VIRTURAL LEEDS, Alabama – Scott Speed has never been afraid to follow a different path.
Groomed to be a Formula One driver through Red Bull’s “American in F1” program in the early 2000s, Speed made it to the World Championship in 2006. He was the first American driver in Formula One since Michael Andretti in 1993.
Twenty-eight races later, Speed was replaced midseason in 2007 by Sebastien Vettel, who would win four consecutive championships.
Speed, unafraid to try something different, returned to the United States and joined NASCAR. He competed for Red Bull, Whitney Motorsports and Leavine Family Racing in the Sprint Cup Series.
He then took another path and join Andretti Autosport in Global Rallycross, winning the championship in 2015, ’16 and ’17.
In 2019, Speed joined the Americas Rallycross Championship with Subaru Rally Team USA. He fractured a vertebra in a crash in the Nitro World Games in August 2019 and missed the remainder of the season.
Back in 2011, though, Speed joined Dragon Racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 100thAnniversary of the Indianapolis 500.
He didn’t enjoy the ride, at all.
Speed struggled to get the car up to speed. Patrick Carpentier replaced Speed on the final day of qualifications. When Speed was packing up his gear, Carpentier crashed the car in practice.
Speed never attempted to drive another Indy car again — at least a real Indy car.
In the virtual world, however, Speed is back on the IndyCar grid, driving the No. 98 Andretti Autosport Honda in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. The avid iRacer has been impressive in the first two races of the six-race series.
In Saturday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Speed raced at the front, including leading eight laps before yielding to winner yielding to winner Scott McLaughlin as Speed’s fuel-mileage gambit didn’t quite work.
Speed finished third behind the Team Penske duo of McLaughlin and Will Power.
“We had already kind of planned that we were going to save fuel and stop under the yellow,” Speed explained. “It threw us for a wild card when we got crashed at the beginning of the race. We were in the back of the field. We tried to throw a ‘Hail Mary.’
“I had my engineers back home in Indianapolis at Andretti working with the fuel numbers, checking my fuel every lap, doing quick calculations. It was really just a matter of making sure I got to the finish line.
“When I saw those guys, no way I’m going to hold those guys off, try to lose as little time as possible, try to bring it home for a podium.”
Because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, iRacing has given race drivers throughout the world a chance to compete in the virtual world.
Some drivers, such as Sage Karam of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, and Speed are making the most of it. Karam won last Sunday’s eSports contest at Watkins Glen International and Speed had returned to prominence in the first two races.
But Speed has no illusions of parlaying his return to fame into a ride in the real NTT IndyCar Series.
“I don’t think it’s ever been anything for me honestly,” Speed said after Saturday’s contest. “For me, open-wheel stuff, it’s great. For IndyCar, the danger of an oval has never felt worth it to me for whatever reason. Like that’s for sure a wash, I’d never do it.
“I’ll do the virtual one where I know I’m going to survive at the end of it.”
Speed isn’t the first IndyCar driver to say he doesn’t enjoy the risk of high-speed oval racing. He’s not afraid to admit it scares him. Mike Conway admitted that in 2013. Max Chilton quit oval racing after the 2018 season.
Both Conway and Speed continued in IndyCar with a street and road course schedule.
Would Speed be interested in that type of schedule?
“Man, I think right now my focus is more on trying to do stage rally to be honest,” Speed told NBCSports.com. “I’ve done open wheel. I think I have done it at a pretty high level. When I went to NASCAR, what I loved most was learning a new sport and a new driving style. I’ve really enjoyed that process again with Rallycross. I think I’m more inclined and interested in trying new things.
“For me honestly the next thing on my sort of horizon is to eventually try stage rally. It’s different than the Rallycross I’m racing currently.”