Sage Karam wins IndyCar iRacing inaugural event at Watkins Glen

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VIRTUAL WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Sage Karam won the opener of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, leading virtually start fo finish at Watkins Glen International.

Karam, who drives a partial schedule for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, started on the pole position and was hardly challenged over the 45-lap event. He yielded the lead (to Will Power) only twice on mandatory pit stops during the caution-free American Red Cross Grand Prix.

“It was nerve-wracking for sure at the end,” Karam, who missed a spin by Kyle Kaiser late in the race to keep the lead, told the IndyCar on NBC booth of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. “It was a lot of fun, and it’s just great we can give the fans something to watch.”

Karam led 43 of 45 laps en route to his 144th victory in 533 road-course starts on iRacing (and 165 win overall).

Felix Rosenqvist of Chip Ganassi Racing was second, followed by Will Power and Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske. Oliver Askew was fifth.

Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden, Santino Ferrucci, Kyle Kirkwood and Conor Daly rounded out the top 10.

WHAT DRIVERS SAID: A roundup of the postrace reaction

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson started 19th and finished two laps down in 16th after a head-on crash with the Armco barrier on Lap 34 (drivers were allowed two resets for damage).

Click here for the full box score from the race at Watkins Glen International.

Some well-known IndyCar drivers had early problems, and some were beyond their control.

The race started one short of its 25-driver field, and James Hinchcliffe explained why via social media (where he spent much of the race chatting with fans on Instagram).

“It was akin to having a throttle stick in pit lane,” Hinchcliffe told the IndyCar on NBC crew. “That was pretty unfortunate.”

Alexander Rossi (17th) fell multiple laps down after a crash with Marcus Ericsson on the second lap. Three of the four Team Penske drivers — Pagenaud, McLaughlin and Newgarden — were involved in a crash with Askew on the sixth lap.

Colton Herta (22nd) and Tony Kanaan (24th) both retired within the first 10 laps after going off course.

The race lost another entrant before the green flag. After a last-ditch effort to prepare his simulation rig, Robert Wickens was foiled when a steering wheel didn’t arrive at his Indianapolis home in time.

During an in-race interview on the stream, Wickens told Diffey that he hopes to be racing next week when the series heads to Barber Motorsports Park.

Simon Pagenaud’s engineer relives 2019 Indy 500 victory on Twitter

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The Team Penske engineer for last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner is reliving Simon Pagenaud’s day by tweeting about what he was doing each moment a year later.

Starting with an observation that he awoke in his Indianapolis hotel room at 4:30 a.m., Ben Bretzman (@benbretzman) sent nearly two dozen tweets by 11 a.m. ET about how the morning before the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 unfolded.

Bretzman was through the infield tunnel and in Gasoline Alley by 6 a.m. By 7:30 a.m., he was wondering if his driver was awake yet, but he had heard for the first time from Pagenaud 45 minutes later.

‘BACK HOME AGAIN’Sunday at 2 p.m. ET, NBC

FIERCE FRIENDSHIPPagenaud, Rossi recall epic battle of 2019 Indy 500

Among other highlights: The team’s last strategy meeting was at 8:30 a.m.; final check of the weather was at 9:30 a.m. and Bretzman gave the No. 22 Dallara-Chevrolet a once-over at 10:35 a.m. before it was pushed to the grid.

Follow @BenBretzman to watch the day unfold from the pit box and tune into “Back Home Again at 2 p.m. ET on NBC as Pageanud and Alexander Rossi, who are good friends off the track, recap their epic duel with host Mike Tirico.

Simon Pagenaud and engineer Ben Bretzman debrief at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IndyCar photo by Joe Skibinski).