Simon Pagenaud Goes Back-to-Back in IndyCar iRacing Challenge
For the second week in a row, Simon Pagenaud found himself in the right place at the right time.
The reigning Indianapolis 500 winner won his second consecutive IndyCar iRacing Challenge event on Saturday afternoon from the digital Twin Ring Motegi oval but only after two of his Penske teammates crashed out while racing for the lead within the final 10 laps.
Will Power and Scott McLaughlin were exchanging the top spot when lap down Oliver Askew dive-bombed both and slid up into the Penske contenders.
The incident allowed Pagenaud to take the lead, where he was then forced to hold off a hard-charging Scott Dixon in the Firestone 175.
Scott McLaughlin’s out of it! #INDYCARChallenge // @iRacing // NBCSN pic.twitter.com/MXkQOLMLhv
“It was a crazy race,” said Pagenaud on the NBC Sports broadcast. “Very hectic with Will at one point and with Dixon at the end. I work hard all week to be competitive, and I think I’m catching up. I think I’m getting there.
“I’m having a lot of fun. It’s so stressful. You’re still lacking a lot of feedback. I’m relearning a way to race.”
Pagenaud was an early subscriber to the iRacing service in the late 2000s but hasn’t participated much since becoming a full-time NTT IndyCar Series driver in 2012. However, the 36-year-old has fully embraced the platform during the coronavirus shutdown, running private races throughout the week and practice sessions between them.
“That’s the only way you’re going to be competitive,” Pagenaud said. “Everyone is such athletes and competitors. I want to put in the hours, and I believe hard work pays off.”
A look at the incident that brought out the first caution of the day.#INDYCAR // #Firestone175 pic.twitter.com/t9jIoZM3Fr
There was only one major incident, a multi-car incident on lap five that necessitated the only caution of the race. Takuma Sato, Kyle Busch, Helio Castroneves and Sebastien Bourdais were among the drivers involved in the melee.
That incident also altered strategies — a key component to how the closing laps played out.
Reigning two-time champion Josef Newgarden was forced to pit from the lead with 15 laps to go, allowing Power and McLaughlin to take their ongoing battle to the top two positions. As it turns out, Newgarden was about 10 laps short, but was hoping for a caution to have stretched his fuel mileage.
James Hinchcliffe was unable to start the event due to internet issues. He had been unable to complete time trials, as was the case for Watkins Glen winner Sage Karam.
Two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch finished 13th in his IndyCar iRacing Challenge debut.
There are just two races remaining in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. Next week will take place at the digital Circuit of the Americas. The finale will take place at a yet to be decided IndyCar fantasy circuit.
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