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Scott McLaughlin Wins IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Virtual Barber

Australia Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin had to get up pretty early Sunday morning. But in the end, it was worth it.

Racing on a sim rig at his home in Brisbane, Australia, McLaughlin won the iRacing IndyCar Challenge at Barber Motorsports Park Saturday, holding off teammate Will Power in a 1-2 finish for Team Penske.

The New Zealand native and two-time Australia Supercars champion held off Power by .4241 of a second to earn his first win in the virtual racing series while driving through the early-morning hours, Australia time. McLaughlin started practice at 2 a.m., qualified eighth for the 45-lap race, and took the checkered flag around 5:40 a.m. local time.

And just like that, @smclaughlin93 is back in the lead. 4 to go. @12WillPower working on a late charge.#INDYCAR // #INDYCARChallenge // @iRacing pic.twitter.com/30lix4x5hU

“I’m really happy,” McLaughlin said. “I actually brought in (via voice chat) the IndyCar engineer I’ve been working with in the States, Jonathan Diuguid. I give him credit. He put me on an awesome strategy. It’s a bit better than last week. I was playing with the fuel myself and trying to remember the numbers while I was driving. It was a bit easier this week.”

Three-time Global RallyCross champion Scott Speed finished third in the No. 98 Surgere/Curb Honda fielded by Andretti Herta with Marco Andretti & Curb-Agajanian. He was followed by Alex Palou and Simon Pagenaud in the top five.

A veteran sim racer, McLaughlin passed Speed with six laps remaining, diving inside in turn two of the rolling, 2.38-mile road course at Barber, which in the real world is located in Birmingham, Alabama. The circuit was scheduled to host the second event of the NTT IndyCar season this Sunday, but the event weekend was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Finished second today. Congratulations to @smclaughlin93 for taking the win.

// #INDYCAR / #INDYCARChallenge / @PenskeESports pic.twitter.com/5PWZds1yXF

The final six laps of the race became a duel between McLaughlin and Australian native Power, racing from his home in North Carolina.

Power closed to within seven-tenths of a second of McLaughlin with three laps to go; he then closed the gap to .533 of a second with two laps remaining. Power appeared to have a chance to close on McLaughlin’s gearbox as McLaughlin encountered the lapped car of five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, but Dixon moved out of the racing line and McLaughlin was able to maintain the gap and hold on for the win.

For the first time the race featured a mandatory caution on lap 15 of 45. McLaughlin, under direction from Diuguid, pitted on lap 14, just before the competition caution. He was running ninth on lap 21, two laps after the restart from the competition caution.

“It was crazy,” McLaughlin said. “I was particularly nervous at the Safety Car restart after the caution. I had new tires, but a lot of people didn’t in front. We got a good restart there, but it was a bit chaos.”

Power was satisfied with his runner-up spot.

“When we pitted early, we pitted into a lot of traffic and lost a lot of seconds in that sequence,” Power said. “I wasn’t aware that Scott (McLaughlin) was on that strategy. I actually thought Sage (Karam) was still leading.

“My engineer just said, ‘Just focus on your laps: We can still win this thing.’ I thought he was just, ‘Come on, don’t worry about anything else,’ but what he was saying was, ‘You need to push out some laps.’ So, I think we could have made that a little more tight (at the finish), but I’m still really happy with second.”

Felix Rosenqvist was sixth, followed by Colton Herta and Robert Wickens, who took eighth while competing in a race for the first time since his August 2018 crash at Pocono Raceway. Wickens received his SimCraft simulator only two days ago; it is equipped with special hand controls for throttle and brake since he has restricted use of his legs due to a spinal cord injury suffered in the crash.

Wickens spun in qualifying and started last in the 29-car field but wasted no time getting up to speed. He passed 10 cars in the opening seven laps and was up to 11th halfway through the race.

Today was a lot of fun! Happy with being in the top 10, can’t wait for next weekend. Here’s a little clip of how I get into my sim. Thanks again @SimCraft ! #INDYCARChallenge #iracing @ArrowMcLarenSP #indycar @IndyCar pic.twitter.com/jCjNJ1jMJR

With 13 laps to go, Wickens spun into the gravel and suffered front wing damage but was able to continue from 11th place. Using a clutch paddle on his wheel for an accelerator and a separate lever for a hand brake, Wickens calmly continued to the finish for a strong top-10 result.

