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Scott McLaughlin wins iRacing INDYCAR Challenge finale at Sebring

Scott McLaughlin pass Alex Palou Sebring 2021 INDY Challenge iRacing

Three races up, three races down for the second iteration of the iRacing INDYCAR Challenge. 

Scott McLaughlin ended the series the same way he did at Indianapolis in the last virtual season, taking the checkered flag in an exciting finish at the end.

Coming to two laps to go, McLaughlin made the move to get alongside Alex Palou. Palou had a few laps extra on his virtual tires, as well as a few less push-to-pass boosts to utilize in the closing laps. Palou kept it as close as he could, but by the time they took the white flag, RC Enerson was closer to his rear wing than his front wing was to McLaughlin.

As Palou held on for the runner up spot, McLaughlin took the checkers for his first win of the season, and third in the nine races in the virtual series’ history.

“I was very surprised,” McLaughlin said. “The PPG Chevy was good. The people behind the pit wall, I don’t know who they were, I was just talking to myself, but they were really good as well. I didn’t think I was going to win tonight, so that was nice.”

After waiting to pit as long as he could, the extra good left on the virtual tires helped McLaughlin navigate around Palou in the closing laps, as well as the time saved in short fueling. “I went long because I wasn’t confident on an older set of tires. I went as long as I could on tires, pitted as late as I could, and short fueled it…  I thought I was going to run out of fuel.”

The race was 26 laps long. As in the other two races, this one went caution free as well despite the multiple incidents.

No official points were kept for the series and only eight drivers competed in all three races. Road to Indy driver Braden Eves had the best average finish among them despite not having a victory, closing out the series with a 3.67 average finish.

BAD LUCK… INTERNET ISSUES… RAGE QUIT?

For some, the only luck they had during the challenge was bad luck. Between wrecks, internet issues, equipment malfunctions, or even driver error, some are glad to see it over with… and maybe some were ready to end it as soon as they had the opportunity.

It hasn’t been the best stretch for Dalton Kellett during this series. On the ninth lap at Sebring, Kellett ran alongside Marcus Ericsson for the 11th spot on track. Kellett’s internet started to blip as the two rounded one of the corners. Ericsson wound up with heavy netcode damage while Kellett fell out from the server a few seconds later with a connection issue. Kellett never returned to the race, while Ericsson limped around to finish in 12th after taking a fast repair.

At the halfway point, Sage Karam seemed to have the best virtual car in the field. Karam pitted from the lead at the beginning of lap 12, a lap after Palou took his service. When Karam exited the pits, he was side-by-side with Palou for what would eventually be the lead once all stops cycled through.

In the middle of the next lap, as the two continued to go at it, Karam was run wide off the corner and into the virtual tire barrier. With the new damage model causing suspension issues following the hit, Karam was forced to tow. Moments later, Karam disconnected from the server.

Karam eventually reconnected to the server and ran out the remainder of the laps, but was nine laps off pace at the checkered. A quick tow normally would cost a driver a lap or two.

INDYCAR champion Will Power ended up with his best finish of the challenge at Sebring, but for the second week in a row, he failed to finish. Power had contact with Road to Indy driver Benjamin Pedersen with two laps remaining and had to take a tow to the pits. Power was scored in 10th at the end of it, but did not cross the finish line in the process.

The entire challenge was rough for Power, as he had the second-worst average finish (11.67) among the eight drivers who competed in all three races. Kellett took that unfortunate title with an average finish of 14th.

ROUGH SEBRING SURFACE SENDS PROS SIDEWAYS

Many of the real-world drivers found problems through the event. Not one driver finished the race without at least one incident point. Even the eventual winner McLaughlin had two x’s against his virtual incident ledger.

Robert Wickens strapped into a virtual INDYCAR for Arrow McLaren SP in the final race of the challenge, but unfortunately found trouble early when he got together with Pedersen near the end of the first lap. That forced Wickens to use an extremely early fast repair.

Last season, Simon Pagenaud was a multi-time winner during the inaugural iRacing stint, but this season was a completely different story for this INDYCAR champ. Pagenaud didn’t start in Montreal, finished 14th at Homestead-Miami two laps off the leader, and on Thursday night, he wound up finishing three laps off the pace after multiple off-track excursions and a tow or two. 

All in all, many drivers suffered the same symptoms of driving past the limitations of the track, sometimes harming others in the process. For a 15-car field, this race saw more attrition due to the fact that Sebring’s racing surface is just absolutely difficult to drive, whether it’s real or sim.

REAL RACING RETURNS AT BARBER MOTORSPORTS PARK

The virtual challenge was fun for some, but most, if not all, will be ready to get back to the real thing in just over two weeks.

Usually, the season begins on the streets of St. Petersburg, but this season will kick off at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama one week before the series heads to Florida.

Barber was outright cancelled last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The INDYCAR Challenge brought many of the real world stars virtually to Barber last year, and it was Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin taking the checkers on that day.

The last time the series raced there physically was in 2019 and was won by Takuma Sato.

RACE 3 – SEBRING INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY RESULTS

  1. 3 Scott McLaughlin Team Penske 26 LAPS
  2. 10 Alex Palou Chip Ganassi Racing +0.801
  3. 75 RC Enerson Top Gun Racing +0.895
  4. 60 Braden Eves Meyer Shank Racing +8.256
  5. 53 James Davison Dale Coyne Racing w/RWR +12.494
  6. 52 Enzo Fittipaldi Dale Coyne Racing w/RWR +48.714
  7. 21 Nikita Lastochkin Ed Carpenter Racing +49.161
  8. 17 Benjamin Pedersen Road to Indy +49.701
  9. 20 Conor Daly Ed Carpenter Racing +1:31.054
  10. 12 Will Power Team Penske +1 LAP
  11. 6 Robert Wickens Arrow McLaren SP +1 LAP
  12. 8 Marcus Ericsson Chip Ganassi Racing +1 LAP
  13. 22 Simon Pagenaud Team Penske +3 LAPS
  14. 98 Sage Karam Andretti Autosport +9 LAPS
  15. 4 Dalton Kellett A.J. Foyt Enterprises +18 LAPS

INDYCAR CHALLENGE BEST AVERAGE FINISH (MIN 3 STARTS)

  1. Braden Eves 3.67
  2. Alex Palou 4.33 (1 win)
  3. RC Enerson 6.33
  4. Sage Karam 6.67 (1 win)
  5. James Davison 6.67
  6. Marcus Ericsson 9.33
  7. Will Power 11.67
  8. Dalton Kellett 14.00
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