Round 4 of the IndyCar iRacing challenge is in the books, and as usual the racing was good while providing a much-needed turnaround in the sim world after a bit of tumultuous week.
Saturday’s race was at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, which hadn’t “hosted” an IndyCar race since 2011, and hadn’t seen an IndyCar on track since Takuma Sato’s triumphant showcase drive in 2017. The racing was probably the best ever seen at that track, thrilling the packed grandstands all the way to the last lap.
Let’s break it down.
Real or sim, the best are still the best. Like a lot of real-life IndyCar races, the best teams were there at the end. Racers, engineers and strategists are in this sport because they are hyper-competitive people. It’s no surprise to hear that drivers are spending several hours a day on their rigs, and the races themselves have certainly taken on a level of sophistication in terms of strategy. But it seems that even in the sim world the best teams have the rest of them covered.
Simon Pagenaud is our king. Case in point, I’m hearing that Simon Pagenaud has been spending 7-8 hours a day online, and it has shown the last two weeks as he has won at Michigan and now Motegi. In Saturday’s race, he was hanging around in the back of the Top 5 most of the day, kept his car clean and pounced at the finish. He got a little bit of help from the Scott McLauglin/Will Power/Oliver Askew incident with under 10 laps to go, but getting help happens in real life too. Tip of the cap to runner-up Scott Dixon, who was a late comer to the show but is already doing Scott Dixon things, like saving mega amounts of fuel and running at the front.
Guest stars. Just like the previous two races, which saw Jimmie Johnson running at Barber Motorsports Park and Dale Earnhardt Jr. behind the wheel at Michigan, Kyle Busch joined the party Saturday when he jumped into the race and finished 13th. I think the idea of IndyCar inviting drivers from other series is a good one, and is in contrast to NASCAR, which has been having issues with too many drivers that want to participate and not enough entries. I don’t want to see races going off with 40 starters or anything, but including drivers from other series keeps things interesting.
This is a lot of fun. When this was getting started a few weeks ago, I’ll admit to not being that big of a fan, but now I that I have had a chance to watch the races, I’m really enjoying them. The NBC Sports crew is doing a great job and having the opportunity to watch the drivers through their own personal feeds is not only interesting, but a look into their personalities. I thought it was pretty cool, for instance, to see Kyle Kaiser’s setup, where he has blacked everything out to focus on what he is doing. Other guys take different approaches, but to be able to see their faces, their intensity and even things like their eye movements, has made for some good behind-the-curtain content. It’s all even got me iRacing again! I’ve raced off and on since 2011, but I got a wheel the other day and I am back into it. I know it is a time commitment for the drivers, but hopefully it will continue past the rest of the races on the current schedule. Who is up for 500 miles on May 24?
Godspeed Bob Lazier. I was really saddened to hear of the passing of Bob Lazier. Bob, of course, is the father of Buddy, the 1996 Indy 500 winner, but had a racing career of his own, finishing 19th in the 1981 Indy 500 and earning CART Rookie of the Year honors that same year. I got to know Bob while working for the Lazier Partners Racing team during May, 2017, and he was a true character. Kind, friendly and outgoing, he was a great guy to talk to, and he had such a passion for racing and for his family. He will be missed by a lot of people. His grandson, Flinn, is also a racer, and