By: Tanner Watkins
April 18, 2020 | 3:00 PM
In a darting, dazzling finish at the virtual Twin Ring Motegi oval, Simon Pagenaud held off Scott Dixon in Saturday’s INDYCAR iRacing Challenge round. It was the third win for Team Penske in the esports competition, with Pagenaud joining Will Power and Scott McLaughlin as winners.
The entertaining afternoon of action on NBCSN started off with Arrow McLaren SP driver Robert Wickens taking the pole in his red and black No. 6 Honda, just out-qualifying Power for the top spot. Strong runs from Jack Harvey (P3) and Oliver Askew (P4) filled the second row, while McLaughlin (P5) was joined by fan-favorite Tony Kanaan and his 7-Eleven livery in row three.
Unfortunately the start of the race would see accidents early on, forcing Kanaan to the pits after a couple of laps before a multi-car crash on Lap 4 brought out a caution. Takuma Sato, Kyle Busch, Helio Castroneves and Sebastien Bourdais were among the drivers involved in the yellow’s accident.
Lost in the shuffle of the early-race madness, James Hinchcliffe was unable to start the event due to technical issues. He had been unable to make a qualifications attempt, as was the case for week one winner Sage Karam.
Karam would begin an assault through the field once the race went green once again on Lap 8, fighting up to 18th place from 31st on the grid after just 18 laps. After pitting during the first caution period, Karam was able to stay out longer than any other driver during the first fuel sequence, eventually leading the race around Lap 50.
Up front, the race was beginning to settle with Power, McLaughlin, and Dixon becoming the main threats for victory.
Just after the first pit cycle closed, Dixon and Power battled for the lead with multiple side-by-side laps. Finally, Dixon ended up with the top spot and led Power and McLaughlin until the final pit sequence.
The last pit sequence brought even more excitement as Dixon, Power and McLaughlin all pitted at once under green – with Power leading the group off of the pit lane. McLaughlin had moved up to P2, while Dixon retreated to third.
As the laps afterward began to click down, it became apparent that Pagenaud and his stealth fuel strategy would once again come into play – just as it had at Michigan International Speedway. With 10 laps to go, Power and McLaughlin were battling 1-2 while Pagenaud had passed Dixon for the podium spot.
And then, disaster struck.
With less than ten laps to go, a bit of three-wide argy-bargy saw Power pinned between the lapped car of Askew on the low line while McLaughlin fought for the lead on the high side. The Team Penske teammates of Power and McLaughlin would make contact, sending the V8 SuperCars champion into the wall.
The run-in damaged Power’s car, leaving him with only half of a front wing while Pagenaud quickly gained on the leader’s lost momentum.
Despite a valiant effort to hold his other teammate back, Power would be overtaken for the lead while Dixon was right back in the mix.
Over the last few laps, we saw a bit of the same aggressive draft-breaking strategy Pagenaud employed at last year’s Indy 500 as he tried to hold off Dixon. On the final lap, Dixon had a wing on Pagenaud’s left rear tire – though push came to shove at that point, and the gap would be erased in a bit of contact that sent Dixon off the pace.
In the end, Pagenaud would hang on for his second consecutive INDYCAR iRacing Challenge victory while Dixon registered a podium finish in his third start. Power would hang on to the podium by limping his damaged No. 12 machine to third.
Other notable finishers include Marcus Ericsson in P4, Wickens picking up a top-five result after starting on the pole, and Karam ending up P7 despite starting 31st. The top ten was rounded out by Harvey (P6), Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach (P8), Dale Coyne Racing driver Santino Ferrucci (P9), and Graham Rahal, who drove his No. 15 Honda up to 10th after starting 20th.
Next Saturday’s INDYCAR iRacing Challenge round will be held at Circuit of the Americas, live on NBCSN. The broadcast will go live at 2:30 PM Eastern and will feature the stars of INDYCAR once again.
If you are interested in more sim racing action, make sure to check out the Open-Wheels 500 Mile Race, the world’s greatest sim race. Featuring authentic Indianapolis traditions and the best 500-mile race competition on iRacing, the event will be held for a second time in November 2020.
Header image by Tanner Watkins/iRacing.