IndyCar’s Simon Pagenaud doubles down in IndyCar iRacing Challenge


Team Penske IndyCar driver Simon Pagenaud is the first to win two races in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. The 2016 NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner, doubled down on his effort with back-to-back wins.

Pagenaud won the April 11 Chevrolet 275 at virtual Michigan International Speedway. He backed up that oval win with Saturday’s triumph in the Firestone 175 at virtual Twin Ring Motegi.

He credited Team Penske race engineer Ben Bretzman for his impressive performance in the sim racing series that has kept IndyCar in public view during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdown.

“I’m working with Ben my racing engineer on the strategy,” Pagenaud said after his virtual Motegi triumph. “We get to talk on the radio like we would on a race weekend. I think it’s just keeping the communication alive. It feels like we’ve raced a few times this year already. I think when racing gets going, we’re not going to be rusty. That’s important.

“iRacing has been a great support for us. That has been important for everybody at Team Penske, as well. We represent our sponsors. They need some love right now. DXC Technology, Chevy, Menards.”

Many NTT IndyCar drivers are going to great lengths for success in the virtual racing series. The competition is increasing the amount of time in the sim rig.

“I put in a lot of hours to be at the level of people like Will Power, for example,” Pagenaud said. “They are very fast on iRacing, very competitive.

“But today was a lot about tire saving, the right strategy once again. At the end, it got a bit crazy.”

As the IndyCar iRacing Challenge has progressed, experienced gamers still have an advantage, but drivers with real world racing success are showing tremendous improvement.

Saturday’s podium included the elite of IndyCar including Pagenaud, five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon. Finishing third was Team Penske teammate Will Power, a 2014 IndyCar Series champion and 2018 Indy 500 winner.

“That’s fun to me,” Pagenaud said. “It’s actually that you’re racing the exact same guys as usual, exact same moves as you would in real life. You keep turning your wheels in your head.

“Right now, we’re not racing, so we’re racing on the weekend. That gives me a lot of joy. The adrenaline was definitely at the maximum level at the end of the race.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Pagenaud is the full package when it comes to IndyCar. He is fast on the track, both real and virtual. The driver from France has an engaging personality yet isn’t afraid to say what is on his mind. And, he understands the importance of his sponsors.

“Well, I’m racing with my race suit to give some love to DXC Technology and Chevy,” Pagenaud said. “It’s a good day when you’re beating Scott Dixon and Will Power. It’s an awesome day. I enjoy it so much. Will is going to be upset all week long, that’s so much better, makes me even happier.

“I feel great right now, super happy.

“It’s pretty cool that we have the whole team behind us. I’m getting more messages than usual for a race win, so it’s pretty amazing to see the whole team following the races and being able to represent them so well. It’s awesome for the guys. It gives them a lot of hope for the season to start.”

Pagenaud’s passion for racing, real or virtual, is quite obvious. His fiercest competitors recognize that trait.

“Simon did a hell of a job,” Dixon said after finishing second. “That’s what it takes at the end to win, is you got to take risks. Kudos to them. It was fun to be a part of it and fun to watch.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)