IndyCar COTA iRacing Preview (Update)
With just two rounds remaining, it's time to find out who is the true king of the virtual INDYCAR road.
The INDYCAR iRacing Challenge returns to a natural road course after two consecutive oval races with the AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, April 25 at virtual Circuit of the Americas (COTA). The 32-lap race on the 20-turn, 3.427-mile circuit at COTA, located in Austin, Texas, will be televised live on NBCSN.
A 33-driver field will take the green flag in Round 5 of the six-round series featuring NTT INDYCAR SERIES stars and special guest drivers. COTA was scheduled to host an NTT INDYCAR SERIES round Sunday, April 26, an event canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two new faces from outside the NTT INDYCAR SERIES will be among the bumper crop of talented drivers in the field Saturday.
Englishman Lando Norris will drive the No. 04 Arrow McLaren SP Dallara. Norris finished 11th in the Formula One World Championship standings last season for McLaren and is returning for a second season with the iconic F1 team. Rising star Norris, 20, is an avid sim racer and one of the most popular and engaging F1 drivers on social media.
Australian Chaz Mostert will drive the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Dallara for Andretti Herta with Marco Andretti & Curb-Agajanian, racing from his home in Australia in darkness during the early hours of morning. 2014 Bathurst 1000 winner Mostert, 28, has 13 career victories in Virgin Australia Supercars and drives in that series for Walkinshaw Andretti United.
Norris and Mostert will try to solve the same puzzle as nearly every other driver in the series: How to stop Simon Pagenaud?
Reigning Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Pagenaud again will be one of the favorites to win Saturday in the No. 22 Snap-on Team Penske Chevrolet.
Mostert also could become the latest native of Australia or New Zealand to make headlines in the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge.
2014 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Will Power has been a steady presence on or near the podium for all four rounds. Australian Power has finished third, second, fourth and third, respectively, in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
2018 Indianapolis 500 winner and veteran sim racer Power appeared to be headed for his first victory in the series last Saturday at Motegi before he was entangled in a late-race collision. Could this be the week he finally stands atop the podium? He won the pole for the inaugural NTT INDYCAR SERIES race at COTA in March 2019, and his sim racing speed has proven to be just as quick as in the real world.
Two-time reigning Virgin Australia Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin has been the revelation of this series. New Zealand native McLaughlin was impressive during actual preseason testing for Team Penske and was scheduled to make his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut May 9 in the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before that event was postponed to July 4 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
McLaughlin has been an ace on road courses in the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge, finishing fourth at Watkins Glen and winning at Barber. Like Mostert, McLaughlin once again will race in the middle of the night from his home in Australia in the No. 2 Shell V-Power Team Penske Dallara.
Five-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon is another driver emerging as a standout in this series. New Zealander Dixon finished a strong second to Pagenaud last Saturday on the Motegi oval after finishing 16th and 30th in his first two starts in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Unlike many of his rivals, 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Dixon had little to no sim racing experience before joining the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge for Round 2 at Barber. But he has shown the same quick adaptation skills and speed in the virtual world that he has for nearly 20 years in INDYCAR competition.
Among drivers from other parts of the world, American Sage Karam also should be a contender for victory. Veteran sim racer Karam won the opening round of the series at Watkins Glen in the No. 24 DRR WIX Filters Chevrolet and has led 67 of the 90 laps so far on road courses.
A glance at the past also could pinpoint two contenders for victory Saturday.
Colton Herta made global motorsports headlines in March 2019 by winning the inaugural INDYCAR race at COTA, becoming the youngest winner in series history, at age 18. Herta, now 20, will drive the No. 88 Capstone Honda on Saturday.
Oliver Askew swept both Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires rounds last February at COTA en route to the series title. Askew will race his rookie season this year in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for Arrow McLaren SP and will line up on the virtual grid at COTA in the team's No. 7 Chevrolet.
Another Indy Lights champion, 2015 title winner Spencer Pigot, will make his series debut in the No. 45 Mi-Jack/EMBRACE Pittsburgh RLL with Citrone/Buhl Autosport Honda.
The fuel window for this 32-lap race is approximately 15 to 16 laps. But it should be a one-stop race due to a competition caution period on Lap 12, a feature carried over from Round 2 on the road course at Barber that bunched the field and increased and intensified the wheel-to-wheel action.
A 10-minute qualifying session will set the starting lineup prior to the event.
One race remains in the six-round series after Saturday, a non-INDYCAR "Dream" track May 2. The INDYCAR iRacing Challenge will not crown an overall champion but will add a special element where INDYCAR will make a donation to one of its partner charities.
AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge Fast Facts
When: 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, April 25
Track: Circuit of the Americas, a 20-turn, 3.41-mile natural road course in Austin, Texas. Turn width: Varies from 39 to 52 feet. Course direction: Counterclockwise.
Race distance: 32 laps/109.1 miles/175.6 km (approximately 70 minutes)
Push-to-pass parameters: 10 activations for a 10-second duration
Expected pit stops: One. Fuel window will be approximately 15-16 laps. Cars will be allowed two "Fast Repairs" during the race.
