By: Tanner Watkins
April 4, 2020 | 3:00 PM
In a race that provided more than a few twists and turns, Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin took home the victory in Saturday’s virtual Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.
McLaughlin, a two-time iRacing Indianapolis 500 winner, held off his hard-charging teammate Will Power to win while Scott Speed worked a third place finish for Andretti Autosport.
A bit of a contrast to the first round at Watkins Glen International, today’s INDYCAR iRacing Challenge race had quite a few ups and downs before the winner could be decided.
At the outset, it did feel like more of the same from last week when Dreyer & Reinbold Driver Sage Karam took the pole, edging out Will Power and Felix Rosenqvist for the top spot. The race start was fine in the first few rows, though a slew of drivers would be collected in accidents during the opening lap.
Issues struck drivers such as Marcus Ericsson, James Hinchcliffe, Alexander Rossi, Felipe Nasr, Jack Harvey and more with run-ins happening all around the race track. Eventually, though, IndyCar’s stars gathered things up and the race settled down through the first 15 laps.
At Lap 15, a competition caution was thrown and the field was once again bunched up. Karam had led each lap to this point, but just before the caution, McLaughlin had pitted in a swift move of Team Penske strategy. He would emerge 12th after the pit stop and caution period, but his plan of action was in place.
After the caution, Karam would continue to lead as green flag conditions resumed. The Pennsylvania native would pit on Lap 26 to give the lead to Rosenqvist, though disaster would strike on the very next lap between the two.
With Rosenqvist exiting the pits just as Karam approached, the two drivers battled into the downhill corkscrew portion of the track – until they ran out of room. Karam and Rosenqvist collided, damaging both cars.
Karam would immediately pit for repairs and re-join the race, though matters would only complicate themselves when he crested a blind hill on Lap 30 and struck Tony Kanaan, who was parked broadside on the track. Karam would retire from the race at that point, finishing 27th.
Rosenqvist would continue on and limp home to a sixth-place result.
With Karam and Rosenqvist out, the battle was left to Speed, McLaughlin and Power. It became evident that Speed was nursing a light fuel load, running laps more than a second slower than McLaughlin and Power down the stretch. On Lap 40, Speed would be passed by the Team Penske duo before finishing on the podium in third place.
The next five laps saw McLaughlin fight off Power in a battle of two real-life champions – and accomplished sim racers. In the end, it was McLaughlin besting Power by 0.418 seconds – a much closer finish than last week’s drubbing at Watkins Glen.
Joining McLaughlin, Power and Speed in the top-ten were Palou, Simon Pagenaud, Rosenqvist, Colton Herta, Robert Wickens, Josef Newgarden, and Santino Ferrucci.
Wickens dazzled in this race after starting dead last in 29th place, methodically working his way into an eighth place finish by using a handbrake and specially-designed wheel controls to make his sim racing debut.
Also of note, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson worked his way into a 12th place finish after starting 22nd, and Sebastien Bourdais placed 13th after starting 28th. And in his first sim racing start, Scott Dixon started and finished 16th.
With two rounds complete in the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge, next week’s event will occur on a track chosen by the drivers. Broadcast information will be released later in the week.
Header image by Tanner Watkins/iRacing.