IndyCar’s different strokes for different folks in iRacing Challenge

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

When Simon Pagenaud drove to victory in last Saturday’s Chevrolet 275 at virtual Michigan International Speedway in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, the defending Indianapolis 500 winner was in full race gear. That included his Team Penske firesuit and driving shoes.

When five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon started to build his sim rig for the virtual racing series, he wanted to install a beer holder.

For three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, his sim rig is located in his garage in Miami. Because it’s 85 degrees outside, it’s even warmer in Castroneves’ garage. He has been competing in sim racing shirtless and wearing a pair of flip-flops.

The diversity of apparel is indicative of the range of attitude toward virtual racing and how it has replaced real racing during the COVID-19 shutdown.

The fourth race of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge is the Firestone 175 at virtual Twin Ring Motegi (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). New to this week’s field is two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch and three-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves.

“I’m probably the old-timer here,” Castroneves quipped on Friday. “The sim that I’m normally used to was in Mooresville. When it was myself, Josef Newgarden, and 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 race car. It’s very interesting.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Dixon is 39. This is his 20th season of IndyCar Series competition, but his first in sim racing. He admits, he doesn’t really know what to think of the virtual series that has become a phenomenon during the COVID-19 shutdown.

“I ordered my sim with a beer holder,” Dixon said. “I’ve actually had to move past that now because it wasn’t serious enough.

“It’s not really the same (as real racing). The format itself is fun. I think having the accessibility and ease to have that crossover is pretty cool, probably more so for the sponsors.

“The reality of it is very unreal in a lot of ways. I think the racing has been a lot of fun. Yesterday I think Motegi leading into this weekend, the multiple lines, what we’ve seen so far, it’s going to be pretty cool.

“Last week at Michigan, even though I had to watch most of it from my couch, it was pretty cool to watch.”

Dixon admitted it didn’t take long for the competition level to escalate as many IndyCar Series drivers started enlisting their ace engineers to help in iRacing.

“I think anything gets taken to next level,” Dixon said. “You had guys that were just using very simple sims, to now teams using their full-on engineers, strategists, spotters, all that kind of thing.

“It can be fun at a level, then I think we’re very competitive people, and it keeps going and escalating to the next level. It quickly reached that level where it’s extremely competitive.

“I think if you win, it’s probably fun, otherwise it can be probably very frustrating.”

Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Castroneves tries to play it cool in the heat of competition from his garage in Miami.

His sim racing apparel is much different than the racing uniform he wore as a full-time NTT IndyCar Series competitor when he won four poles and two races at the real Twin Ring Motegi in the 2000s.

“I have to say I will try this time to not use sandals,” Castroneves cracked. “I’ll probably put a little bit of shoes to see if I’ll be okay. But I still have to use shorts, sometimes no shirt, because where my sim is right now is in the garage. Right now, it’s 85 degrees in Florida. It’s melting.

“Other than that, I’ll see what happens. Actually, I did some race yesterday, and man they take too much serious. It is like pushing, get out of the way. Let’s see what happens. I will try to have as much fun as possible and hopefully see what happens.”

Castroneves has been a regular competitor in the Legends Series at The Race, which uses a different sim platform than iRacing. The Legends Series includes older and retired drivers from international racing including Formula One and IndyCar.

“I tell you that that has been hilarious,” Castroneves said. “Obviously it’s everyone that’s not very familiar with the virtual world, especially with the sim. To see everyone exchanging messages, trying to figure it out, it’s more fun than actually driving.

“Plus, we are driving a very old car, by the way. The first race was a 1983 or 1975 McLaren, or something like that. It’s really kind of fun. But the most fun actually is the interaction with everyone.

“Again, we just trying to keep ourselves busy, no question. Let’s see what’s happening in the end. Now it’s been very interesting this whole new virtual world that I’m getting myself into it.”

Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images

And then there is 29-year-old two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden. He’s in the middle group of drivers where he isn’t considered old, but he’s not a gamer, either.

“I went through a roller coaster of commitment,” Newgarden recalled. “Didn’t get my sim setup until 24 hours before Watkins Glen (the opening race on March 28).  I crammed in about 12 hours of testing in 24 hours before the race and I did okay.

