Plenty of Intrigue for INDYCAR iRacing Challenge Finale at Sebring

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The final round of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge takes the green flag at virtual Sebring International Raceway at 6:30 p.m. (ET) Thursday, April 1 after NTT INDYCAR SERIES fans voted to see the historic Florida racetrack as the location for the third event of Season 2.

Race fans can watch Thursday night’s action on INDYCAR.com, INDYCAR’s YouTube channel and Facebook page, and iRacing’s YouTube channel.

Here are five things to watch for in Thursday night’s event:

Simon Knows Sebring

2016 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Simon Pagenaud is less than two weeks removed from a real-life run at Sebring in the form of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring IMSA sports car race at the Sebring, Florida, course. Pagenaud raced alongside 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac.

While NTT INDYCAR SERIES athletes know Sebring well, they only know the short, 1.7-mile course used often for testing. Pagenaud, the 2019 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner, has turned ample laps around the challenging 17-turn, 3.74-mile international circuit that will be used in Thursday night’s virtual event.

Pagenaud’s sports car career at Sebring has included four poles (three in American Le Mans Series, one in IMSA) and a best finish of second in the 2020 edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring. He’s led 172 laps of IMSA competition there, too, making him an odds-on favorite to compete for the win Thursday night.

Young Man’s Game

Each race of Season 2 of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge features a driver from the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires INDYCAR ladder system, and the young, rising stars have fared well.

In the season-opener at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Braden Eves came home second behind winner Alex Palou. Last week at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he backed up his run with a fifth-place finish on the 1.5-mile oval.

The strong run against NTT INDYCAR SERIES veterans comes as the 2019 Cooper Tires USF2000 champion rebounds from a serious crash. While competing in an Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires race in September 2020, Eves was involved in an accident that left him with fractures above his right eye and in his neck.

After Eves’ impressive runs, he’ll get another shot this week, this time driving a virtual No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing entry. Benjamin Pedersen will take over the No. 17 RTI entry. Pedersen will get virtual seat time before he makes his Indy Lights debut with Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports.

Wickens Returns

After competing in four races in Season 1 of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge, which saw him score one pole and a best finish of fifth at virtual Twin Ring Motegi, NTT INDYCAR SERIES veteran Robert Wickens is back for Season 2 of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge.

Wickens, who was involved in a serious accident at Pocono Raceway in 2018 that left him with spinal cord injuries but is working to return to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, uses a simulator with hand controls – dual-axis analog paddles and a hydraulic handbrake – to compete in the virtual competition.

The Canadian will drive the No. 6 Chevrolet for Arrow McLaren SP.

Will Dale Coyne Racing with RWR, Fittipaldis Continue Strong Run?

Dale Coyne Racing with RWR, a new collaboration that sees Rick Ware Racing enter the NTT INDYCAR SERIES full time in 2021, is off to a strong start, be it virtual or not.

Dale Coyne Racing with RWR will field the No. 51 car full time in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this season. It will be split between Formula One veteran Romain Grosjean on road and street courses and Pietro Fittipaldi on the ovals.

Grosjean finished 13th at virtual Montreal in the No. 51, while Fittipaldi, the grandson of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi, finished sixth in the No. 52 entry. Last week at Miami, Fittipaldi, 24, handed the keys of the No. 52 to his younger brother, Enzo.

The 19-year-old one-upped is older brother’s run with a third-place finish in Miami, and he’ll hit the track in Sebring Thursday night to try to move further up the finishing order in the season finale alongside teammates Grosjean and James Davison.

Can Palou or Karam go 2-for-3?

Season 1 of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge featured two multi-time winners: Simon Pagenaud scored back-to-back wins at virtual Michigan International Speedway and Twin Ring Motegi, and Scott McLaughlin won at virtual Barber Motorsports Park and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Will the shorter Season 2 also feature multi-time winners? Given the stellar performance of the season’s first two winners, chances are high one of them will repeat.

Alex Palou won Race 1 in Montreal in dominant fashion, leading 29 of 32 laps in the virtual No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. A week later, he grabbed a 10th place finish in Miami. Race 2 winner Karam pre-dated his fuel strategy win, in which he led 12 laps in Miami, with a fifth-place finish in the virtual No. 98 Andretti Autosport entry in Montreal.

If you’re not looking for a repeat winner, four drivers with top-10 finishes in both iRacing events should lead your list of who to watch:

Takuma Sato finished eighth and fourth, respectively in the No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda; Marcus Ericsson finished ninth and seventh, respectively in his No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda; RC Enerson finished seventh and ninth, respectively in the No. 75 Top Gun Racing entry; and Braden Eves finished second and fifth, respectively in the No. 17 Road to Indy entry.

From the fans