Photo gallery: The first IndyCar iRacing Challenge in striking images


VIRTUAL WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — OK, let’s start with the full disclosure that this is assuredly not the real thing.

There was a field of 24 real-world drivers, but everything else about Saturday’s opener of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge was virtual. Sage Karam started on the pole position and stomped the field at Watkins Glen International (which had been chosen by fans in online polling).

The six-race virtual series will move to Barber Motorsports Park for an April 4 race that will take place the day before the real-world race had been scheduled — before novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic erupted and scuttled the 2020 schedule.

WHAT DRIVERS SAID: A roundup of the postrace reaction

RESULTS: Where everyone finished

But even though there was nothing real about the 45-lap online event conducted Saturday on the 11-turn, 3.37-mile road course, the images from the race evoked the feelings of a pleasant Saturday drive at the bucolic track in western New York (thanks to iRacing’s realistic details through laser-mapping tracks).

Here’s a collection of computer-generated images (courtesy of Chris Graythen at Getty Images) that were provided by IndyCar as part of its race recap:

Race winner Sage Karam leads the field into the first turn at virtual Watkins Glen International (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).


Karam’s No. 24 Wix Filters Dallara-Chevrolet takes the green flag in the American Red Cross Grand Prix at virtual Watkins Glen International (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).


Will Power finished third in his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet for Team Penske in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge American Red Cross Grand Prix at virtual Watkins Glen International (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).


Oliver Askew races his No. 7 Arrow Electronics Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet through a turn at Watkins Glen International, which is known for its elevation changes (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).


Alexander Rossi’s No. 27 AutoNation Dallara-Honda looked pretty in pink alongside Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet  (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).


Indianapolis 500 defending winner Simon Pagenaud’s bright yellow No. 22 Menards Dallara-Chevrolet flashes past the grandstands during the IndyCar iRacing Challenge American Red Cross Grand Prix at virtual Watkins Glen International (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).


Defending series champion Josef Newgarden leads a group of cars in his No. 1 Hitachi Dallara-Chevrolet (sporting the new aeroscreen for the 2020 season) during the IndyCar iRacing Challenge American Red Cross Grand Prix at virtual Watkins Glen International (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).


Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson finished 16th in his IndyCar “debut” Saturday at virtual Watkins Glen International (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)


As seen through a thicket of virtual trees, Graham Rahal races his No. 15 United Rentals Dallara-Honda during the IndyCar iRacing Challenge American Red Cross Grand Prix at virtual Watkins Glen International (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”