F1’s Lando Norris wins his debut in IndyCar iRacing Challenge at COTA

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VIRTUAL AUSTIN, Texas — Lando Norris rebounded from a midrace spin Saturday, and the Formula One driver rallied to win the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Circuit of The Americas.

The McLaren driver, who was making his debut in the series, took the lead when Felix Rosenqvist spun out of first with four laps remaining.

Norris finished 1.249 seconds ahead of Arrow McLaren SP teammate Pato O’Ward and Rosenqvist. Scott McLaughlin and Santino Ferrucci rounded out the top five.

FULL BOXSCORE: Click here to see the complete results from COTA

POSTRACE REACTION: What drivers said after the race at COTA

REUNITED IN SIM: Colton Herta and Norris have a history together

“It was not easy at all,” said Norris, who led 15 of 32 laps. “Obviously the spin was a tough race. Especially Pato closing in on new tires at the end. I didn’t think I was going back to the lead, but Will (Power) spun. That was a key to get back to P1.”

Said O’Ward, who had been training with Norris and teammates Oliver Askew and Robert Wickens this week: “Man, Lando is quick in the sim. The whole week, we were really working as a team to improve each of us. Our whole teamwork and proud we ended 1-2. I was pushing hard to get to him at the end but couldn’t quite get to him.”

Rosenqvist said he spun because “it was probably me operating above my limits trying to keep (Norris) behind me.”

Norris started on the pole position in his IndyCar iRacing Challenge debut and led the first 11 laps before pitting.

But the up and comer (who is entering his second full-time season in F1) spun midway through the race after a Lap 12 competition caution. After stopping ahead of the three-lap yellow, the Englishman was trying to make up ground on new leader Will Power just after the race went green again.

“I was swearing quite a bit but won’t repeat that now,” Norris told the IndyCar on NBC booth with a laugh about the incident. “I was really annoyed. We’ve been so strong as a team, learning about our driving between us and trying to improve. To throw it away as stupidly as I did just by trying to be a bit eager on the gas on the throttle out of the last corner, which is probably a tricky one as it comes over the crest.

“And I was annoyed because there’s so much work. Everything else went really well on a different strategy from a lot of the other guys. I feel like I threw it all away and lost the opportunity to go for the win. I had the pace and wanted to try to come back through, which is what I did with some other guys making mistakes. We managed to get back through and into the lead.”

Power seemed in command for his first victory in the series, but the Team Penske driver spun twice shortly after his pit stop. Power finished sixth.

The IndyCar iRacing Challenge will conclude May 2 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which was announced Saturday as the “Dream” track selected for the finale.

Jenson Button joins NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans with Jimmie Johnson, Rockenfeller

Jenson Button NASCAR Le Mans
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be driven by champions of three major-league series — Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The lineup of the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Next Gen Camaro was announced Saturday before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 project was announced in March 2022 as a joint effort by NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear. It marks the return of a NASCAR team to Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

It’s long been expected the car would include Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who is returning to NASCAR’s premier series as a driver-owner in 2023. Rockenfeller, the 2013 DTM champion and 2010 Le Mans overall winner, has attended every NASCAR Garage 56 test since last year while racking up simulator testing hours.

The surprise was Button, the 2009 Formula One champion who has become a popular commentator. Rick Hendrick initially said wanted four-time Cup champion and current Hendrick Motorsports COO Jeff Gordon to drive the car, and Gordon had raced a sports car at Indianapolis last year to test his race shape.

GARAGE 56 ANSWERS, ANALYSISMore on the NASCAR-Hendrick entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

Button had one of the most prolific careers in F1 history finishing with 15 wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship and is widely considered one of the top British drivers of all time.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said in a release. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

Johnson will make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut a year after starting his first Indy 500. He has 83 victories in the Cup Series, where he will return for the Daytona 500 next month with his Legacy Motor Club team.

He also has been involved with testing the Garage 56 Camaro.

“I’m super thrilled – it’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity come – and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup – is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller teamed with Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2021-22. The German driver has been the lead test driver for Garage 56 and has driven during every on-track test.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from day one until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

The car will continue testing with all three drivers next week at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Rolex 24 and four-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drives for Corvette Racing, will be the team’s backup driver and coach. Taylor also won the GTE Pro class in 2015 at Le Mans, where he has four podium finishes.

The project also is being supported by IMSA GTP team Action Express, whose general manager is former NASCAR executive and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Gary Nelson. Action Express built the first test car for the Garage 56 but since has handed off the project to Hendrick, where it’s being over seen by vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven championships).

“Action Express got it going and built the mule car, and then Hendrick joined the program, took it from where we had it, and they’re doing a major percentage of the work,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “We just did a test a couple months ago on a wet track. We’ve done a couple of other tests as they were ramping their program up. Now their car is good, tested and running. We’re still involved and here to help. The Hendrick guys have taken the reins, and Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus are a thrill to work with and doing a much better job. It’s more NASCAR than prototype racing.”