“Then, I got so excited and serious about it, so for Barber I spent the entire week practicing. I mean, I practiced every day for like eight hours. It was out of control.

“I didn’t have that great of a race, got like three different wrecks for different reasons. I got so angry at the thing, I spent four days off of it, didn’t touch it. Then, I only did a couple days before Michigan.”

Newgarden is seeking moderation in his approach to iRacing. He wants to improve but doesn’t want to become obsessed.

“I think that is when I learned you have to find a balance with this,” Newgarden said. “You have these sim racers that they spend every day on this for hours and hours and hours. I just don’t think you can catch up that quickly, within a couple weeks. You have to try to find a nice middle ground where you’re not losing your life to this simulation, but you’re prepping enough where you can still have fun in the race.

“The ovals have been better for that. At Motegi you haven’t had to do as much practice. It’s not as technical as a road course where the sim is very specific on how you can drive it, what you can get away with on the tires. It’s just a lot easier to learn that on the oval on the sim. I think you’ve had to spend less time. I found that middle ground where you can put a lot of practice in and be competitive.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Seattle: Cooper Webb, Eli Tomac overtake Chase Sexton


Another crash while leading at Seattle dropped Chase Sexton from the top of the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings while solid performances by Cooper Webb and Eli Tomac allow them to climb the chart and threaten to make this a two-rider battle with six rounds remaining in the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross season.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Seattle
Cooper Webb wags his finger at Chase Sexton after winning his heat in Seattle. – Feld Motor Sports

During the race, Webb knew he had ground to make up. Riding behind both Tomac and Sexton early in the Main, he was as far back as fifth on Lap 7 at Seattle. That position would cost him the red plate and give away the advantage he began to build with his first win of the season in Tampa. Sexton is often at his best as he battles from the back and he methodically worked his way through the field. At the end of the feature, he was nearly five seconds off Tomac’s pace, but during the past 45 days, he holds the advantage. A resurgent Tomac that could erase that advantage quickly though.

Tomac struggled in Indianapolis with a neck strain. That contributed to his worst performance of 2023 and his second result outside the top five. He finished third in Detroit two weeks ago, but it was a distant third after finishing off the podium in his heat during that round. In Seattle, it appeared the same thing might happen when Tomac finished third in the prelim behind his two principal competitors Webb and Sexton. The Main was a different story.

Tomac dropped to fourth in the opening laps behind both of his rivals early in the race, but he got around Webb on Lap 2 and kept charging. When Sexton fell to the ground on Lap 11 and dropped to fourth, Tomac was in position to strike. He scored his sixth win of the season to tie James Stewart for second on the all-time wins list. He now shares the red plate with Webb as the rounds wind down.

MORE: Eli Tomac gets rebound win in Seattle

Sexton has the speed, but he lacks the seasoning of Webb and Tomac. He’s pressing hard on every lap and that has bitten him several times this year. Sexton’s mistakes are costing him with a 10th-place finish at Indy, the loss of seven points at Detroit and a fifth in Seattle as the riders he’s battling stood on the podium. No one seriously questions Sexton’s talent or speed, but ultimately the results are what counts.

Justin Barcia is hitting his stride. He advances two positions this week after scoring his fourth consecutive top-five and second podium in that span of races. Barcia finished between sixth and eighth in five consecutive rounds from Anaheim 2 through Arlington, but he’s mostly avoided controversy and that puts him fourth in this week’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Seattle.

Jason Anderson had a solid performance in Seattle, but with a fifth-place finish in his heat and fourth in the Main he just keeps losing a little ground to the leaders. The biggest impact to his standing in the NBC Power Rankings is a 10th-place finish in Indianapolis that will take a while to age out of the 45-day formula. He’s tied for fourth in the championship points with Ken Roczen, who sits sixth in the rankings below. It’s important to be the rider “best in class” with Webb, Tomac and Sexton stealing the show.

