Lando Norris claimed victory in his first attempt at racing virtual IndyCars from Circuit of the Americas, but had to survive a couple close calls along the way to stay up at the front.
Norris started off the day on pole position and looked from the outset like he was going to be the driver to beat. His extensive iRacing experience, encompassing over half his life, showed as he pulled away from veteran Will Power at the start.
By lap five, he had opened up a large lead and held that until he came in for his first pit stop on lap 11. He was not alone pitting when he did, as the scheduled competition caution flew a lap later and bunched up the field. Most of the field got their fuel and tires sorted while some stayed out to attempt a one-stop strategy.
Power was one of those that chose not to pit and lead the field to the restart on lap 15. A lap later, while pushing to get back to the front, Norris went wide at the final corner and spun getting on the throttle. He quickly got going again and set out to make up the time he had lost.
He was helped in this endeavor by Power, who spun at turn five after making his own pit stop. The Australian lost a considerable amount of time, and ended up finishing the day in a disappointing sixth.
After the final round of green-flag pit stops, Felix Rosenqvist lead the field over Norris and Pato O’Ward who started his final stint just behind the two front-runners. Rosenqvist had chosen to run a single stop strategy and was struggling to save tires and fuel while also trying to maintain his lead.
Norris closed quickly on the NTT Data sponsored car and, with five laps to go, forced the Swedish driver into a mistake in the esses. Norris was almost collected, but managed to escape without damage and then had to hold off a charging O’Ward in the final laps.
“I just got too eager on the throttle out of the last corner,” Norris said recalling his spin on the front stretch. “As you go over the crest, the car just got a bit light and I lost it.
“I felt confident, but every practice session I did I lost that confidence slightly by everyone else getting quicker and quicker. The thing I enjoyed the most was the competitiveness, and how we’ve had to work as a team.”
O’Ward held onto a few more of his push-to-pass opportunities to the end and was able to close in on his McLaren team-mate, but could not quite mount a challenge before the laps ran out.
The Mexican was not disappointed to finish second, however, and has a lot of respect to how fast Norris is in iRacing. “If he is not the best in sim racing in the world, he is one of the best. I don’t know how much quicker, in outright pace in qualifying or the race, you can go.
“I’ve been working hard at it the past few weeks. Like Lando has said, it obviously does make a difference in what you’ve got. I made an investment here and there and I can definitely feel the difference. It feels more real.”
Felix Rosenqvist ended up finishing third after his late spin, handily ahead of Scott McLaughlin in fourth. Rounding out the top five was Santino Ferrucci, with the 21-year-old claiming his best finish of the virtual season.
It was announced after the race that next week’s IndyCar iRacing Challenge finale take place at a virtual Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 33 drivers will take to the 2.5-mile oval and compete for the final time before hopefully getting back to real racing action in early June.