Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin excels despite little sleep in iRacing

Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images

If the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series had begun as planned, Virgin Australia SuperCars champion Scott McLaughlin would be preparing for his IndyCar Series debut with Team Penske. His first IndyCar race was scheduled to be the May 9 GMR IndyCar Grand Prix.

That, of course, won’t happen, at least not on that day.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought an unexpected halt to the start of the season. The IndyCar Grand Prix is now scheduled for July 4 as part of an IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

McLaughlin won’t be able to compete in that event because he is committed to trying to win a third consecutive SuperCars title.

McLaughlin has won an incredible 44 races and back-to-back championships in SuperCars. He remains determined to drive in an IndyCar race for Team Penske this year.

He is also putting in the extra time to help the series during its IndyCar iRacing Challenge – a six-race virtual series on iRacing.

Because the New Zealander lives in Australia, the time difference is dramatic. McLaughlin’s home in Brisbane, Australia is 15 hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone in the United States.

McLaughlin has turned his sleep schedule upside down so that he can participate in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. It paid off in just the second race as McLaughlin won at virtual Barber Motorsports Park last week.

This past Saturday, McLaughlin finished second in the Chevrolet 275 at Michigan International Speedway to Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud.

With three consecutive top fives (a fourth in the opener at Watkins Glen International, McLaughlin unofficially leads the series points standings, which makes the lack of sleep worth it.

“This is my third time getting up at 4, 5 in the morning for the practice races to learn the draft, what it was like with group practices,” said McLaughlin, who has been waking up as early as 2:30 a.m. on race days the past three weeks. “With the fixed setup races, I enjoy it because everybody is in the same boat. You can’t do much about it. It’s all about how you understand the tire, how it heats up, how it goes across the run.

“I guess just a little bit of effort, yeah, sacrificing my sleep, getting around it.

“For me, it’s a lot of hard work. In some ways I’ve really worked hard on my setup and my understanding of the setup in the SuperCar and the tracks. Certainly, haven’t driven a SuperCar in Monza before, so that was good to learn.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Sleeping during the day and staying up all night has been important to McLaughlin. He is learning the characteristics and traits of the drivers he will race one day for real.

“For me to race against the IndyCar guys is even a better treat for me, to learn how everyone races, who is aggressive, who is not aggressive, it’s quite interesting,” McLaughlin said. “I appreciate Team Penske allowing me to jump in the IndyCar Challenge. It’s been fun. I’m taking it on board and learning. I’m learning some tracks I’ve never been to before in real life.

“For instance, Barber last week, Michigan as a speedway, learning the oval side.”

McLaughlin doesn’t know when he will get to make his first real IndyCar start, but he is determined it will be in 2020

“For me right now it’s a wait-and-see type thing,” McLaughlin said. “Obviously the Indy GP is put off. It’s a matter of waiting and seeing what goes on with border controls and travel restrictions, all that sort of stuff.

“It’s all good. I just have to keep doing what I can do. I’m focused on keeping myself fit, making sure I’m ready whenever the call comes. We’ll see how we go.”

He had a spotter in iRacing competition for the first time on Saturday. At times, he found it distracting.

“This is the first time where I’ve actually had a human genuinely telling me where the cars were, the runs,” McLaughlin said. “Getting used to that, the constant talk, how much chatter I wanted was interesting, I really enjoyed it all week.

“I’m glad I did it a few practice races to get used to oval stuff, how hard some people race, how hard some people didn’t.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

McLaughlin was actually involved in the crash heading to the start of the virtual Michigan race, the Chevrolet 275. Because it is sim racing, teams are allowed to make a fast repair to the car, so in the gaming world, McLaughlin’s crash did not take him out of the contest.

“I was able to repair my car and get back out,” he said. “it became a strategy to the end in saving fuel. I think me and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. did very similar strategies all the way to the end, as well as Simon.”

There was concern there would be several virtual “big ones” at MIS. But after the crash at the start of the game, it became more of a duel of strategy.

“In the practice races everyone was crashing, stuff going on everywhere,” McLaughlin said. “When you get into the real thing, unbelievable, everyone was really good. I was in really clean air most of the race. I only raced sort of four or five cars, most of it with the strategy, how it all worked out.

“In the end, we were all trying to save a little bit of fuel there. The conduct was really good. I think everyone is getting use to the Internet racing side of things because it’s not exactly the same in regard to how close you can touch people, all that sort of stuff, pinch people down. It’s getting used to that.

“It gives you a really good feel, I’m sure, of what it’s like in the real-life thing.”

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IndyCar disappointed by delay of video game but aiming to launch at start of 2024

IndyCar video game 2024

An IndyCar executive said there is “absolutely” disappointment that its long-awaited video game recently was delayed beyond its target date, but the series remains optimistic about the new title.

“Well, I don’t know how quick it will be, but the whole situation is important to us,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said during a news conference Monday morning to announce IndyCar’s NTT title sponsorship. “Motorsport Games has spent a lot of money, a lot of effort to create an IndyCar title. What we’ve seen of that effort, which is not completely obvious, is very reassuring.

“I think it’s going to be outstanding. That’s our shared objective, that when it is released, it’s just widely accepted. A great credit both to IndyCar racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, something that our fans love.”

In June 2021, IndyCar announced a new partnership with Motorsport Games to create and distribute an IndyCar video game for the PC and Xbox and PlayStation consoles in 2023.

But during an earnings call last week, Motorsport Games said the IndyCar game had been delayed to 2024 to ensure high quality.

Somewhat compounding the delay is that IndyCar’s license for iRacing expired after the end of the 2022 season because of its exclusive agreement with Motorsport Games.

That’s resulted in significant changes for IndyCar on iRacing, which had provided a high-profile way for the series to stay visible during its 2020 shutdown from the pandemic. (Players still can race an unbranded car but don’t race on current IndyCar tracks, nor can they stream).

That’s helped ratchet up the attention on having a video game outlet for IndyCar.

“I wish we had an IndyCar title 10 years ago,” said Miles, who has been working with the organization since 2013. “We’ve been close, but we’ve had these I think speed bumps.”

IndyCar is hopeful the Motorsports Game edition will be ready at the start of 2024. Miles hinted that beta versions could be unveiled to reporters ahead of the time “to begin to show the progress in a narrow way to make sure we’ve got it right, to test the progress so that we’re ready when they’re ready.”

It’s been nearly 18 years since the release of the most recent IndyCar video game for console or PC.

“(We) better get it right,” Miles said. “It’s something we’re very close to and continue to think about what it is to make sure we get it over the line in due course.”