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.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E

Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

More: Extreme E 2023 schedule

Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.