RPW Column By: JOHN DOUGLAS / RPW – After postponing the month of May activities at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to August, it was announced that IndyCar and iRacing were to form a virtual series on the iRacing platform to offer some racing entertainment to fans who haven’t had much in the way of live sports to consume since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Sage Karam became the first winner of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge on Saturday at Watkins Glen International in the 45 lap American Red Cross Grand Prix.
“I think it was great. I think the guys committed pretty well to this this week.” Karam said, “We had practice runs every day, all week. I’m surprised the guys put in the amount of time they did. It was just a lot of fun and it’s just great that we can give the fans something to watch.”
Watch they did. Over 35,000 people tuned into to IndyCar’s You Tube channel for the event, with even more viewing on IndyCar.com itself. To call round one of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge a success is an understatement. The growth of eSports during the pandemic has been very quick.
Multiple racing sanctions are working with iRacing to provide content for race fans, with IndyCar being one of the most prominent.
Five more events are scheduled for the virtual series, including next week’s event at Barber Motorsports Park, with real-world IndyCar drivers, special guest racers and the very same NBC broadcast booth fans of the series have been watching on their TV’s for years. The familiarity coupled with the realism of the simulation gives fans the very next best thing to viewing an actual race.
Felix Rosenqvist, driver for Chip Ganassi Racing and runner-up in the American Red Cross G.P. was very pleased with his finish, saying. “That was a long and sweaty race. Good fun, good fun. It was hard to catch Sage. I think that was a very deserved win. I tried to take advantage of some lapping but he always seemed to get through the traffic better. So yeah, runner-up it is.”
One hopeful participant was unfortunately forced to sit out the first round of the virtual IndyCar mini-series. Robert Wickens. Wickens was injured in a horrific accident at Pocono Raceway in 2018. After over a year of rehabilitation, Wickens had planned to race using a simulator wheel with built in hand controls for throttle and braking. Unfortunately the equipment he needed to participate did not show up in time to compete at Watkins Glen on Saturday.
Wickens remains hopeful that he will compete in the remaining events scheduled on the iRacing service in the weeks to come.
“We were so close. Everyone worked their butts off to get everything done for me to get on this race today but unfortunately, couriers, we’re at their discretion and it got held up in Louisville, KY and the steering wheel didn’t make it in time.”
Wickens added that he’s got his equipment set to arrive this week so he can participate in the Barber Motorsports Park event.
“This iRacing stuff’s not easy. Wickens added, “I’d like to consider myself a pretty good sim racer but I’ve never done it with just my hands so that’s going to take a lot of practice.”
The next event in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Barber Motorsports Park takes place April, 4th at 4pm eastern time on indycar.com and IndyCar’s You Tube channel.