The penultimate round of the IndyCar iRacing challenge series will see a full field of 33 drivers head to a virtual Circuit of the Americas on the weekend in which they originally would have taken to the track in real life.
After two weeks featuring high-speed oval tracks, the competitors will return to the technical turns of the purpose-built road course. The 3.427-mile circuit was originally set to host the fourth round of the 2020 season this weekend, but the drivers will have to settle for a simulated race instead.
The race will be 32-laps in length, with the fuel window being 15 to 16 laps. There will also be a competition caution around lap 12 to help prevent any one driver from pulling away from the rest of the field. Pit strategy could prove key again, as there will be approximately 18 laps remaining after the artificial stoppage, a couple laps longer than a full tank of fuel will last.
The online nature of the event will once again allow a few guest drivers to try their hand against the field of IndyCar regulars. This weekend’s highest profile driver in this category is McLaren Formula 1 driver Lando Norris.
The charismatic 20-year-old often races online often and brings a large social media following with him. He has been one of a few current F1 drivers competing in the Virtual GP series, which uses the Codemasters F1 2019 game as opposed to iRacing, though internet connection troubles have kept him from participating in the last couple events.
Asked how competitive he will be against his Arrow McLaren SP team-mates and the other IndyCar regulars, Norris seemed optimistic based on the practice he has done in the past couple days.
“It’s close already, and the more testing everyone does the closer it’s going to be getting. Especially for the guys who haven’t driven iRacing nearly as much as me, because I’ve done a ton of it.
“I’m very excited. It’s different drivers than I’m used to driving against, and I think that’s one of the cool things about all this.
“You’re getting all the different drivers from different sports, but mainly from different categories of racing. Everyone’s coming from a different area, so sometimes you’d never in your career get to race against these people.”
Also among those competing in their IndyCar debut this weekend is Chaz Mostert, who has been racing against Scott McLaughlin in the Australian Supercars series for the past seven years. Mostert will look to match the success McLaughlin found when he notched a win at a virtual Barber Motorsports Park earlier this month.
The guest drivers will face stiff competition from the IndyCar veterans that have been the class of the field the past couple weeks. Simon Pagenaud will attempt to earn his third consecutive victory and Will Power will look to convert his consistent finishes into his first virtual victory of the season.
Although he is not a veteran, Colton Herta will also be one to watch this weekend. During his rookie season last year, Herta was able to pull out an impressive victory when the series visited Circuit of the Americas last spring.
He thinks that the feel of the track translates well to the digital world, saying, “I think it’s relatively good, actually. I think in relative terms, like the dirty air and how the tires fall off, it is really good.
“It still feels somewhat realistic, and it still kinda keeps your mind sharp and gets you in that mindset of actually competing. It does help, even though it’s not the real thing, it’s the best thing we’ve got right now.”
The racing action begins at its usual time of 14:30 Eastern Time and will be broadcast on NBCSN and Sky Sports F1.