WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Dreyer and Reinbold Racing’s Sage Karam used a dominant drive from start to finish to control Saturday’s American Red Cross Grand Prix from the virtual Watkins Glen Int’l.
In the familiar Wix Filters No. 24, Karam qualified on the pole position and never looked back after that, only ceding the top spot during his two pit stops in the first race of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge Series.
All told, the 25-year-old from Nazareth, Pa., led 43 of the 45 laps around the 3.40-mile, 11-turn WGI full course en route to his first Indy car win – albeit virtually, so it won’t count in the official record books.
Despite that fact, Karam was still pleased with his drive and appreciative of the platform put on by the NTT IndyCar Series and iRacing for the drivers and fans amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
“Man, I wish this win was the real thing, but you know, I’ll take this for now,” said Karam after the race. “Hopefully this can lead to something. I just really hope the fans enjoyed it and the sponsors are happy about it and it was a good show, because we had a lot of fun with it and I’m already excited and ready to go for the next one.
“It was a dominant performance, for sure,” he added. “I’m happy that I got the win for Wix and Dreyer and Reinbold Racing; the car looks pretty good up front. Hopefully when we get back to real racing we can replicate what we did today.”
Karam’s day started with a perfect jump at the green flag, and once he got to the top spot in turn one it was lights out for the remainder of the field after that.
Only at laps 16 and 32, when he ducked down pit lane for service to his virtual Dallara, was Karam not at the head of the field. Both of those times, it was Team Penske’s Will Power who took over the lead.
The only nervous moment all day long for Karam was when he narrowly avoided a spinning Kyle Kirkwood, but Karam kept his cool and kept his car clean through the smoke as he darted away.
“That was nerve-wracking, for sure,” said Karam of the incident. “It was a little too close for comfort, what you’d call a ‘Code Brown’ moment, because I didn’t know which way he was going to go when he started spinning. I had to rely on some quick instincts, and I picked (to go) left and thankfully it was the right choice.”
Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist, representing Chip Ganassi Racing, spent most of the day chasing Karam and shaved his deficit down underneath three seconds a couple of times inside the final five laps.
However, Rosenqvist couldn’t get close enough in traffic to challenge Karam and had to settle for second in the virtual No. 10 NTT Data Dallara.
“That was a long race, but good fun. It was hard to catch Sage; I think it was a deserved win for him,” noted Rosenqvist. “I tried to use some of the lap cars to try and get to him, but he seemed to get through the traffic better and had the race in control.
“I think he just had a little something more than I had in this one, but we’ll try again in the next one.”
Power completed the podium, ahead of teammate and two-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin and rookie Oliver Askew, who finished fifth representing Arrow McLaren SP.
Defending Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, defending series champion Josef Newgarden, Santino Ferrucci, Indy Lights talent Kyle Kirkwood and Conor Daly made up the balance of the top 10 finishers.
In his first appearance against the Indy car field at large, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson came home 16th after several second-half incidents. He ran as high as 13th in the race.
Popular Canadian James Hinchcliffe, after being scheduled to compete, was unable to start the race due to technical difficulties. He was scored last in the 25-car starting field.
Round two of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge Series will take place Saturday, April 4 at 4 p.m. ET from the virtual Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Ala.
1. Sage Karam, 2. Felix Rosenqvist, 3. Will Power, 4. Scott McLaughlin, 5. Oliver Askew, 6. Simon Pagenaud, 7. Josef Newgarden, 8. Santino Ferrucci, 9. Kyle Kirkwood, 10. Conor Daly, 11. Dalton Kellett, 12. Kyle Kaiser, 13. Patricio O’Ward, 14. Graham Rahal, 15. Felipe Nasr, 16. Jimmie Johnson, 17. Alexander Rossi, 18. Marcus Ericsson, 19. Zach Veach, 20. Alex Palou, 21. Scott Speed, 22. Colton Herta, 23. Sebastien Bourdais, 24. Tony Kanaan, 25. James Hinchcliffe.
Lead Changes: Four between two drivers
Lap Leaders: Sage Karam 1-15, Will Power 16, Sage Karam 17-31, Will Power 32, Sage Karam 33-45.
Laps Led: Sage Karam 43, Will Power 2.
Caution Flags: None for 0 laps.
Average Speed: 139.430 mph
Fastest Lap: #12 – Will Power, 1:25.623 (142.952 mph)