Competition caution: A planned competition caution period will bunch the field on Lap 12. It will consist of three laps, followed by a single-file restart.
TV/Online: 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, NBC Sports App. Leigh Diffey is the lead announcer, alongside the network's INDYCAR analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy , and pit reporter Marty Snider. The pre-race activities will be highlighted by singer-songwriter Cory Morrow and his wife, Sherry Morrow, singing the national anthem and Texas-born country music artist Jack Ingram giving the command to start engines. The podium finishers will be interviewed on the live NBCSN broadcast. Diffey also will host a post-race virtual press conference with the podium finishers for media members (call-in details will be distributed).
Spotter guide: Click here to see a detailed spotter guide for this Saturday's race.
AUTONATION INDYCAR CHALLENGE PRE-EVENT QUOTES:
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 4 Tresiba Chevrolet): "COTA is a tough track, with lots of hard braking zones, and with my limited skills on iRacing, I am struggling pretty good. I will do my best for the #4 AJ Foyt Racing Tresiba/Chevy crew and keep turning laps to up my game."
ED CARPENTER (No. 50 Direct Supply Chevrolet): "I am excited and nervous for this week. I have never actually driven anything at COTA before, so it makes it even more of a challenge getting up to speed. I will put in the time to be ready. It is very easy to make mistakes here compared to Barber, so I think it could be a little bit of an unpredictable race."
MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): "I love racing at COTA, so I'm very excited to see what we can do with the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet in the iRacing world. COTA is one of those tracks that really suits me, and I feel like I have a good handle on the track, so hopefully we can bring home a good result for the Carlin team this weekend. We just need to qualify well, stay out of trouble and work our way to the front."
CONOR DALY (No. 20 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet): "I think COTA will be quite the challenge with my current simulator setup, probably the most challenging race so far. This one will be mostly about survival, but we'll still try to have a lot of fun. But realistically, I just want to get back to sim oval racing! We'll go out and turn the laps this weekend and do the best we can with my simulator experience and extremely high-tech setup."
MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "Looking forward to go iRacing again. COTA is a track I know pretty well from being there a few times, both in Formula One and INDYCAR. It's a track I really like, as well, and I've had some good success there over the years. I have always enjoyed it in real life, so it'll be fun to try it in the virtual world, as well. Also, after three races and the last two being on ovals for the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge, it's going to be interesting to see how it is going back to a road course, how everyone gets on. Everyone is getting more used to iRacing, including myself. I'm learning all the time, but I feel like it's getting better and better. I want to build on that performance in Motegi. I'm looking forward to a good race in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda car."
SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 18 SealMaster Honda): "I am looking forward to competing in Round 5 of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge at COTA. We were quick there last year in the race, so I am excited to see what we can do virtually. The SealMaster Honda is doing well in the championship, and I am ready to go racing this Saturday and earned some more championship points."
TONY KANAAN (No. 14 Big Machine Records Chevrolet): "We will be in Texas, so the boss (A.J. Foyt) will be watching (laughs). Not really. One more round. I'm excited to be back there. I was actually there this year spectating when we had the spring training, so it will be nice to drive around the track. Let's see what happens if we get a little better luck this time."
SAGE KARAM (No. 24 DRR WIX Filters Chevrolet): "I am ready to get back on the road circuits again. Obviously, we were strong in the first two races at Watkins Glen and Barber. We didn't have much luck at Barber after leading a bunch of laps, but I think we'll have a strong effort at COTA. It's a great road course and should be another exciting race for the fans. We were fast at Michigan, but we got caught up in some traffic. I made a mistake in qualifying at Motegi, and I had to start 31st. But the car improved in the race and we moved up 24 spots to seventh. We also had the fastest race lap. Now, we need to get back to racing up front at COTA. My iRacing experience goes back to 2007 when I went from karting to open-wheelers. Because I have not been a regular on the INDYCAR circuit in recent years, I'm able to stay active through sim racing, and I believe it has helped me. I think some of the current INDYCAR drivers can see improvement, too, in the INDYCAR Challenge racing as we all stay inside due to the coronavirus. I'm like everyone else who wants to go real racing as soon as we can. But this is the next best thing."
DALTON KELLETT (No. 41 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet): "When we were at COTA for spring training, we had rain and freezing temperatures. Thankfully, we can set the weather in iRacing, and the conditions look great! It is a challenging track, almost more so without being able to feel the car under you. The combination of high and low speed sections is a great mix. With the long straights and a few hard brake zones, there are good passing opportunities. It should be an exciting race. This weekend would have been my INDYCAR debut, so it is somewhat bittersweet, but I am thankful that my family and friends are all healthy and safe in these trying times. Looking forward to another fast and consistent run in the #41 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet."
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN (No. 2 Shell V-PowerTeam Penske Dallara): "I'm really looking forward to going back to COTA. It was great to be part of the preseason test with the rest of the series. I learned a lot there running alongside other drivers in the series since this was the first time I was in a car with the rest of them. I've been having a lot of fun competing in iRacing in INDYCAR and SuperCars. It's all experience and it's all seat time, even if it's virtual. The Shell V-Power car looks to be strong this weekend since my team has put a lot of work into our plan."
