The real-world stars of IndyCar took part in two heats and a final race, fighting for a charitable prize pool as part of the virtual INDYCAR Pro Challenge, and it was Felix Rosenqvist who took the victory.
The venue was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, with Hélio Castroneves on the randomly drawn Heat 1 pole position for Meyer Shank Racing.
The 10-minute race would set the stage for the evening, with the results forming the grid for the later Heat 2, but in reverse. Points scored in each heat would then set the starting order for the 20-minute final that decided the overall winner.
As the green flag flew, Romain Grosjean leapt into the lead around the outside of Castroneves into the first corner with slight contact between the two.
As the opening lap ended, the 2021 Indianapolis 500 winner would fall further back after running wide at Turn 12.
Further down the order, 2021 IndyCar Series champion Álex Palou span after a coming together with three other cars on the day it was announced he’d joined esports squad Team Redline as an ambassador.
As the race reached the halfway point, Rinus Veekay made use of the push-to-pass system to sear ahead of A. J. Foyt Racing driver Kyle Kirkwood. Meanwhile, Alexander Rossi made contact with barriers coming out of Turn 6 and pitted for repairs.
Christian Lundgaard was by now scything through the field, overtaking Devlin Defrancesco for third, who would, unfortunately, find the barrier and lose his rear wing after contact with David Malukas.
Ultimately, it was Veekey who snatched the final podium position behind a comfortable Callum Ilott and a dominant Grosjean. 50 points in the bag.
Next up, the grid was mixed for the second 10-minute encounter, and that meant Malukas on pole position, while Grosjean was way back on the tenth row.
It was a relatively clean start, with only Veekay losing out as a result of a spin at Turn 2, while Palou stormed into the lead.
The reigning IndyCar champion wasn’t able to hold that position for long, however, as Lundgaard swept around the outside of Turn 13 before the first lap was completed, with Sage Karam following through.
However, soon after at Turn 4, Lundgaard ran wide and let Karam through into first.
Further back, Grosjean was hit from behind by Tatiana Calderón, losing his rear wing and spinning into the hapless Castroneves and Ilott.
As the race progressed, Lungaard steadily dropped down the order, with Rosenqvist once again charging up into third, behind an equally rapid Malukas, but Karam was untroubled and took the chequered flag ahead of the field.
The double-length final race was to decide who became the inaugural INDYCAR Pro Challenge victor.
At this point, Karam led the points standings, ahead of Rosenqvist and Grosjean, thus that was the top three on the grid.
Once again, Grosjean made a lightning getaway but couldn’t manage to take the lead from Karam. Also once again, Palou was hit from behind before the first corner.
Grosjean’s clean start was short-lived, however, as Rosenqvist re-passed the former Formula 1 driver into Turn 7 just a moment later.
Two laps along, Malukas made the move on the French driver, making slight contact and costing the Andretti Autosport entrant valuable momentum. Ilott tried to capitalise, but a rub resulted in a spin for the young Ferrari Driver Academy member.
Alpine Academy recruit Lundgaard was next in line to attack Grosjean, but unfortunate contact meant the Dane exited stage left onto the grass. Despite involvement in these dramatic scrapes, Grosjean was able to continue without severe damage.
With nine minutes completed, Rosenqvist – who won two rounds of the Le Mans Virtual Series in 2021 – made a move for second, overtaking the incumbent Malukas. All the while, the gap to leader Karam rapidly decreased.
Just a lap later, the Arrow McLaren SP driver used push-to-pass to take first place heading into Turn 7.
After ceding second earlier in the race, Malukas wasn’t given in, and with just over four minutes left, flew past Karam and back into the runner-up spot.
There was no stopping Rosenqvist, however, winning the race and $10,000 for the charity of his choosing, in this instance Conquer Paralysis Now by Sam Schmidt.
“It was good to get some action going during this part of the year and take some of the rust away from the off-season,” said the victor.
“I think we all say we don’t take it seriously, but I definitely did today. I think I spent the last five or six hours in the simulator.
“I love this platform that we are racing on, rFactor 2, and whenever there is a race I can do on it I try to. There were some tactics going on there on the last couple of laps, good fun.”
INDYCAR Pro Challenge results
- Felix Rosenqvist – Arrow McLaren SP – 20:11.059
- David Malukas – Dale Coyne Racing with HMD +3.010
- Sage Karam – Dreyer & Reinbold Racing +5.445
- Romain Grosjean – Andretti Autosport +6.685
- Christian Lundgaard – Rahal Letterman Lanigan +7.323
- Josef Newgarden – Team Penske +19.449
- Callum Ilott – Juncos Hollinger Racing + 21.813
- Rinus Veekay – Ed Carpenter Racing +22.822
- Simon Pagenaud – Meyer Shank Racing +34.199
- Marcus Ericsson – Chip Ganassi Racing +37.261