“It was a riot,” Wickens said. “We made the bold strategy of trying to make it on one stop under yellow. That was going to be my best race, as when I was saving fuel, that was my best strategy for not spinning out. We did massive fuel save the entire time after that yellow flag, and we just made with 0.2 gallons left at the finish line. It was great teamwork.

“It was great to have the Arrow McLaren SP engineers in my ears the whole time. In a way, it felt like the real thing. I’m just excited.”

Leader, pole-sitter and virtual Watkins Glen race winner Sage Karam pitted for the first time from the lead on lap 25, handing the top spot to 2019 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Felix Rosenqvist.

Rosenqvist pitted on the next lap, and McLaughlin found himself in the lead due to his early stop.

“The biggest thing was lapped traffic, getting blocked by lap traffic,” McLaughlin said. “That enabled us to get that jump in the pits because I was in clear air for a long time where others weren’t. Credit to Jonathan and the strategy. He put me out in front and put me in some clear air, and I was able to bang lap times out lap after lap.”

A look at the incident with @SageKaram and @FRosenqvist #INDYCAR // #INDYCARChallenge // @iRacing pic.twitter.com/FOoJtOxJsv

Meanwhile, Karam and Rosenqvist collided on track while dueling for position after Rosenqvist exited the pits. Karam eventually retired from the race after the collision and a subsequent tangle with a lapped car, placing 27th.

“We were looking pretty good after qualifying with another pole,” Karam said. “The DRR WIX Filters Chevy was in good shape, and the pace was going our way. At the competition yellow, the car still felt good and I got good restart, too. I was stuck behind (Sebastien Bourdais) just before the pit stop and lost a lot of time. He was just blocking me. That screwed up my in lap and out lap from the pit stop. That’s how Rosenqvist got in front of me after the pit stop.

“We were racing real hard and both being aggressive. He then overshot the corner. I couldn’t tell if I hit him then. He was spinning, and we made contact. We were racing for the win.”

Here is a replay of the virtual race @BarberMotorPark for those that weren’t able to see it live. Stay tuned for viewing options for next week’s event. #INDYCAR // #INDYCARChallenge // @iRacing https://t.co/l5iSkrPZja

Josef Newgarden and Santino Ferrucci rounded out the top 10.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson finished 12th.

Saturday’s race was the second of six events planned to take place every Saturday through May 2. Future venues include the first oval event, next Saturday, April 11, at Michigan International Speedway, a “Random Draw” track April 18, Circuit of the Americas on April 25 and a non-IndyCar “Dream” track May 2. The series opened March 28 at the virtual Watkins Glen International.

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The Autoweek Dispatch, 4\/3\/20: Happy (?) Spring!

Well, we made it through March! This week automakers continued transitioning into medical-supply companies, with the racing community also now getting in on the act, making ventilators, respirators, masks, you name it. Makes us wonder which automaker or racing team is going to be the first to do branded masks. Just curious. Anyway, here’s what’s happening in the car world:

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“Quit now and work on getting a real job that can help pay for your racing in a few years. I don’t make the rules, it’s just the ugly reality. You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. Just know your odds of winning are lower than getting struck by lightning on the way to the store. No matter what, there’s always going to be someone that has it better than you. Be thankful for what you have. Not just in racing, in life.

— Multi-time Pirelli World Challenge champion Peter Cunningham, talking to Autoweek about what he’d say to young people who want to go racing. That last part is very sound advice, especially right now.

APRIL FOOLS

Needless to say our first Autoweek Talks features in April just had to center around fools and included features on the Pontiac Aztek getting the last laugh and how the DeltaWing racer was a laughingstock to some and an innovative breakthrough to others. We also took a look at BMW’s iDrive controller. Foolish or foolproof?

RACING LINES

Actual on-track racing action has been basically stagnant for the last three weeks and it looks like for the foreseeable future—Formula 1 might not start until August, to give one example.

