What To Watch For: Previewing the AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge

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There are three new takes as the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge heads to virtual Circuit of the Americas for the AutoNation IndyCar Classic.

The fifth virtual race of the six event challenge is set for Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES was scheduled to be racing at COTA this weekend but unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has halted real racing activity. However, the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge has helped fill the competitive void.

Ed Carpenter is the only driver/owner in INDYCAR and is considered an oval racing specialist. Saturday at COTA will be the first time he tries to figure out the unique racecourse in any type of competition, real or virtual.

Earlier in his career, Carpenter ran on all venues in INDYCAR, but has not competed in a street or road course contest as a driver since 2013. He made his “virtual” return to road courses competing in the virtual Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama earlier this month at Barber Motorsports Park.

“It was definitely a lot easier at Barber making my road course return having driven there in the past, knowing my way around the circuit,” Carpenter said Friday. “I had to put in a lot of time earlier in the week learning the track, from learning the simulator and the car and iRacing. It's been a fun challenge.

“Hopefully I'll have some more improvement.”

Although Carpenter may be new to COTA, he certainly isn’t a newcomer to iRacing. He was once active in the sim racing world.

“I had actually been on iRacing about 10 years ago,” Carpenter recalled. “When we had our second child Ryder, I put it on the shelf. When this started going again, I didn't get involved week one, but I was watching Conor Daly's Twitch stream actually, thinking this is too much fun to be sitting on the sidelines.

“I got my 10-year-old rig out. It wasn't really up to snuff. Since then, I've been buying new equipment regularly trying to get modernized with it. It's been a lot of fun.”

A newcomer to the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge, is this week’s special INDYCAR guest, McLaren Formula One driver Lando Norris. Last year, Norris started eight and finished seventh in the United States Grand Prix at COTA.

The 20-year-old F1 driver from Somerset, England is looking forward to racing against IndyCar’s best.

“That’s one of the cool things about all of this,” Norris said Friday. “You are getting all the different drivers from different sports but also from different categories of racing, from INDYCAR, from F1, from GT, endurance events. Everyone is coming from a different area.

“Sometimes you would never in your career get to race against these people. Virtually you're still racing against these people with different skills and attributes. Obviously for me coming in and joining you in INDYCAR, it's an opportunity for me to race the INDYCAR guys.”

The third new take on Saturday’s contest comes from “Down Under.”

It’s Virgin Australia Supercars driver Chaz Mostert of Walkinshaw Andretti United. He is part of an interesting switch this week, competing in both the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge and next Wednesday’s Supercars eSports race in Australia.

Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi will also compete in both virtual contests.

Mostert will drive Marco Andretti’s No. 98 US Concrete/Curb Honda at virtual COTA.

“For me it’s super exciting to compete in my first IndyCar race, even if it is virtually,” Mostert said. “Having the link between our organizations has presented me with an amazing opportunity, so a huge thank you to the entire Andretti Autosport team for having me.

“I’ll be looking to do a solid job, I’m not expecting too much, I’ve driven a Supercar around COTA once, but I’m tipping the IndyCar will be a different kettle of fish. It’s great to have some awesome teammates to bounce off, so I’ll be picking their brains in the lead up.”

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