Sage Karam seeks another iRacing victory at Barber Motorsports Park

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INDYCAR’s iRacing Challenge continues this weekend as 29 cars and drivers will race at virtual Barber Motorsports Park for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. ET.

The career achievements of the drivers entered in this weekend’s race include 14 total IndyCar championships, five Indy 500 victories, and 189 IndyCar race victories.

Oh, and a few NASCAR and Supercars championships as well with both Jimmie Johnson and Scott McLaughlin racing again this weekend.

ENTRY LIST: Who will be racing in round two

SPOTTER GUIDE: All 29 of this weekend’s paint schemes

Sage Karam will enter Saturday’s race as the most recent winner on the circuit, having won the inaugural race at virtual Watkins Glen last weekend.

An avid sim racer, Karam led 43 of 45 laps en route to his victory last Saturday. Karam is one of IndyCar’s most accomplished iRacing competitors, with 144 wins in 533 road course starts alone.

“As a part-time driver in the NTT IndyCar Series, I needed to be sharp with my reflexes and car control when I wasn’t on track,” Karam said. “I discovered iRacing quite a while back, and I truly believe it has helped me with my racing career. I was more nervous before the Glen race than at the Indy 500.”

Afterward, the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing driver said he was worn out after a “very mentally draining” race even despite his domination.

“In iRacing, we don’t have the fear factor of crashing or wrecking the car,” he said. “But you are racing on the edge with proper steering and pedal pressure as in an Indy car, and you are racing wheel-to-wheel in a competition. And all of the drivers are extremely competitive.

“The Barber track isn’t one of my favorites, but I’ll be ready on Saturday.”

Four new drivers will join Karam and company in this weekend’s event, including Scott Dixon, Jack Harvey, and Ed Carpenter, who is making his first non-oval start since Houston in 2013.

“It has been a long time since I competed in a road race, both the cars and iRacing have changed quite a lot,” Carpenter said. “I am a week late to the party, but hopefully, I will be up to speed enough to give the 21 car a good ride! I know my friends and family are excited to watch me, so no pressure!”

But the driver many fans are most excited to see is Robert Wickens, who will drive a race car of any kind for the first time since suffering a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway on Aug 18. 2018.

Wickens missed last weekend’s race when his equipment did not arrive on time, but is now all set up and ready to race.

“I’m just excited to drive something,” Wickens told reporters Friday. “Last night was the first time I’ve driven any form of race car since the accident at Pocono. Even though it’s virtual, it still felt pretty good.”

Fans will also have another avenue to watch the race on Saturday, as it will be broadcast live on NBCSN.

Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Paul Tracy will call the action as usual, and fans will be in for a few extra treats as Miss Alabama 2019 Tiara Pennington will sing the national anthem and NBA and Auburn University legend Charles Barkley will give the command to fire engines.

The second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge will take place at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and streaming here.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
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Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.