450 Rankings

Rider Power
1. Cooper Webb 87.77 2 1
2. Eli Tomac 86.23 3 1
3. Chase Sexton 85.77 1 -2
4. Justin Barcia 80.71 6 2
5. Jason Anderson 80.69 4 -1
6. Ken Roczen 80.46 5 -1
7. Aaron Plessinger 75.86 7 0
8. Adam Cianciarulo 71.13 8 0
9. Christian Craig 69.86 9 0
10. Justin Cooper 62.88 10 0
11. Justin Hill 59.86 11 0
12. Dean Wilson 52.86 12 0
13. Josh Hill 49.00 15 2
14. Colt Nichols 48.67 13 -1
15. Shane McElrath 45.62 14 -1
16. Benny Bloss 43.00 16 0
17. Grant Harlan 38.08 20 3
18. Max Miller 37.67 24 6
19. Lane Shaw 36.67 21 2
20. Cade Clason 34.67 19 -1

Supercross 450 Points

The 250 West riders were back in action in Seattle and that gave Jett Lawrence the opportunity to break out of a tie with his brother Hunter Lawrence on the all-time wins list. It also provided Jett the opportunity to take back the top spot in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Seattle.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Seattle
Jett Lawrence regained the top spot overall in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings with a near-perfect race in Seattle. – Feld Motor Sports

Jett has stood on the podium in every race this year with the exception of the second Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2 and that level of perfection gives him bragging rights. Rest assured that while the two brothers have a bond that is unapparelled in motorsports, there is no one they would rather beat. Neither has been particularly successful in Triple Crown rounds this year, however, and Jett could lose his advantage in two weeks in Glendale, Arizona under that format.

Lawrence is now two wins away from capturing the fourth-most wins at this level.

A rivalry is developing between Lawrence and Cameron McAdoo. Tired of losing to the affable Australian, McAdoo pushed the envelope last week in Seattle. He crowded Lawrence in the whoops during their heat race and sent both to the ground. That frustration could bubble over with four rounds remaining. One thing is certain, when these two riders are in proximity on the track, the cameras will be aimed in their direction.

Supercross 250 Points

A little means a lot this season. Finishing second to Lawrence in four of five rounds, RJ Hampshire would be losing ground to the leader no matter what, but an 11th-place finish in the overall at Anaheim 2 places him eighth on the chart below behind two of the 250 West riders and five 250 East competitors.

In the mains, Levi Kitchen has been all over the board with a win, one more top-five, two results on the high side of the single digits and a crash-induced 21st at San Diego. He’s really shown his speed in the heats, however, with a perfect record of top-fives and a win.

Mitchell Oldenburg makes the top five list among West riders with a perfect record of top-10 finishes. He’s heading in the wrong direction, however, falling from ninth overall to 11th after finishing outside the top five in both his heat and the Main last week.

250 Rankings

Rider Power
1. Jett Lawrence – W 90.75 2 1
2. Hunter Lawrence – E 90.43 1 -1
3. Nate Thrasher – E 84.00 3 0
4. Cameron McAdoo – W 80.50 4 0
5. Haiden Deegan – E 78.21 5 0
6. Jeremy Martin – E 78.00 6 0
7. Jordon Smith – E 76.77 7 0
8. RJ Hampshire – W 76.75 10 2
9. Levi Kitchen – W 76.67 8 -1
10. Max Anstie – E 74.43 11 1
11. Mitchell Oldenburg – W 73.67 9 -2
12. Max Vohland – W 72.55 13 1
13. Tom Vialle – E 72.07 12 -1
14. Pierce Brown – W 68.64 19 5
15. Enzo Lopes – W 67.83 17 2
16. Chris Blose – E 67.43 15 -1
17. Chance Hymas – E 67.10 16 -1
18. Michael Mosiman – E 65.80 18 0
19. Stilez Robertson – W 64.45 14 -5
20. Phil Nicoletti – W 59.25 20 0

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days for the 450 class and last 90 days for 250s (because of the split nature of their season).

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 10 AT SEATTLE: Chase Sexton narrowly leads Cooper Webb
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 7 AT ARLINGTON: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 6 AT OAKLAND: Perfect night keeps Tomac first
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 4 AT HOUSTON: Tomac rebounds from A2 crash, retakes lead
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Roczen moves up, Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage