IndyCar iRacing newcomers Castroneves, Dixon preview Motegi

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IndyCar’s iRacing Challenge continues this Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) with its largest field to date.

Thirty-three cars and drivers are entered in this weekend’s virtual race at Twin Ring Motegi, highlighted by the addition of defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch.

Also joining Busch are former Indy 500 winners Takuma Sato and Helio Castroneves, both of whom are making their first starts in the virtual series.

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In real life, Castroneves is a two-time winner at Motegi, having taken the checkered flag in the 2006 and 2010 editions of the Indy Japan 300.

Despite not being as experienced with virtual racing as some of his competitors, Castroneves looks forward to this weekend’s 113-lap race.

“This opportunity for me is very unique. I’m probably the old-timer here,” Castroneves said during Friday’s IndyCar conference call. “For me to join, the sim that I’m normally used to go was in Charlotte. However when it was myself, Josef, Will, Simon, they were so much faster than me. I wasn’t very much into video games.

“In this situation, I’m excited because we’re not doing anything, so why not try something? Hopefully, the oval is still challenging, don’t get me wrong, but it looks like I’m hustling just like a racecar. Very interesting.”

Scott Dixon is also a two-time winner at Motegi, having won in 2009 and 2011 (though his final victory took place on the track’s 2.983-mile road course as the oval was damaged in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake).

Like Castroneves, Dixon is still learning the ropes of virtual racing. The five-time champion finished 16th in his iRacing Challenge debut at Barber two weeks ago and finished 30th last week in Michigan after being involved in a massive crash at the start of the race.

“Hopefully I’ll make it past the start line this week. Last week was pretty rough,” Dixon said. “So was Alabama. Some of these teams have taken it next level.

“It’s tough. It’s really challenging. I think definitely put into perspective being at home with kids E-learning, then trying to get on a simulator throughout the day when you can, try and keep up the normal training levels that we try to once we get back to proper racing, has been interesting.”

Despite the rough start, Dixon said that he’s still enjoyed the iRacing experience so far.

I’ve found it a lot of fun,” Dixon said. “It’s been a little bit frustrating in some ways because you’re trying to get up to speed and catch up as quickly as possible. Some people have been racing on these things for more than 10 years. Kudos to the IndyCar Series for bringing us online, iRacing as well.”

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994