IndyCar drivers get real-world lessons with virtual iRacing crashes

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VIRTUAL MOTEGI, Japan — There will come a day when real world racing returns and drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series apply their techniques to the real race car. But when that day arrives, hopefully soon, iRacing could continue to play a key role as a valuable learning tool.

The best example is from Saturday’s Firestone 175, the fourth race of IndyCar’s iRacing Challenge at virtual Twin Ring Motegi.

The high-speed oval was last used by the NTT IndyCar Series in 2010. The last IndyCar race at Motegi was held on the road course in 2011 because the oval was damaged from an earthquake that created the huge Tsunami that devastated much of the coast of Japan. During that earthquake, a nuclear powerplant was damaged at Fukushima, leaking radiation into the area.

RESULTS: Click here to see where everyone finished at Twin Ring Motegi

WHAT DRIVERS SAID: Postrace reaction from Motegi

Saturday’s Firestone 175 on the virtual oval was a tremendous reminder of how fast and how tricky the oval was at Motegi. In many ways, it’s similar to NASCAR’s Darlington Raceway because Turns 1 and two have a completely different radius than Turns 3 and 4. making it egg-shaped.

During Saturday’s race, rookie Oliver Askew was involved in multiple incidents with veteran drivers. The 23-year-old from Jupiter, Florida, is in his rookie season in IndyCar and is the reigning Indy Lights Series champion.

The only two oval races on the Indy Lights schedule in 2019 were the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and at Gateway. Askew won both last year, including a win from the pole at Gateway.

Saturday’s virtual race was the first time Askew raced against IndyCar competition on a high-banked oval.

Will Power — Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Team Penske driver Will Power sent the Arrow McLaren Racing SP rookie a rather snarky text message afterward. Askew was part of Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin’s virtual crash and also had an incident with Power, damaging his car.

Because this was iRacing, however, there were no real-world consequences, other than some red-hot tempers.

I had three of the clapping signs with a little sign like this,” Power said, using the “OK” sign sarcastically, in describing the text he sent Askew. “’Took out the two leaders with a few laps to go. Huge lack of respect for the drivers who worked hard to be there racing for the win at the end, which you will be at some point.’

“That’s what I sent to Askew.”

Askew later apologized for the crash on Twitter.


The beauty of virtual racing is nobody gets hurt in a spectacular crash. If that had happened in a real race, however, the incidents could have had huge consequences.

That is why the iRacing platform can be used as a teaching tool for younger drivers in the series to learn what they can do and can’t do on a race track in an actual race.

“It is a great tool for those young guys to understand how you should race a superspeedway, sort of respect, you’re supposed to hold your lane, not weaving around,” Power said in response to a question from NBCSports.com. “The fact that came to me is you do get called out if you’re driving like an idiot and other people comment on it. You get pulled back straight into line. I thought that was a really good thing.

“What I think is great about this is I just noticed when we’re racing in Michigan last weekend, which is kind of a pack race, if you were driving like an idiot, you would be called out. Like we all hear each other’s radios. You can talk to each other. It actually brought people into line. People slowly gained more respect. I thought that was really interesting.

“I kind of thought it would be interesting if we could do that for real in the car.”

Five-time NTT IndyCar Series driver Scott Dixon is one of the most respected drivers in the garage area. Though he ran into the back of race winner Simon Pagenaud after finishing second at the checkered flag, Dixon said he didn’t realize the race was over.

That triggered a spectacular crash that also involved Helio Castroneves where both cars went airborne.

Again, in the virtual world, these incidents don’t have physical consequences.

Scott Dixon — Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Dixon, though, believes young drivers can learn some valuable lessons through virtual racing.

“If Texas is the first race, you hope we don’t get there and people start to race like they do on iRacing because the consequences are going to be pretty bad,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I agree with Will. There’s plenty of people that get called out. I think in oval racing especially, a lot of the time you have to learn the hard way. It’s one of those things you can take a lot of risks, but eventually it’s going to catch up with you. Hopefully this maybe does lend a little bit in that direction that it will help you down the road.

