The sixth and final round of the IndyCar iRacing challenge series will take place this weekend from a virtual Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 70-lap race will break the tie at the top of the unofficial points standings and decide an overall winner for the placeholder series.
The closing round of the online series was originally going to be a ‘dream track’ that IndyCar does not visit in real life, but the series decided to hold a familiar event styled after the Indianapolis 500 which has been postponed from its normal May date to later in the year.
In an effort to keep with the style of the Indy 500, there was a ‘bump day’ event held earlier in the week. Drivers for full-time IndyCar teams, past Indy 500 winners, and iRacing winners from the past five events were given automatic entries, but the remaining contenders had to qualify against one another for the final positions of the 33-car field.
Some popular drivers such as Robert Wickens and James Hinchcliffe ended up not making the cut in the end. Tony Kanaan was one of the recipients of an automatic entry and will be racing due to his victory at the 2013 Indy 500. The veteran driver is not particularly a fan of simulator racing, but will look to keep his emotions in check and turn in a good finish.
“It was extremely frustrating yesterday to see how some of the guys were driving,” said Kanaan. “Obviously it’s not representative of the racetrack because if we do that, we’re going to have three cars finishing the 500 this year.
Speaking about the real-world Indy 500, which is currently scheduled for August 23, Kanaan said, “I’m ready to go do the real thing. It will be exciting. [This weekend] will be something for us to do at least to represent a little bit the month of May this weekend.
“All of us, I believe, I can talk about myself, are a lot more appreciative to time that we missed. Hopefully we come out better, we appreciate things more than usual, normal things, wake up and leave your house. It has a big potential to be the best one ever, I think.”
Kanaan, who has not done very well in his iRacing outings and has yet to even finish a race, will be competing against numerous other Indy 500 winners, including Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Takuma Sato, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Helio Castroneves.
On the other end of the spectrum from these experienced drivers, a couple drivers will be making their first start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, albeit in simulator form.
Current McLaren F1 driver and last week’s winner Lando Norris will join 2019 Australian Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin as newcomers to the track. Both drivers have extensive iRacing experience and will look to convert that advantage into a victory.
McLaughlin has shown his skills by earning consistent top finishes throughout the series, except for the fourth round at Twin Ring Motegi when the New Zealander was caught up in a wreck while fighting for the lead late in the race.
His good performance has landed him third in the unofficial points standings, 15 points behind Power and Pagenaud who are tied for the lead. Power has earned his points by finishing consistently, though he has not found victory yet. Pagenaud, on the other hand, has won both oval races so far this year and will be difficult to beat this weekend.
Pit stop strategy has played an important role in most of the races held this season, and this weekend may be no different. The pit stop window is just short of 35 laps, which would be the halfway point. Drivers will be working with their engineers to decide if they want to save fuel throughout the race or take an extra stop and pick up fresh tires at the same time.
As with the previous races this year, the First Responder 175 will be presented by the professional television commentating crew of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Paul Tracy. The race will be run at 14:30 Eastern Time and will be broadcast on NBCSN and Sky Sports F1.