those joining last year – along with Scott McLaughlin and Jimmie Johnson long before they became IndyCar regulars.
Teams took the series extremely seriously, with regular engineers drafted in to help drivers – some even adding strategists – despite the fact the cars are fixed-set-up.
What happened in last year’s series?
IndyCar part-timer but Coanda Simsport esports team regular Sage Karam was always expected to be the star of the show on any road courses and he won from pole in the Watkins Glen opener, also taking pole at Barber for the second race.
However, a clash while fighting for the lead with Felix Rosenqvist opened the door for Scott McLaughlin to use his alternate strategy to win an IndyCar race for Penske, before he’d even started a real life one!
McLaughlin’s team-mate Simon Pagenaud admitted to putting in five hours of practice a day and it was clear his team were working closely with their engineers, which paid off as Pagenaud won the next two races on ovals.
Dale Earnhardt Jr starred in the first at Michigan, taking a podium by staying well out of trouble but also showing speed with the fastest lap of the race.
He scored pole but spun following a pitstop, and had to fight his way back from 12th, which he did and won anyway.
Norris stuck around to contest the 75-lap Indianapolis oval decider where he led again. However, an aggressive move at Turns 1 and 2 led to Graham Rahal being taken out of the race and he, in turn, wiped out Pagenaud.
Pagenaud didn’t take well to this and after rejoining, he slowed his car on the apex of Turn 4 as Norris came through with two laps to go, taking the McLaren driver out of the race.
There were five lead changes between Turn 3 on the final lap and the finish of the race. Patricio O’Ward was passed by Ericsson and then took Ericsson out.
Oliver Askew took the lead but was spun by Santino Ferrucci, leaving McLaughlin to come through and win plus take the series title had it been counting points.