Photo gallery: IndyCar iRacing at Michigan International Speedway

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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VIRTUAL BROOKLYN, Mich. — The IndyCar NTT Series made its return to Michigan International Speedway virtually Saturday, but there was plenty of real action from the waving of the green flag in the Chevrolet 275.

Several cars went airborne during a multicar pileup on the opening lap of the third round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. It resulted in some striking images and five laps of caution that greatly affected the remainder of the 85-lap race.

With officials keeping the race caution-free, the strategy played into the hands of Simon Pagenaud and his No. 22 Chevrolet, which led the final four laps to win over teammate Scott McLaughlin. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third in his IndyCar iRacing Challenge debut.

RESULTS: Where everyone finished at Michigan

WHAT DRIVERS SAID: Postrace reactions Saturday

Courtesy of Getty Images’ Chris Graythen, here are a collection of screenshots from the 2-mile oval nestled in the Irish Hills of Michigan:

Scott McLaughlin, who finished second Saturday, crashed on the opening lap along with Oliver Askew (No. 7) and several others (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. overcame early contact to finish third in his No. 3 Chevrolet (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

 

Marcus Ericsson started on the pole position in his No. 8 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

 

Simon Pagenaud takes the checkered flag in his No. 22 Chevrolet to win the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at virtual Michigan International Speedway (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

 

Sage Karam’s No. 24 Chevrolet led a race-high 49 of 85 laps but finished 14th because of a late pit stop for fuel (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

 

The No. 27 Honda of 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi finished seventh, Rossi’s first top 10 in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

 

Zach Veach’s No. 26 Honda was leading with five laps remaining before a pit stop for fuel at virtual Michigan International Speedway (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

 

The field zooms down the backstretch at virtual Michigan International Speedway (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

 

The frontstretch during the Chevrolet 275 at virtual Michigan International Speedway (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

 

A panoramic of virtual Michigan International Speedway as cars head into Turn 1 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

 

Crossing the finish line, Simon Pagenaud’s No. 22 Chevy is listed as No. 1 on the scoreboard between the suites and press box/scoring tower at virtual Michigan International Speedway (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds