Photo gallery: The first IndyCar iRacing Challenge in striking images

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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)

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).