By: Tanner Watkins
April 25, 2020 | 3:30 PM
It was an up-and-down day for McLaren F1 star Lando Norris, and the young English driver was fortunate to end on a high note as he won the AutoNation IndyCar Classic from a virtual Circuit of the Americas on iRacing.
Norris, who was running under the Arrow McLaren SP banner for today’s virutal INDYCAR competition, led 15 laps and qualified on the pole en route to victory. What happened between the first and final laps was quite dramatic, though.
Behind Norris on the starting grid was Team Penske’s Will Power, followed by Felix Rosenqvist for Chip Ganassi Racing, Scott McLaughlin for Team Penske, and Patricio O’Ward for Arrow McLaren SP.
Sage Karam would qualify sixth, but the Watkins Glen INDYCAR iRacing Challenge winner wouldn’t be a factor in today’s race after a mechanical issue forced him to miss the race start. Australian SuperCars driver Chaz Mostert also had an issue that kept him from taking the initial green flag.
When the race went live, Norris darted to an early lead over Power. A multi-car accident on Lap 1 hampered the efforts of Oliver Askew, Robert Wickens, Zach Veach and Tony Kanaan as they crested Turn 1 of the Austin, Texas circuit.
Josef Newgarden ran into trouble early when a Lap 4 incident shuffled him from eighth to 24th overall, and by Lap 9 it was Norris who had built a 3.7-second lead on Power.
With a competition caution scheduled to fly on Lap 12, Norris (and a few others) played the strategy game by pitting on Lap 11 – ensuring a two-stop race while others would try to stretch their fuel into a one-stop event. When the yellow flag did fly, Power was leading Rosenqvist and Rinus VeeKay in the top three.
Norris was sitting sixth, but on fresh tires with a clean strategy play ahead of him. When the race restarted, Norris devoured both Scott Dixon (P5) and Santino Ferrucci (P4) to move within striking distance of the leaders – that was until he spun exiting the final corner on Lap 15!
The spin dropped Norris to 12th overall, and seemed to have ruined his strategy – which included one more pit stop. Despite the outright pace advantage the young McLaren driver had on the field, he would need some help to regain the lead. Lucky for him, mistakes would be a theme in today’s event.
Just a few moments after Norris’ spin, Will Power spun from the lead in the esses section of Circuit of the Americas. Later spins dropped Power from contention, and despite running up front once again, his chances at an iRacing victory were dashed for another week.
Norris had begun his charge forward after his own mistake, moving up to second place on Lap 21 when he overtook McLaughlin. O’Ward was leading at this point, but it was unclear whether Pato needed to pit. It was clear that Norris would have to box for fuel, and he did just that on Lap 25.
On Lap 28, we would get our answer on O’Ward, and he pitted for fuel before being overtaken in the pit sequence by Alex Palou, Rosenqvist, and Norris.
A lap later, Palou would pit for the final time to give the lead to Rosenqvist -and remarkably, Norris was right on his tail to fight for the win! Moments after Palou’s pit-in, Rosenqvist lost control of his car in the same spot of the track that Power had an issue – the leader had spun again!
Following closely behind Rosenqvist when the spin occurred, Norris narrowly avoided being collected in the mess and was able to drive on to the race lead. O’Ward, who was on the newest tires of the lead group, was hot on Norris’ trail with just a few laps remaining.
O’Ward was 1.2 seconds behind Norris with 3 laps remaining – and Pato had the push-to-pass advantage in his back pocket. Unfortunately, O’Ward couldn’t make much of a gain on the final gap, and Norris would win the race by 1.444 seconds.
Rosenqvist, despite his spin, finished on the podium in third while McLaughlin, Ferrucci, Power, VeeKay, Ericsson, Palou and Josef Newgarden rounded out the top ten.
Of note: Norris would run his fastest lap of the race on his 32nd and final lap of the event, putting in his best effort while O’Ward was bearing down on him.
Furthermore, a nice little nugget was dropped on the NBCSN broadcast today when it was revealed that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would host the next INDYCAR iRacing Challenge round on Saturday, May 2. The event will be 70 laps in length and will again be shown live on NBCSN at 2:30 PM Eastern.
Header image by Tanner Watkins, from iRacing.