With real-life IndyCar competition on pause thanks to COVID-19, the premier American open-wheel series has taken to the realm of sim racing. Saturday marked the kick-off of its IndyCar iRacing Challenge featuring a field full of current and former IndyCar aces, all fielding their digital Dallaras at the Watkins Glen circuit as picked by fans. At the end of the inaugural round, it was Sage Karam who took the checkered flag ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing driver Felix Rosenqvist (+3.618s) and 2018 Indy 500 champ Will Power (+11.416s).
Karam, who typically runs limited IndyCar campaigns with backing from Wix Filters, used his sim racing expertise to pace the grid of seasoned pros. He claimed pole in the short-format qualifying round Saturday morning, starting at the front and remaining there for most of the afternoon.
“It was nerve-wracking for sure at the end,” explained Karam, who nearly wrecked late in the race with Kyle Kirkwood. “I picked left and thankfully it was the right choice. I think [the race] was great. The guys committed to it very well this week. It was a lot of fun and it was great we could give the fans something to watch. The Wix car looked pretty good up front, so hopefully we can replicate that when we go racing for real.”
To date, the Pennsylvania native’s best finish in a genuine Indy car is third at Iowa in 2015.
Four Team Penske drivers found their way into the top seven, with Australian V8 Supercar champion Scott McLaughlin taking P4 in his virtual IndyCar debut. Impressively, there was a healthy mix of young and, erm, veteran drivers with varying degrees of experience behind the wheel of sim rigs finish in the top 10.
A host of drivers livestreamed their in-car views across social media, including Arrow McLaren Schmidt Peterson rookie Oliver Askew.
Robert Wickens, who has made a miraculous recovery after being temporarily paralyzed from a 2018 IndyCar crash, was slated to compete in the event. However, a logistics issue that prevented his custom-built, hand-operated sim racing setup from being delivered kept the Canadian on the sidelines. Wickens stuck around for the race, though, and made an appearance on the broadcast which was narrated by the regular NBC IndyCar crew.
The nearly 60-minute event was sponsored by the American Red Cross and attracted over 11,000 viewers on YouTube. It was also syndicated on IndyCar.com and gaming stream site Twitch.
The next contest will take place at a virtual version of Barber Motorsports Park on April 4. Every Saturday until May 2, the IndyCar iRacing Challenge will tour at various digital recreations of tracks—some chosen by drivers, others by random selection.
There’s potential for more races to be added to the calendar as well now that the Indianapolis Grand Prix and Indy 500 have been rescheduled until later in the year.