IndyCar iRacing Challenge: What We Learned From Indianapolis

The IndyCar iRacing Challenge has come to an end, and it ended in spectacular fashion. The First Responder 175 presented by GMR brought racing fans to virtual Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon (May 2), and it was about as exciting as the Indy 500. Plus, there was a little controversy to keep people talking.

Scott McLaughlin won his second race of the season, meaning that four of the six IndyCar iRacing Challenge events were won by Team Penske drivers. So what can we take away from that? And what can we glean from the crash-filled conclusion to the race and the entire shebang?

1. Series Regulars Take Another Beating

For those keeping score at home, McLaughlin’s victory meant that majority of IndyCar iRacing Challenge events were won by people who are not full-time series drivers. In fact, only one of the race winners (Sage Karam) has even started a real-world IndyCar race.

That’s incredibly weird to think about, and as we’ve discussed previously, highlights the disparity between real racing and sim racing. Some of the most successful drivers struggled mightily in these six events. And some people who haven’t had the chance yet showed great potential. McLaughlin was supposed to make his debut this year, and based on this sample, he should add some real excitement whenever he gets the chance.

It was also great to see some of the drivers who aren’t gamers pick up the craft and others improve upon it. Graham Rahal, for example, looked wonderful on Saturday before he got punted into the sky. Simon Pagenaud also won two races (so apparently the one thing that does translate between mediums is Team Penske’s domination).

2. The Wonder That is Conor Daly

Can we just give Conor Daly a round of applause? Not only did he place second in the First Responder 175 after all of the crashes, but he’s been the best thing about the entire iRacing experience. Daly’s Twitch stream ended up being a lot more informative and entertaining than the NBC Sports broadcast (which on Saturday included a number of mistakes and a heavy dose of McLaren hype).

They also showed off the great personalities of the INDYCAR field. Whether it was Alexander Rossi‘s deadpan sense of humor, getting to see more of Ed Carpenter‘s lighter side or just getting to hear the other drivers’ reactions during practice and qualifying, Daly’s streams were always incredibly fun.

He wasn’t the only driver streaming these events, and all of them deserve kudos for giving these races a pop that they never had on TV. But streaming with Daly was like going to a house party, albeit one with Ikea chairs and a lot of shenanigans.

3. That Ending… to the Whole IndyCar iRacing Challenge

Everyone has an opinion about the final three laps of the race. They were utter mayhem, with Pagenaud going airborne sideways, Marcus Ericsson getting tapped from behind and Santino Ferrucci turning into Oliver Askew. Even McLaughlin looked bewildered when NBC Sports interviewed him afterward.

This certainly qualifies as one of the craziest endings to a race, virtual or otherwise. It was both surprising and kind of hilarious to watch, since none of these accidents were hurting anyone and the cars were flying about in defiance of modern physics. Ferrucci has apologized for hitting Askew, and everyone can make up their own mind about that and the other incidents, but no one can say the IndyCar iRacing Challenge didn’t leave racing fans with something to talk about.

Given that this is the final event, if nothing else, this controversial ending will keep the league fresh in people’s heads until INDYCAR returns at Texas Motor Speedway in June. To quote Daly in his post-race interview with NBC, “It was quite a day on the internet today.”

If you missed any of Saturday’s race, you can stream it here.

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Why aren’t they doing more races until the season starts?

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