A good run, but Kanaan, Rossi ready to move from iRacing to real racing

Khris Hale/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

May is here, and just because there won’t be an Indianapolis 500 this month, a former winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway still is taking the virtual Brickyard’s sanctity seriously.

After some sloppy practice races, Tony Kanaan called for more decorum in Saturday’s IndyCar iRacing Challenge series finale at Indy.

“I think we got to do a better job,” the 2013 Indy 500 winner told reporters Friday. “It was extremely frustrating (Thursday) to see how some of the guys were driving. Obviously it’s not representative of the racetrack because if we do that, we’re going to have three cars finishing the 500 this year.

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“We have actually two more mock-up races today so we have a chance to dial in and stop hitting each other. I was very frustrated. I actually at the end kind of thought that I needed to just relax a little more because it’s going to happen. We were racing extremely close. I hope we don’t race the way we did yesterday.”

The First Responder 175 will close the six-race virtual racing series with 70 laps around the famed 2.5-mile oval Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The 33-car field will include all of the big names who likely will take the green flag in the 104th running of the Indy 500, which has been rescheduled to Aug. 23 and will be broadcast on NBC. It also will have Formula One McLaren driver Lando Norris, who became eligible by winning at Circuit of The Americas last week.

Among the former Indy 500 winners competing will be Alexander Rossi, who also was somewhat taken aback by the behavior of some peers on iRacing but seemed more amused than miffed as Kannan was.

“I just find it very interesting how kind of bent out of shape people are getting about it,” the winner of the 100th Indy 500 in 2016 said. “Like, I agree it’s frustrating because everyone puts time into this to kind of perfect their setup in terms of their sim equipment, finding the optimum line for the best lap time. There are little tricks to it you have to learn. Ultimately, I think when people get so annoyed, generally it just kind of spurs the people that don’t really care as much on to continue what they’re doing. I think Tony knows when you have a kid, if you ignore them when they’re trying to get attention, then they stop. If you keep responding it gets worse.

“I think it’s been a long road for everyone. Everyone is itching to get back into a race car. We’re now in the month of May, and we’re racing virtually at IMS. There’s a lot of pent-up kind of excitement to go racing. I think that’s what we’re kind of seeing in the homestretch here. As Tony said, every practice race we’ve done has been challenging in the past. When the actual real thing comes on Saturday, we know we have a responsibility to put on a show for NBC, our sponsors and our team, so everyone bows back a little bit. I’m not too worried about it. The driver commentary is certainly very entertaining.”

It’s been a tough transition to iRacing for championship-contending veterans such as Kanaan and Rossi. Neither was into iRacing much before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began, and though they both invested money and time in sim rigs, both still are seeking their first podium finishes in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge.

Meanwhile, the real-life calendar provides a sobering reminder of what they rather would be doing in May. Kanaan lamented that he should be running the Indy half-marathon this Saturday.

“It’s kind of a mixed feeling of happy and sad,” Kanaan said. “Happy because we’ll get to experience the Indy 500 virtually this week, and in a way, sad that the month of May (Indy 500 celebration) is not happening this month. To be honest, nothing against virtual racing, but I think we had enough. I had enough of them. I think it’s great to end this.

“Alex and I are sharing the same feeling on this one: try to relax. Actually now we see some of the series coming back, that means there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m ready to go do the real thing.”

Though Rossi has gotten more active on iRacing despite some initial hesitation – entering a rally race through his connection to Travis Pastrana and finishing on the podium at Bathurst in a Supercars race – he also is ready to return to the cockpit of his Andretti Autosport Honda to contend for his first NTT Series championship.

“What I’ve learned is, I don’t know if there’s a lot of technique I’m going to develop by doing this, but it’s so hard to just do a lap without crashing that when you get put into a qualifying session and you have like one shot to kind of do your ultimate lap, it’s really difficult,” Rossi said. “The cool thing about iRacing is you have this live reference bar which is your delta to your best lap, your previous lap, whatever. You know exactly if you’re executing each corner well in a qualifying lap. I think the kind of mental just rigidity and ability to go out there and do it over one lap is something I’ve improved on since starting this process.

“Hopefully that translates to the real car, finding ways to not overthink it, just go out and let the lap time flow. We’ll see if it’s translates. I think it’s definitely one positive I’ve taken from this.”

Kanaan, who will be running ovals this season in an A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet, knows there is one thing he hopes doesn’t translate from iRacing to the real world – drivers being able to snipe at each other during a race.

“I’ve learned that we should not be talking to ourselves during the race,” the Brazilian said with a laugh. “That is actually the worst idea somebody ever made. That you can press a button on the radio and you can talk with the other driver. It’s a problem. We were talking about that yesterday.

“I want to see at the first real race we have how many guys are not going to be talking to each other because you have a beef about what happened in the first five virtual races that we did.”

Joking that he has yet to finish a sim race, Kanaan says he does find some solace in a silver keepsake after every disappointing iRacing result.

I leave my sim, look at my BorgWarner (Trophy) and say, ‘Who cares?’” Kanaan said with a laugh.

“It’s OK,” Rossi, who has the same replica trophy, replied knowingly. “Doesn’t matter.”

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.