“Again, I think once you get around the guys that understand it a lot more, it flows pretty well.”

Pagenaud won in the virtual racing series for the second straight week, both on ovals. Last weekend, he won on the virtual Michigan International Speedway. This week, without having to make the 16-hour flight to Japan, the defending Indianapolis 500 winner won at the simulated Twin Ring Motegi.

“I totally agree with them,” Pagenaud told NBCSports.com when posed the same question as Power and Dixon. “We haven’t raced on an oval yet. I don’t think some of the drivers, the new drivers especially, know how to behave yet. Some of them, like Filipe Nasr is a great driver but never had a chance to be on the track with others.

“It’s actually interesting what Will said. I agree with him. We all talking to each other during the race. It helps, calms the emotions down sometimes. There might be something to learn from that.

“Like Scott said, I hope some of the behavior we see won’t happen in real life because it’s way different of a consequence.

“So far so good.”


Pagenaud avoided any such potential for an incident with Askew by letting the driver by after the rookie made his final pit stop.

“He came out of the pits on new tires right next to me,” Pagenaud said. “We had a bit of a battle as well. Kind of touched a little bit. I let him by because I could see he was very aggressive and on new tires.

“My hope was that I was going to use his draft to get back to Scott and Will. Then he wiped them out. After that it was hard with Will. So much understeer, I chose the outside lane which probably wasn’t smart.

“I thought that was Dixon’s win right there. We managed to come out of it and get another very strong result for Team Penske.”

There was also a point late in the race when the two Team Penske drivers running up front banged sidepods with each other in a battle for the win.

What would the response have been in real life from Team Penske President Tim Cindric or team and IndyCar owner Roger Penske?

“It’s okay because we won the race as a team,” Pagenaud said. “Otherwise…”

Power was unaware of the damage from the contact.

“Pagenaud was glued to my side pod,” Power said. “What’s going on? He told me I had damage. I didn’t know I had damage. He’s like, ‘Dude, you’ve got damage.’

“That’s what lost us the race basically. We couldn’t battle for the win anymore. I was missing half a front wing; I was pushing a lot obviously. Literally I couldn’t battle for the win because of that reason.

“I was happy to hang on for third. That showed how much of a gap we’d pulled on the whole field that I could just nurse it home and have another third place. Real consistent for me week in and week out.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Jimmie Johnson open to racing Rolex 24 at Daytona in lower category to earn first watch

Jimmie Johnson Rolex 2023
Michael L. Levitt/LAT/USA/IMSA
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Jimmie Johnson could be making his last start in a prototype Saturday, but he still might be racing sports cars at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Le Mans in 2023.

Now that he’s done racing full time in the NTT IndyCar Series, Johnson said this week that his top three priorities for 2023 are 1) racing the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day (commonly known as “The Double”); 2) the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 3) the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Winning a Rolex 24 long has been a goal for Johnson, who has three overall runner-up finishes over nine starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

IMSA SEASON FINALE: Details for watching the Petit Le Mans

All of those were in the premier category, but with IMSA overhauling and rebranding the class (from DPi to GTP) next season, it seems there won’t be room for Johnson to return in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac. Johnson will be teamed with Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale, wrapping the second season of endurance races for the Action Express entry.

“I know the landscape with the new prototype class that’s come out, and frankly there’s just not enough cars or open seats available,” the seven-time Cup Series champion said during a Zoom news conference Tuesday. “So I don’t seen an opportunity in the premier division, but I am open to the other divisions on track and would love to finally earn one of those watches.”

That could mean Johnson (who bought an engraved Rolex after winning the 2006 Daytona 500 but wants to earn a signature trophy of sports car racing) entering in an LMP2 or LMP3 or perhaps a GT car for the first time at Daytona next year. He will have Carvana’s primary sponsorship in tow next year that he presumably could bring to a team.

