Scott McLaughlin wins in wild finish to IndyCar iRacing Challenge finale

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VIRTUAL INDIANAPOLIS — Scott McLaughlin won the IndyCar iRacing Challenge finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, taking advantage of a wild last lap in the First Responders 175.

Over the final 2.5 miles at the Brickyard, contenders Pato O’Ward, Marcus Ericsson, Santino Ferrucci and Oliver Askew all wrecked while racing around the lead.

McLaughlin, who started on the pole position, scooted through to capture his second victory in the series. He later said he just “drove through the smoke” to give Team Penske a clean sweep on ovals in the series (Simon Pagenaud won at Michigan and Twin Ring Motegi).

“I was hoping there was going to be one wreck, and there was two,” McLaughlin, who has yet to make his real-world IndyCar debut, told the IndyCar on NBC booth after taking the traditional swig of milk for a Brickyard winner. “I thought we were going to get third. We were in the right place at the right time.”

Conor Daly finished second despite being involved in three wrecks and called it “an electric factory of a race.”

Ferrucci finished third, followed by Askew and O’Ward.

After Ericsson and O’Ward made heavy contact while racing for the lead earlier on the last lap, the victory seemed to be between Askew and Ferrucci off the last corner.

As they approached the finish line, Ferrucci shot down the track and into Askew, taking out both of their cars. The Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan driver took the blame.

Ferrucci later said he’d been doing a lot of series on iRacing lately and got too close because he was tied to get on Askew’s door as he might in a NASCAR race.

“Just coming to the finish line, and I was trying to get closer to him, and I went through him,” Ferrucci told the IndyCar on NBC booth. “I don’t know why. I mean, trying to steer a little closer to him because I knew the drag race would be tight. I just didn’t expect the cars to go sideways. I wanted to get a little closer there but did not expect to do that.

“That’s my bad. I apologize for doing that to Oliver. That was definitely his race to win. But at the end of the day, it’s a video game, and we had fun. It’s not anything you’d ever do in real life, but it’s a tight race.”

The chaotic ending was triggered by a restart with nine laps remaining after the yellow flew for a multicar crash that started with a spin by Josef Newgarden.

Before two late yellows, it seemed as if the race might boil down to a battle between Formula One McLaren driver Lando Norris and Will Power. But Power got shuffled back, and Norris crashed with two laps remaining while running near the front.

Before that, it seemed as if McLaren was headed toward a 1-2-3 finish with some combination of O’Ward, Norris and Askew.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”