Reigning Australian Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin was able to take a surprise victory after multiple crashes cleared much of the field in front of him in the final laps. The IndyCar hopeful was happy with the result, but many others were disappointed in how the race transpired.
The race started off on a much better note, with drivers giving each other plenty of space from the outset. That lasted until lap five when Alex Palou was inadvertently run down into the inside wall while racing three wide. The resulting collisions with Tony Kanaan and Jack Harvey brought out the day’s first caution.
Approximately a third of the field took advantage of the yellow flag to come get new tires and top up on fuel. In the end, the differing pit strategies did not play as big of a role as they had in the past few weeks.
Once the action resumed, it continued for most of the rest of the race. Will Power, Lando Norris and James Davison were all regular front-runners through the middle stretch of the race, and the strong draft led to a lot of passes for position. Just as many drivers’ final pit stops were cycling through, a small miscalculation by Scott Speed caused a three-car crash that brought out the yellow with 15 laps remaining.
Cautions tend to bring about more cautions, and that was the case this time as well with another crash involving 2019 IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden taking place just a few laps later. By this time, Simon Pagenaud had found his way to the front with Graham Rahal, Felix Rosenqvist, and Lando Norris close behind.
Once the race went back to green with nine laps remaining, the action got more frantic and the drivers were not able to help themselves, dodging and weaving with each other at virtually every turn.
Norris made some bold moves to get from fourth up to the lead in just over one lap, but in doing so made it three wide on the short chute between turns one and two, pushing Rahal up into Pagenaud who then hit the wall hard. The 2019 Indy 500 winner would not be able to add a virtual Indianapolis win to his resume today.
By this point it was an all McLaren top three with Norris, Askew and O’ward all running nose to tail. Marcus Ericsson used the strong tow down the backstretch and quickly joined the group fighting for the top spot.
With only three laps remaining, Norris came out of turn four and ran into the back of a now-lapped Pagenaud who was driving slowly after his repairs. The young F1 star crashed hard into the outside wall, also putting an end to his hopes of a good finish.
The rest of the top group was able to carry on, with Ericsson making some great moves and taking his red and white Huski Chocolate machine to the front on the last lap. Just after being relegated to second, O’Ward tried to make room on the inside in the final turn. There was not enough space to accommodate both cars and they ended up spinning to the outside wall, leaving the rest of the field to sort out the top spots.
The action was not over, however. A few hundred feet before the finish line, it looked like Askew was going to take victory with a small margin over Santino Ferrucci. But in a last second effort to force his way into the top spot, and apparently forgetting that he was not driving a stock car, Ferrucci turned down on Askew hard.
The contact sent both spinning into the wall, and resulted in McLaughlin and Conor Daly, who had been running in tenth just a lap before, speeding past to take the top two spots. Ferrucci and Askew ended up finishing third and fourth respectively, crossing the line while still in the process of crashing.
Talking after the race, McLaughlin was pleased that he was able to get a win from the craziness of the last lap. “Yeah, I got third right on the run to the line, and then eventually I got first about 50, 100 yards later. I really enjoyed it, learned a lot, and yeah, hopefully I get a chance one day in real life.
“From my point of view it’s all about the show, and hopefully we put on a good TV show for everybody in America, and I know a lot of people in Australia were watching and New Zealand, as well, so that’s really cool.
“I think you’ve got to try and make the best of what you can with the situation you’ve given, and it was all planned for me to race at the Indy GP. Unfortunately, that’s not happening right now in regards to the same date that it was meant to happen, but hopefully if the calendars align when everything gets sorted in Australia and New Zealand and in America itself, we can work some things out.”
McLaughlin, due to his consistent top finishes and two wins, ended up taking the top points position at the end of the iRacing series. The points race was unofficial, but there was a lot of effort put in by drivers up and down the grid to come away with the best finishes they could.
Daly, who unlike a lot of the field races with a simple setup while sitting in a chair from his dining room, was pleasantly surprised that the carnage on the last lap led to a solid second place finish.
“Honestly as potentially the worst sim racer on the grid, it was a very fun day,” said Daly. “I mean, this is my home race, my home track. The track is 15 minutes that way, so it’s the greatest place on earth. It’s meant the most to me in my career.
“Will [Power] was a little bit upset that we weren’t working with him, obviously, but you know what, this is the internet, so that’s to be expected, but yeah, it was fun. It is what it is. We’ve got to do the best we can with the situation we’ve got right now, but I actually did enjoy it.”
The wild wrecks on the last lap brought out frustrations that had been brewing over the past few weeks. Ericsson took to Twitter to show his displeasure with O’Ward, and Ferrucci took quite a bit of flak for his last second move on the front stretch.
Even though the iRacing series was meant as a fun placeholder for real racing, many drivers and sponsors took it seriously and that has resulted in more than a few hurt feelings. And the number of drivers that had a good run ruined today did not help the situation.
Luckily the drivers have a few weeks on their own to cool down. This was the last iRacing challenge event and the first in-person race is currently scheduled for five weeks from now on June 6 from Texas Motor Speedway.