From James Hinchcliffe’s quick wit and humor as host to Alexander Rossi receiving a cold pepperoni pizza for his award as “Fan Favorite” driver, Thursday night’s INDYCAR Virtual Victory Lap was as fast-paced and entertaining as the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
In past years, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion would be honored with a night of celebration by the INDYCAR community. The Victory Lap has been held at the Hilbert Theater on Monument Circle, and more recently at Union 50 in the Mass Ave. entertainment district of Indianapolis.
Thursday night’s function, however, was a virtual stream live from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. In keeping with COVID-19 safety protocols, the livestream helped fans and other members of the INDYCAR paddock take in the celebration from a distance.
Although Scott Dixon was honored for his sixth NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship and team owner Chip Ganassi for his 13th INDYCAR title, the star of the show was Hinchcliffe.
The part-time driver for Andretti Autosport and commentator for NBC Sports kept the show rolling along from his opening introduction.
“The season produced many incredible career milestones, including Scott Dixon’s 50th career win, Will Power’s 60th career pole, Marco Andretti leading the field to green at Indy, Colton Herta finally shaving for the first time and Conor Daly orchestrating one of the most controversial pranks in IMS Bus Lot history,” Hinchcliffe said. “This celebration, like everything in 2020, has a very different look this year.
“Red Carpets and catered meals have been replaced with Zoom and me. Just add that to the list of disappointments for 2020 folks.
“I was informed this was a family show and had to be friendly and upbeat, so we also had to ask Alexander Rossi to not be a part of this evening’s events.”
In addition to the season-ending awards for on-track competition, there were also five awards determined by fan vote.
Conor Daly received an award for the best “iRacing Moment” for a clip where he screamed into the audio, “Oh My Gosh, there was a man, and he was flying” when Jimmie Johnson’s virtual car went flying through the air. “Oh, there was a man, and he was flying.”
“I would like to thank Jimmie Johnson for providing that moment,” Daly said. “He was the one doing triple cartwheels through the sky. A few months later, he decided to become a real competitor.
“This trophy is going to go next to the cereal boxes in my house.”
Formula One driver Lando Norris of McLaren F1 was named “iRacing Favorite Guest Driver,” defeating Johnson, Scott McLaughlin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kyle Busch and Scott Speed.
“It’s a very prestigious award, obviously,” Norris deadpanned in a taped acceptance speech.
The third fan award was “Best Radio Moment,” and the winner was Takuma Sato’s call to his Rahal Letterman Lanigan crew after winning his second Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on August 23.
“Winning the ‘500,’ there is nothing like it,” Sato said. “It was quite emotional. We were just so fortunate to be able to have a ‘500’ race this year, even without spectators. It was a special moment that it all came together.”
The “Best On Track Moment” fan vote went to Andretti winning the pole for the 104th Running of the Indy 500. He became the first Andretti to win the Indy 500 pole since his grandfather, Mario, won the pole in 1987.
“We live our lives around this sport, and it’s our Super Bowl,” Marco said. “That place means everything to me, and to see the love we have there. Thanks, fans, for the vote, but I miss that they were not at the Indy 500.
“My favorite part was seeing all the love in the paddock that I received.”
The final fan award was the “Fan Favorite,” and it went to Rossi. He was rewarded with a cold pizza.
“I feel like there is something wrong with what is going on in this process,” Rossi said. “What is funny is Conor Daly finally got a full season, and he does not get this award.
“This came as such a surprise to me, you and the viewers at home. It’s been a special experience to me to share who I am, and people are starting to appreciate that. It’s cool that the fans are still involved at the level they are in this sport.”
Herta was acknowledged for his third-place finish in the championship and Newgarden for finished second to Dixon in the championship race.
“He lost by a nose to Dixon in the battle for the championship,” Hinchcliffe said. “Granted, it was TK’s (Tony Kanaan’s) nose, so it wasn’t as close as it sounds.”
Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles, along with INDYCAR President Jay Frye and INDYCAR senior management, displayed tremendous leadership by addressing the unique challenges that INDYCAR overcame to get in a 14-race season.
“Everything was upside-down, nothing was predictable, Miles said. “We wanted to look around the corners when we didn’t even know where the corners were. The one thing that seemed normal was Scott Dixon won another championship, his sixth, for Chip Ganassi, his 13th INDYCAR title.
“The championship ended with a crazy and thrilling race where we had to go back to St. Petersburg to get it in. Now, we get ready for 2021 and will be prepared for whatever that year throws at us.”
Other INDYCAR Award Winners are listed below:
Rookie of the Year – Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing.
NTT P1 Award Winner – Will Power, Team Penske, five poles in 2020, 62 for his career.
Firestone Pit Performance Award – Josef Newgarden and the No. 1 Team Penske crew for shortest time on pit road throughout the 2020 season.
TAG Heuer “Don’t Crack Under Pressure” Award (Advancing the greatest number of positions in race over the course of a season) – Simon Pagenaud, No. 22 Team Penske.
Championship Chief Mechanic – Blair Julian, Chip Ganassi Racing.
Championship Team Manager – Barry Wanser, Chip Ganassi Racing.
INDYCAR Manufacturers Award – Honda, for the third straight season
Champion Driver – Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing. Dixon became just the third driver in the past 20 seasons to lead the points after every race of the season. He joins Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2001 and Sebastien Bourdais in 2006 for that honor.