April 25th, 2020 by Paul Kelly, NTT IndyCar Series
The INDYCAR iRacing Challenge, a virtual racing event featuring a full field of NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers and special guests, continues Saturday, April 25 with the AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET at Circuit of The Americas.
The 32-lap event, which will last approximately 70 minutes, will be broadcast live on NBCSN. The NBC broadcasting team of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, Paul Tracy and Marty Snider will call the action. The pre-race activities will be highlighted by singer-songwriter Cory Morrow and his wife, Sherry Morrow, singing the national anthem and Texas-born country music artist Jack Ingram giving the command to start engines.
The entry list of 33 drivers includes series champions Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais and Tony Kanaan, seven Indianapolis 500 winners and collectively has registered 212 series victories.
2019 Formula One rookie standout Lando Norris is making his INDYCAR iRacing Challenge debut this week, along with Virgin Australia Supercars race winner Chaz Mostert and 2015 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion Spencer Pigot.
The AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge is the fifth of six events to be held weekly each Saturday through May 2. After this event, the remaining race (May 2) is at a venue to be named.
Here are “5 Things To Look For…” heading into Saturday’s AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge:
‘Racing for a Cause’
Alexander Rossi and Jack Harvey both will feature pink liveries on their Honda-powered cars Saturday in the AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge as part of AutoNation’s DRV PNK campaign.
AutoNation, America’s largest automotive retailer, has raised more than $23 million for cancer-related causes through the DRV PNK campaign.
2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Rossi will feature this pink livery on his No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport during part of the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES, while Harvey will race with the pink livery for the entire season in his No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda fielded by Meyer Shank Racing.
Rossi, Harvey and 2012 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay each have recorded video messages to promote the DRV PNK campaign that will be featured during the live NBCSN telecast of the race Saturday.
‘Flipping the Switch’
A variety of racing series around the world are contesting virtual events for their full-time drivers, with a few special guests mixed in. The INDYCAR iRacing Challenge is no different, as NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers have welcomed guests such as NASCAR legends Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch to the series, along with Virgin Australia Supercars standouts Scott McLaughlin and Chaz Mostert and Formula One star Lando Norris.
The switch will be flipped when 2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Alexander Rossi will compete as a wild-card entry in the Supercars All Stars Eseries.
Rossi will start in the Supercars All Stars Eseries starting in Round 4 from 5-7 a.m. (ET) Wednesday, April 29, which will consist of races at Watkins Glen and Montreal, two circuits Rossi knows well. He will serve as a teammate to Mostert and Bryce Fullwood, who drive for Walkinshaw Andretti United in Virgin Australia Supercars.
Mostert never has raced in a Indy car as he prepares to make his virtual INDYCAR debut this Saturday at the Circuit of The Americas. But Rossi has real-life experience in a 650-horsepower full-bodied Supercar, having competed in the 2019 Bathurst 1000 with Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe.
Fans outside of Australia can watch Rossi race with stars from Down Under on Walkinshaw Andretti United’s Facebook page or Supercars’ stream on Twitch.
‘I Know that Dude’
McLaren Formula One driver Lando Norris will make his INDYCAR debut – virtual or real world – in the AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge this Saturday, driving the No. 04 Arrow McLaren SP Dallara.
But Norris, 20, will be familiar with one driver in the field – Colton Herta of Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport.
Norris and Herta raced against each other as teammates for Carlin in British MSA Formula Championship (also known as Formula 4) in 2015. Englishman Norris won the championship with eight victories, while American Herta, 20, finished third with four victories.
Both advanced to the elite level in 2019 while still in their teens. Norris made his F1 debut at age 19 last season for McLaren, finishing 11th in the World Championship standings. Herta debuted in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES at age 18, taking the checkered flag at COTA to become the youngest winner in series history.
“From my side of it, I’m excited,” Norris said. “I really had some warning messages coming in from Colton’s side. I don’t know if I should read them out or not (laughter).
“It’s been a while since he raced in F4 back in the day. We had some really good times. Yeah, we have a lot of respect for each other. I don’t want to sound like I’m talking like a guy with loads of experience, but looks like he’s matured in quite a way, as I think I have in some ways. It looks like he’s become an even better driver than what he was, and he was freaking fast when I was racing against him. He was nicknamed Hooligan Herta for many reasons.”
‘Working the Night Shift’
Scott McLaughlin and Chaz Mostert are both stars in Virgin Australia Supercars, the most popular domestic series in Australia. So, they both face the additional challenge of acclimating to a different car and different rivals in the virtual world compared to the real world.
But that’s not the only hurdle they face.
New Zealand native McLaughlin and Australian Mostert both live on the east coast of Australia, in a time zone 14 hours ahead of Eastern time in the United States. So, they both will take the green flag for the AutoNation iRacing Challenge at approximately 4:40 a.m. local time after spending earlier hours in practice and qualifying.
Working the night shift hasn’t hurt McLaughlin. He won the second round of the series, April 4 at Barber Motorsports Park, in his Team Penske entry and finished fourth at the other road race, March 28 at Watkins Glen.
‘Road to Indy Virtual Race’
The Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, the ladder series of INDYCAR, will conclude the five-round Ricmotech Road to Indy iRacing eSeries at 12:45 p.m. ET Saturday from virtual Mid-Ohio, less than two hours before the start of the AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge.
A field of 38 drivers from the Road to Indy will attempt to qualify for 28 spots in the race, which will be streamed live on Road to Indy website and app, ApexRacingTV’s YouTube and Facebook, the iRacing eSports Network, the series’ respective Facebook platforms, and Cooper Tires’ Facebook page.
Indy Pro 2000 Championship regular Phillippe Denes holds a 19-point advantage over USF2000 Championship driver Eduardo Barrichello, son of Formula One and Indianapolis 500 veteran Rubens Barrichello. Barrichello ended Denes’ eSeries win streak and tightened the points battle by grabbing victory in a wild race at Road America last weekend.