IndyCar drivers admit to thinking before speaking in virtual racing

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

In this COVID-19 pandemic world of virtual racing, more drivers have had negative impacts on their careers than they would have probably experienced in real-world racing.

NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace was dropped by sponsor Blu-Emu for “rage quitting” during a virtual race at Bristol Motor Speedway two weeks ago. Kyle Larson was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing after an ugly racial slur in an off-hand comment was easily heard on broadcast streams of another iRacing contest last Sunday night.

So far, NTT IndyCar Series drivers have avoided controversy in the first three races of the six-race IndyCar iRacing Series.

The fourth race of the series is the Firestone 175 at virtual Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. NASCAR’s Kyle Busch will be included in that contest. It also marks the return of three-time Indianapolis 500 winning driver and longtime NTT IndyCar Series star Helio Castroneves.

The race is scheduled for Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time and will be televised on NBCSN.

Driver comments make the races interesting to the viewers. It’s one thing that sets auto racing apart from other sports leagues. The participants can be heard in the middle of the competition.

Driver Scott Dixon — Getty Images

Scott Dixon drives for Chip Ganassi Racing in IndyCar. His NASCAR teammate was Larson before he lost his ride earlier in the week for his unfortunate comment. Larson remains suspended by NASCAR.

Team owner Ganassi has notified his drivers to watch what they way in the virtual racing world.

“I did get a text from him that said, ‘Just lay low.’” Dixon said Friday.

Dixon is hoping that over time, Larson can recover from this incident and return to big-time racing. Larson has the support of the World of Outlaws, that says he can compete in that series once he completes a racial sensitivity training program within the next 30 days.

“Every situation is extremely different,” Dixon said. “I’ve known Kyle (for a long time). He used to come to the month of May and watch us practice probably 10 plus years ago. He’s been a fantastic teammate all through the stuff that we did with Target back in the earlier days.

“It’s a bad situation for everybody involved. I think because of the current situation that we’re in, it’s going to be different from anything else we’ve seen before, too. Obviously, I think for the team and for Kyle, even to see some of the comments from Joey Logano, Bubba Wallace, you can see different sides from everybody’s view of it.

“Personally, he’s a really nice guy. It was in a situation that I didn’t see it firsthand or anything like that, but I hope for his sake that it can work itself out.”

Castroneves is one of the more colorful personalities in racing. But he also knows people are listening and drivers need to be careful what they say in the heat of competition.

“We are drivers, we get frustrated, we want to be competitive,” Castroneves said. “Sometimes you got to remember that a lot more people are watching, they can hear everything, your thoughts basically.

“Normally you’re thinking something in the helmet, but nobody can hear it. In this position, in this situation right now we all are followed.

“It’s a tough situation. You got to remember that you represent still a company, a team, mechanics, a lot of guys, sponsors around you. Unfortunately, sometimes your mind is thinking something, but people are listening.”

And people are watching. The ratings for the first three races have been impressive considering all live professional sports with the exception of horse racing have been shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Sim racing has been around for a while, but many sports fans are discovering it for the first time. IndyCar Series owner Roger Penske is impressed with the metrics and fan engagement in sim racing. Penske believes there is a place for it once real-world racing resumes.

“Without a doubt, there’s been some positives from this sim racing,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden said. “I think what they’re proposing in reality as we go back to the real world is quite exciting. I think we’re all pretty excited and confident that Roger is leading that charge. He is probably the best person positioned to get something like that done.”

Newgarden also sees virtual racing as a tremendous opportunity to try out new things before applying it to the real world.

“Actually, a lot of it’s not going to translate to reality,” Newgarden said. “The preparation and work that we do going into a real IndyCar season or a real IndyCar race, that’s all going to have to stay the same and is going to be something different.

“One of the positives is it is a good testbed for running through strategy. If you’re able to have your engineer or strategists on the microphone or the headset with you, it provides a good opportunity to run through those scenarios. I think that is very applicable to the real world.

“At the moment I’m just enjoying it for what it is. It’s very fun and competitive. It’s frustrating but it’s fun and competitive to be a part of. If anything, I’m just excited to get back to reality because I know what we put into that environment and what it takes. I enjoy that a lot more.

“We’ll enjoy this for the meantime, but the reality is going to be better.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 


IndyCar releases schedule for 2023 season

IndyCar schedule 2023
Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NTT IndyCar Series’ 2023 schedule will feature the same number of races and tracks as this season with some minor reshuffling of dates.

IndyCar will open the 2023 season March 5 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and will conclude Sept. 10 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. The 107th Indy 500 will take place May 28 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 17-race schedule will conclude with a stretch of eight races in the final nine weeks.

“The NTT IndyCar Series is on an impactful upward trajectory, making progress at a pace that befits our thrilling style of competition,” Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO Mark Miles said in a release. “The 2023 season provides an opportunity to further build on this trend, bringing our sport and its stars to more markets and households and reaching new consumers across the globe.”

There will be 15 events on NBC: 13 races (including six of the final seven) plus Indy 500 qualifying May 20-21. There also are three races on USA Network and the Toronto race exclusively on Peacock. All races on NBC and USA also will have live simulstreams on Peacock.

In partnership with NBC Sports, the 2022 IndyCar season was the most-watched in six years and the most-watched across NBC Sports on record. The 2022 season also was the most streamed season on record.

“We’re very excited for our 2023 NTT IndyCar Series schedule and to build on this past season’s viewership milestones,” NBC Sports vice president of programming Mike Perman said in a release. “In providing comprehensive coverage across NBC, Peacock and USA Network, NBC Sports is once again looking forward to telling the stories of these world-class drivers and this compelling series.”

Notable elements on the 2023 schedule:

–There will be the same balance of seven road course races, five street courses and five ovals.

–St. Pete will be the season opener for the 13th time.

–The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix will move from Belle Isle to the streets of downtown.

–The NASCAR doubleheader weekend at the IMS road course will shift to mid-August.

–The World Wide Technology Raceway event will move from Saturday to Sunday.

Start times for the 2023 events will be announced at a later date.

Here’s the 2023 IndyCar schedule:

Date Race/Track Network/Platform
Sun., March 5 Streets of St. Petersburg NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 2 Texas Motor Speedway NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 16 Streets of Long Beach NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 30 Barber Motorsports Park NBC, Peacock
Sat., May 13 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) NBC, Peacock
Sun., May 28 The 107th Indianapolis 500 NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 4 Streets of Detroit NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 18 Road America USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 2 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 16 Streets of Toronto Peacock
Sat., July 22 Iowa Speedway – Race 1 NBC, Peacock
Sun., July 23 Iowa Speedway – Race 2 NBC, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 6 Streets of Nashville NBC, Peacock
Sat., Aug. 12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) USA Network, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 27 World Wide Technology Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 3 Portland International Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 10 WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca NBC, Peacock

*dates and networks/platforms are subject to change