The INDYCAR iRacing Challenge, a virtual racing event featuring a full field of NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers, begins this weekend with Saturday’s American Red Cross Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International beginning at 4 p.m. ET.
The event, which will last approximately 90 minutes, will be streamed through INDYCAR.com while INDYCAR’s YouTube and Facebook platforms as well as iRacing’s Twitch will serve as additional outlets for viewing. The NBC broadcasting team of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be calling the action. The pre-race activities will be highlighted by iconic national anthem singer Jim Cornelison adding his voice as he has for the past three Indianapolis 500s.
The entry list of 25 drivers includes series champions Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan, four Indianapolis 500 winners and collectively has registered 140 series victories. The Team Penske trio of Newgarden, Pagenaud and Power, along with the A.J. Foyt Racing duo of Bourdais and Kanaan, have combined for nine series championships led by Bourdais’ four and two by Newgarden.
If that wasn’t enough talent, a driver with a record-tying seven NASCAR Cup Series crowns – Jimmie Johnson – will join the virtual race as a “special guest” entrant.
The American Red Cross Grand Prix is the first of six events to be held weekly each Saturday through May 2. The opening event will be followed by others at Barber Motorsports Park (April 4), a “Driver’s Choice” track (April 11), a “Random Draw” track (April 18), Circuit of The Americas (April 25) and a non-INDYCAR “Dream” track (May 2).
Here are "5 Things To Look For…" heading into Saturday’s American Red Cross Grand Prix:
The opening event was named the American Red Cross Grand Prix to bring awareness to the organization and the efforts to encourage blood donations amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The American Red Cross faces a severe blood shortage due to an unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations during this period.
INDYCAR is stepping up to help the American Red Cross, and the sanctioning body is challenging people to join them in rolling up their sleeves to give blood. While blood donation is a safe and secure process, the American Red Cross is taking an abundance of caution, including temperature screening and enhanced disinfecting, to ensure the safety of donors, recipients, volunteers, staff and the blood supply. Patients across the country need your support.
Please help by making an appointment to give blood to the American Red Cross by visiting https://sleevesup.redcrossblood.org/campaign/sleeves-up-with-indycar/. For more information on the American Red Cross, please visit www.redcross.org.
“On The Road Again”
Fan voting through a bracket format voted Watkins Glen International as the first venue “host” of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES has staged 11 actual races at the permanent road course in upstate New York, with the most recent coming in 2017. The sport’s history at Watkins Glen dates to 1979 when Bobby Unser won in a CART-sanctioned event.
The 3.4-mile permanent road course figures to play no particular favorites with only Team Penske’s Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet) and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) having won actual NTT INDYCAR SERIES races on it among those competing in this virtual field. Rossi won in the series’ last visit in 2017 while Power earned his victory in 2010.
“New Kids On The Block”
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Ally Chevrolet) was scheduled to test an Indy car April 6 with Arrow McLaren SP at Barber Motorsports Park, but those plans were put on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic.
For the time being, he will settle for some virtual racing against the series’ best and may get an opportunity to take on Barber Motorsports Park if he is planning to compete in Round 2 of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge. Johnson announced that 2020 will be his final NASCAR Cup season and has expressed an interest in possibly participating in the series on road/street courses in the future.
Two-time defending Virgin Australia Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin (No. 2 Shell V-Power Chevrolet) of Team Penske also will be participating in the American Red Cross Grand Prix. McLaughlin has tested an Indy car at Sebring and Circuit of The Americas this year and it was announced by the team in February that he would make his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut in the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course.
When it comes to iRacing, you may want to keep an eye on McLaughlin. He has amassed 497 victories in 1,189 starts, both tops among any of the entrants in the American Red Cross Grand Prix. Of those wins, 178 have come on road courses.
The starting lineup for the American Red Cross Grand Prix will be set through a 10-minute qualifying session prior to the event that will go green shortly after 4 p.m. The race should last approximately 90 minutes.
In the interest of fairness, iRacing will give all participants the same car setups. Teams will have the ability to design each driver’s car livery to match their desired paint scheme, making them easily recognizable to the viewers.
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.
“Power & Speed”
This might be INDYCAR's first virtual event featuring a full field of its stars, but there are several drivers who could emerge as early favorites given their iRacing experience.
According to iRacing statistics, Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet) has made 1,145 road course starts in the sim game, winning 156 times (13.6 percent). Power’s rate of top-five finishes is an astounding 46.5 percent.
Yet, other drivers have even better marks.
Scott Speed, who will drive Andretti Autosport’s No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda, has won 44.3 percent of his iRacing road course races (71 of 160). Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin (No. 2 Shell V-Power Team Penske Chevrolet) has won 33.7 percent (178 of 528). Sage Karam (No. 24 DRR Wix Filters Chevrolet) of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing wins at a 26.9 percent clip (143 of 532). This may be INDYCAR’s first virtual race featuring a full field of its stars, but there are several drivers
In terms of career iRacing road-course wins among the entrants, McLaughlin leads the way with 178 and is followed by Power (156) and Karam (143).
Other entrants with more than 100 iRacing road-course starts are Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) with 219, Alex Palou (No. 55 Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh Honda) with 105, and Santino Ferrucci (No. 18 SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan) with 101.