Alex Palou is tipped by many observers to break through for his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory in 2021, as he moved to powerful Chip Ganassi Racing during the offseason.
He’s already done it in the virtual world.
Chip Ganassi Racing driver Palou, from Spain, dominated Round 1 of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge on Thursday night, March 18 for the victory at virtual Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda. He led 29 of the 32 laps.
“It was a tough race,” Palou said. “It was really fun to do.”
Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires driver Braden Eves finished second in the No. 17 Road to Indy Dallara, 3.077 seconds behind Palou. Team Penske rookie Scott McLaughlin rounded out the podium finishers in the No. 3 PPG Chevrolet in the 32-lap race.
Palou started from pole as the NTT P1 Award winner and led the first 17 laps. He re-entered the circuit in second behind McLaughlin, who pulled off a successful “undercut” strategy by pitting on Lap 15.
2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Palou then stalked McLaughlin for the next two laps in a spirited duel. The pair touched on Lap 21, with McLaughlin sliding into the grass and Palou taking the lead for good.
“That was intense,” Palou said. “It was really on the edge. He was really on the edge. I had nowhere to go, to be honest, but I think it was just a racing contact. I’m really sorry that he ended up losing one position. I’ll chat with him to make sure everything’s fine.”
Said McLaughlin: “It was a lot of fun. Good racing. It was proper racing there. Unfortunately, we touched, and sometimes in the iRacing stuff, the touches are bigger than they need to be, but it still gives us a really good feel of what it’s like. I hope everyone at home enjoyed the race.”
Round 2 will start at 6:30 p.m. (ET) Thursday, March 25 on the Homestead-Miami Speedway oval. Round 3 will be Thursday, April 1 on a fan-voted track that will be revealed soon.
All races are streamed live on INDYCAR.com, along with INDYCAR’s YouTube channel and Facebook page, and iRacing’s YouTube channel. Secondary channels also will be available from NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers’ personal accounts.
Just in Time
Romain Grosjean of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR competed from his home in Switzerland, which is five hours ahead of Eastern time in the U.S., so he was strapped into his sim rig in the wee small hours of the morning.
But Formula One veteran Grosjean, a rookie in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, almost didn’t make the race on time. American clocks turned back last Sunday to Daylight Savings Time, but Europe doesn’t move its clocks forward until the end of March.
So, Grosjean thought he had an extra hour to sleep before waking to race. But he was alerted to the discrepancy between Daylight Savings Time in America and Europe and made the race just in time.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver Pietro Fittipaldi, also competing in the iRacing INDYCAR Challenge, briefed his groggy friend and teammate Grosjean on pit strategy and race rules shortly before the start.
“You sound tired, like you just woke up,” Fittipaldi said to Grosjean on Twitch.
“That’s what happened!” Grosjean admitted in return.
Grosjean spun early in the race, perhaps due to fatigue. “Ohhhhh, noooooo!” he said as his car spun. He also spun later in the race during a battle for ninth place with Takuma Sato.
“This isn’t my best driving, guys,” Grosjean said. “Sorry.”
Get that man a coffee sponsor for Rounds 2 and 3!
NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Scott McLaughlin has entertained fans since he moved to America from Australia last fall, detailing his adaptation to American life on social media through posts with the hashtag #ScottLearnsAmerica.
Fans have enjoyed not only his experiences but his unique Australian-Kiwi slang, such as calling shopping carts “trolleys.” Another translation was needed late in tonight’s race, as McLaughlin was running third and trying to hold off the charging Sage Karam to stay on the podium.
“My tires are shagged,” McLaughlin said on Twitch during the duel with Karam.
Asked by another participant to define “shagged,” McLaughlin said dryly, “We’re in trouble.”
Karam also had similar troubles during the joust with McLaughlin, describing it with the more conventional, “Jeez, my tires are gone!”
McLaughlin found universal motivation to hold off Karam and James Davison over the closing laps to keep third place to the checkered flag.
“I can smell my dinner downstairs, so I'm getting faster,” McLaughlin said.
Davo the Gentleman
James Davison is known as an all-out, take-no-prisoners driver during his starts in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. But he showed a different side during tonight’s race.
Davison and Sage Karam battled for fourth place when Davison backed off and let Karam pass for the position.
“Don’t worry, Sage, I’m not going to try and get you back,” Davison said to Karam on Twitch, perhaps aware of his aggressive reputation. “Run your line.”
Davison later passed Karam and finished fourth in the No. 53 Dale Coyne Racing with RWR Honda.
Experienced sim racer Sage Karam wasn’t happy about dropping to fifth after dueling with James Davison for fourth late in the race.
He slammed his hands on his steering wheel at the checkered flag, saying: “What a disaster. That was one of the worst races I’ve ever done. It didn’t help that we got punted on the first lap.”
Karam, ever the competitor, rewound the video of the race to the start moments after the checkered, trying to deconstruct what went wrong.
Rite of Passage for McLaughlin
The exit of the final turn (Turn 14) at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve features a concrete wall just a few feet past the curbing. The wall has spared almost no drivers, as competitors ranging from World Champions to backmarkers have either brushed or slammed the “Wall of Champions.”
Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin was baptized by the concrete on Lap 12, slapping the wall with the right side of his No. 3 PPG Chevrolet while running in the top three.
McLaughlin shouldn’t take the mistake too hard. After all, he’s in elite company: World Champions Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve all nailed the same wall during the 1999 Canadian Grand Prix.
Aggro Starts Early
NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers are ultra-competitive whether their strapped into their race cars or their virtual racing sim rigs, so it didn’t take long for some aggravation to start in the first round of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge.
The first pain point happened even before the green flag, when usually mild-mannered Ed Jones of Dale Coyne Racing took exception to a move by one of his rivals during practice, exclaiming, “What a wanker,” while streaming on Twitch. That quick outburst induced laughter from Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske, who also was practicing and streaming on Twitch at the time.
Jones’ displeasure probably continued in the race, as he dropped to 16th in the 18-car field on Lap 1. He rallied to finish 11th in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan Honda.
Champ Car raced at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve from 2002-06, but one competitor tonight in Round 1 of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge thinks the circuit also would be a fun place to race in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
“This place would be pretty cool in real life,” two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden said on Twitch while racing.
Pietro Fittipaldi was a popular driver Thursday night in the No. 52 Dale Coyne Racing with RWR Honda, attracting 5,700 viewers to his Twitch livestream of the race. Fittipaldi is the grandson of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time Formula One World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi … Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske was one of the stars of Season 1 of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge, winning Round 2 at Barber Motorsports Park and Round 6 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. Experienced sim racer McLaughlin, a rookie this season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, opened this year’s three-race series Thursday night in a slick new sim rig that included the exact seating position and throttle reach and position of his Indy car … iRacing requires a lot of seat time to excel, just like racing in real cars. “I’m convinced you need to spend like 10 hours a day doing this to be any good,” two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden said on YouTube during pre-race practice … From the Racers Gotta Race Dept.: McLaughlin said Team Penske teammate Will Power insisted he wasn’t going to commit to much practice time for this series, but McLaughlin said, “Every time I logged on to iRacing, he was online practicing.” … Sim racing may not have the G force or danger of competition in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, but it still requires focus and exertion. McLaughlin was locked in fierce competition during Lap 6 of the race and exclaimed, “I am SWEATING.” … McLaughlin’s dog, Chase, was unimpressed by the action tonight. The dog slept near McLaughlin’s sim rig for most of the race … Nikita Lastochkin had a cool, club vibe in his sim racing room, with purple fluorescent lights casting a unique glow. Lastochkin, who races in Indy Lights, was a substitute for Conor Daly in the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.