Strategy Lifts McLaughlin In IndyCar iRacing Battle

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Strategy Lifts McLaughlin
Scott McLaughlin celebrates with a burnout at the virtual Barber Motorsports Park on Saturday. (Justin Melillo photo)

LEEDS, Ala. – It may have been virtually, but two-time Virgin Australia Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin became an Indy car winner for Team Penske Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park.

Wheeling the No. 2 Shell V-Power Dallara-Chevrolet, McLaughlin converted a gutsy strategy call into victory during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at the 2.38-mile, 16-turn virtual road course.

It marked the second different winner in as many races during the IndyCar iRacing Challenge Series.

The Kiwi pitted one lap before a lap-15 competition caution during Saturday’s race, then came back to pit lane for a second short stop with 14 to go before roaring through the frontrunners in the closing laps.

Though Scott Speed inherited the point on lap 32 when McLaughlin pitted and had nearly an eight-second gap ahead of the No. 2 at that juncture, McLaughlin got up on the wheel and made mincemeat of the deficit in a hurry.

Speed, saving fuel, did all he could to hold McLaughlin at bay – but it was to no avail in the end.

McLaughlin made the decisive pass for the win with six laps left in turn three, motoring past Speed and bringing Team Penske teammate Will Power with him. From there, McLaughlin held Power at bay.

Though Power tried to cut his margin down in the closing stages, McLaughlin ripped off his fastest lap of the race – a 1:06.992 – coming to the white flag and held on by .418 seconds at the twin checkers.

Despite being a veteran of 44 Supercars race wins and more than 170 iRacing road-course victories, McLaughlin still considered Saturday afternoon’s score a big moment for his career.

Scott McLaughlin (2) leads Will Power at the virtual Barber Motorsports Park. (Justin Melillo photo)

“I don’t know if today is a stat, but it’s still really cool,” said a smiling McLaughlin after the finish. “I actually brought in the Indy car engineer that I’ve been working with in the (United) States, Jonathan Diuguid … so I have to give him a lot of credit, because he put me on an awesome strategy. It went better than me doing it myself last week; I was playing with the fuel and trying to remember the numbers as I was driving … so having him made it a bit easier this week.

“It’s 10 (minutes) to six in the morning Sunday in Brisbane, Australia, but we just won against the IndyCar guys and I’ll take that.”

Power did everything he could to snatch the virtual Jostens winner’s ring away from McLaughlin in the closing laps, but had to settle for second with the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara-Chevrolet.

“They got us on a bit of a strategy call, there,” Power admitted afterward. “Scott did a great job.

“There were definitely a few wankers out there,” he added with a chuckle, “but it was still a good day.”

Speed hung on to finish third, with just enough fuel to make it across the line, followed by Indy car rookie Alex Palou and past Indianapolis 500 champion Simon Pagenaud.

Felix Rosenqvist – the third of four drivers to lead Saturday’s race – finished sixth ahead of newly-turned 20-year-old Colton Herta, while Robert Wickens was eighth in his return to competition for the first time since the accident at Pennsylvania’s Pocono Raceway in 2018 that left him with spinal cord injuries.

Reigning Indy car champion Josef Newgarden and Santino Ferrucci filled out the top 10 finishers.

NASCAR Cup Series star Jimmie Johnson finished 12th, improving 10 positions from where he started, in his second virtual race against the best drivers the NTT IndyCar Series has to offer.

The IndyCar iRacing Challenge returns to action on April 11 for round three at its first oval venue of the season, the two-mile Michigan Int’l Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.

Last time Michigan hosted a real-life Indy car race, Tony Kanaan won for Andretti Green Racing in 2007.

The results:

1. 2-Scott McLaughlin [8], 2. 12-Will Power [2], 3. 98-Scott Speed [6], 4. 55-Alex Palou [4], 5. 22-Simon Pagenaud [5], 6. 10-Felix Rosenqvist [3], 7. 88-Colton Herta [12], 8. 6-Robert Wickens [29], 9. 1-josef Newgarden [7], 10. 18-Santino Ferrucci [24], 11. 41-Dalton Kellett [20], 12. 48-Jimmie Johnson [22], 13. 4-Sebastien Bourdais [28], 14. 15-Graham Rahal [10], 15. 7-Oliver Askew [9], 16. 9-Scott Dixon [16], 17. 29-James Hinchcliffe [19], 18. 21-Ed Carpenter [27], 19. 26-Zach Veach [23], 20. 28-Kyle Kirkwood [15], 21. 11-Kyle Kaiser [21], 22. 27-Alexander Rossi [13], 23. 20-Conor Daly [26], 24. 5-Pato O’Ward [17], 25. 8-Marcus Ericsson [14], 26. 14-Tony Kanaan [25], 27. 24-Sage Karam [1], 28. 60-Jack Harvey [18], 29. 59-Felipe Nasr [11].

Lead Changes: Four among four different drivers

Lap Leader(s): Sage Karam 1-24, Felix Rosenqvist 25, Scott McLaughlin 26-31, Scott Speed 32-39, Scott McLaughlin 40-45.

Laps Led: Sage Karam 24, Scott McLaughlin 12, Scott Speed 8, Felix Rosenqvist 1

Caution Flags: One for three laps

Hard Charger: 6-Robert Wickens (+21)

Margin of Victory: .418 seconds

Time of Race: 55 minutes, 44.657 seconds

Average Speed: 115.276 mph

Fastest Lap: 10-Felix Rosenqvist, 1:06.721 (128.415 mph) on lap 25