FELIPE NASR (No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet): "I'm really looking forward to racing at COTA this weekend in the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet for the fifth round of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge. Last week's race at Motegi was really disappointing. We had a strong start, and we were moving up the field, but there were some connectivity issues and I was forced to retire early from the race. We haven't had the best of luck in this iRacing series, but I'm really hoping that'll turn around this weekend at COTA. I had a great test with Carlin at COTA at the INDYCAR Open Test in February, so hopefully some of that speed will show up this weekend."
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet): "I really enjoy racing in COTA, so I'm looking forward to racing the virtual one. iRacing has been a huge adjustment for me, but I have learned so much with the PPG Chevy team, and we're all excited to apply our learnings to real life racing whenever we can go back. COTA can be a challenging track, but we tried some things out at the preseason test that we think will work great for this virtual version of the race. Just ready to go out and give it our all with hopes to just keep improving."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Snap-on Team Penske Chevrolet): "iRacing has really been fun for the past few weeks, and I'm looking forward to racing at COTA. Winning two consecutive races gave us a boost of confidence. One of the last times the whole INDYCAR SERIES was all on track was during our spring training at the real-life track. We learned a lot at that test that I have been applying to iRacing events. It's a really great track that has great challenges and quite technical sections. We as a series are getting stronger and stronger, not just as drivers in iRacing events, and there's a lot of carryover we can eventually apply to races in real life. I am thankful for NBCSN for showing our race and am excited to have Snap-on's livery on my Chevrolet this weekend. We've had a lot of success the past couple of weeks, so we're going to be looking to keep having a similar approach."
ALEX PALOU (No. 55 Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh Honda): "I'm really looking forward to the COTA iRacing event this weekend because it's the only track that I've actually been to in an Indy car before. Maybe that will help, even if it's a virtual race. It's also a road course, which is the type of track I have more experience racing at, not like ovals that I messed up on last weekend. We'll see how the practices go, but I think we can be in the top five like at the other road courses that we've done in the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge, and hopefully we can have our first podium this weekend."
SPENCER PIGOT (No. 45 Mi-Jack/EMBRACE Pittsburgh RLL with Citrone/Buhl Autosport Honda): "I'm really looking forward to joining everyone for the last few races of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge. I've been watching all the races on NBCSN, and it looks like a lot of fun. I haven't been on iRacing for quite a few years, so I will definitely have some catching up to do. With the GMR Grand Prix being postponed until July, this will be a welcomed change to help pass the time. It will give me a chance to start working with a few members of Citrone/Buhl Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and get back into the groove of a race event. I can't wait to race again, and this is the perfect way to start that process."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "I've been having a blast with iRacing. It's something I have enjoyed for a long time, so it's been great to keep racing against the rest of the drivers in the INDYCAR SERIES. COTA can be a really challenging track, but I love the challenge. It's been great to have the whole Verizon Chevy team behind me week after week in the virtual world. We think it will make us stronger as a team when we can go back to racing in real life. I'm just looking forward to being part of another great show for the fans."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 One Cure Honda): "We are all missing being at the actual race at Circuit of the Americas, but at least we can race there virtually. It's going to be an interesting race and a full field with 33 cars. It will be key to stay out of trouble."
FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "It's going to be interesting to get back to a road course again after quite a few ovals. It'll be interesting to see who is going to be quick this week. A lot of people have been spending time on the sim the last couple of weeks. So, probably and hopefully it'll be a lot tighter than when this whole thing started. It's good to be back at COTA this weekend. Hopefully we can bring the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda car up to the front."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Panasonic/ABeam Honda): "It's been a great experience so far. There is a lot to learn, and I enjoy driving and racing online. It's pretty much what I expected, as we all have experience on our manufacturer's simulators. However, doing it at home and the sim rig you have at home does not have motion, so you feel only steering feedback and through the monitor it is incredibly hard to "feel" what's happening in the car. It's fun when you just drive, but racing seriously with competitive sim-experienced drivers online is a very tough one! Fans love it. Obviously, they are looking forward to seeing the real racing, but in the situation now, this is best thing for them to have excitement for what usually feels like a great INDYCAR season. Also, particularly for my home country, the race in Twin Ring Motegi was a great moment. We never expected to be back there this way, but fans really enjoyed watching INDYCAR back at Motegi. I think iRacing is going to be very tough on a road course. COTA has a lot of high curbing to prevent cutting corners short that you just simply cannot touch because the car bounces too much and you lose control. And the track limit is very strict on iRacing, so it's easy to get a penalty. But that is the same for everyone, so I expect it will make for an exciting race." (About teamwork involved in iRacing): "I believe it is a benefit to work with the team on this and also provide it for the fans. We are all connected with engineers and going through a lot of things as similar as real world, so it's definitely a good way to keep our communications and relationship well for preparation for the race."
RINUS VEEKAY (No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet): "I'm very excited to drive COTA virtually. It's a cool track with a lot of passing possibilities, so we should be able to put on a show for the fans."
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