The rest of the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s 2023 schedule also remains to be solidified. But it seems Johnson is nearly a lock for a 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in the lineup of the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro, which will be fielded jointly by Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR.

“The rest of it is just early,” he said. “In the coming weeks on all fronts, conversations will continue forward. I still feel I’m on a short list for the Garage 56 program in Le Mans next year and hope to get some clarity on that in the coming weeks or months. So I wish I had more to report at this point. It’s really about not returning full time to IndyCar, and now that I’ve made that decision and letting that news be known, I really feel like I’ll get some traction here and be able to solidify my schedule for ’23.”

Depending on the interest he draws, his options should be wide open. After racing a Honda the past two years and a Chevrolet for his 20-plus years in NASCAR, Johnson isn’t under contract to any manufacturer or team next year.

Here’s what else Johnson has said about what he wants to do in ’23:

IndyCar: Though his IndyCar track record was much stronger on ovals, Johnson seems open to any part-time schedule.

“I’m running out of specific events that are bucket list races (in IndyCar), and truthfully, that’s kind of what led to my decision to not come back full time,” Johnson said. “But I still am open to tracks that are important to me, races that are important to me and doing it with people and teams that are important to me, so if something develops with Chip (Ganassi) that’s a mixed bag of road and street courses and some ovals, I’m open to it. I’m open to just ‘the Double’ or the Indy 500 alone. I really do have a clean sheet of paper and eager to see what meaningful opportunities develop and make sense.”

Though he is free to talk with other teams, Johnson said returning with Chip Ganassi Racing would be his first choice after racing with the team since 2021.

“I’ve really only spoken to Chip,” he said. “I truly feel like I’m part of the family at CGR. If I’m in IndyCar, that’s really where I want to be. I know that team. I know the inner workings of it. I do feel like we’re working hard to continue the relationship together, so that would really be my intentions if I was able to put something together and come back in IndyCar, I’d love for it to be there.”

NASCAR: Johnson mentioned again that being a past winner of The Clash and All-Star Race previously granted him long-term eligibility for those events (NASCAR since has changed its criteria), so the exhibitions in Los Angeles and North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, are on his radar.

“I do have a few years left on my eligibility for the Clash and for the All-Star Race, so I’m surprised no one has really asked or pushed hard to this point yet,” he said. “I guess I’ve been busy in IndyCar, and people assume my schedule is tied up. But looking forward, those would be easy opportunities to come back, but honestly I’ve not had an in-depth serious conversation with anyone yet on any of those fronts.

“I’d love to go to Wilkesboro. I’ve never driven on that racetrack. Lowe’s corporate offices were just down the street, so I’ve driven by it many times. I went on a long bike ride with Matt Kenseth and some friends a few years ago and actually rode my bicycle around the track. So I’d love to go back in a proper race car and event someday and hopefully that opportunity can develop.”

Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 (which put Kimi Raikkonen in the Cup race at Watkins Glen International) would provide an avenue for Johnson’s re-entry to stock cars.

“Justin’s been a longtime friend and someone I stay in touch with, and he’s certainly made it known that the Project 91 car is available if I have interest,” Johnson said. “So I would need to continue those conversations forward.”

–“The Double”: In trying to become the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2014 to race 1,100 miles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in the same day, Johnson believes the logistics should be easier. Namely, he won’t have a full-time commitment in either IndyCar and NASCAR, and the reduced Cup schedule for practice and qualifying should free up more time.

“When drivers did it in the past, we had a lot more on-track activity for both series, certainly on the NASCAR side,” Johnson said. “I think how the NASCAR format works now, there’s less of an ask in time. So I do feel like the potential to apply myself and have physically enough time to pull it off is there. I do think the reduced schedule and not running the full IndyCar schedule will give me the time I need before and after to seriously focus and dedicate everything I can and would need to give my best performance in both races.”