In the meantime the racing world has begun mimicking the production-car side of the biz both in terms of furloughs and pay cuts, but at the same time pitching in with money and manufacturing expertise to fight COVID-19.

Sanctioning bodies also continued ramping up their virtual events. And love ’em or not, it looks like those are doing well, at least initially: Sunday’s virtual NASCAR race supposedly drew 1.3 million viewers, incredibly making it the week’s second-most viewed sporting event, behind only the WWE’s Friday Night Smackdown on Fox. Granted, live sporting events are nonexistent at the moment and we’re all stuck at home but still, not bad.

And yes, we’re trying our hand at virtual-racing yet again against our Car and Driver and Road & Track Hearst Autos brethren, with the third round of the Forza Work from Home Cup 2020 this afternoon (4/3) from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on our Twitch channel. Gluttons for punishment, we are. Meanwhile we’ll be updating the site constantly. You’ll know what’s new when we do.

CAR NEWS AND NOTES

In addition to the Detroit and Paris auto shows being canceled, first-quarter auto sales were in the dumper thanks to a nasty March. No surprise there. What was a bit surprising was they weren’t down as much as some might have guessed, about 12% on average. Not all automakers have posted results yet, but we do know General Motors, Toyota, FCA, Nissan, BMW and Ford all experienced first-quarter sales decreases, while Ram, Kia and Lincoln sales were actually up. (Speaking of Ford, word on the street is its GT350 is dead for the 2021 model year, but Dearborn could be reviving the Mach 1 name.)

Here’s the thing, though: We can only imagine April sales being much more brutal. Most states are now under a lockdown, but that means different things in different areas. Some dealerships are open, some are performing service only, some aren’t allowed to sell cars at all. In some states the rules differ county by county! On the bright side, it looks like the global COVID-19 quarantine is cleaning up the Earth, so we got that going for us. … Stay tuned, April is going to be a newsy month.

WHAT WE’RE DRIVING

Driving a 626-hp Bentley Bentayga Speed, Mark Vaughn couldn’t resist the temptation to … take it to Home Depot?!? Yes, that’s what he did, finding the W12-powered beast well up to the task. Oh, he drove it properly too, running it up Angeles Crest Highway and getting a chance to exercise the 48-volt active antiroll bars. And? Check out Vaughn’s story to find out what $238 grand gets you these days.

We’ve also been spending time in Mercedes-Benz’s significantly less expensive GLB and are finding the new-for-2020 crossover good looking in sort of a cool/chunky way, with amazing packaging.

MOSTLY ODDS, SOME ENDS

The vintage-car scene is taking a page from racing and holding a virtual car show. It is what it sounds like. On April 11, Michigan’s Gilmore Car Museum will host the show on its website, with classes and awards and the whole shootin’ match. You have to enter photos of your car by April 9 to participate, and our story tells you how to do that. Then you can just sit back and enjoy scrolling through all the vintage-car photos on Gilmore’s dedicated show page.

LISTEN UP

You’ll want to give the 103rd “Autoweek Podcast” a listen. Natalie Neff joins Jake Lingeman, Graham Kozak, Wesley Wren and Patrick Carone (checking in from the Big Apple) to discuss, among other things, Lingeman’s love of BMW’s iDrive and Kozak’s cultural analysis of the Pontiac Aztek. Later in the show, Matt Weaver, Mike Pryson and Robin Warner join Wren to discuss the latest in racing. Well, sim racing that is. The group evaluates NASCAR’s televised sim races and what it all means. Weaver also gives an update on NASCAR’s Next Gen Cup car.

After the motorsport section, Wes Raynal leads Kozak and Wren in a discussion of the latest news stories, including cancellations of both the Detroit and Paris shows. Wrapping the show, Vaughn talks about his recent time with the Bentayga while Raynal weighs in on his time with BMW’s X5 M Competition and Lingeman reviews the new Mini Electric.

WHAT’S AHEAD

As always we’re around all weekend keeping our eagle eyes on and reporting the sanctioning bodies’ and automakers’ global efforts to maneuver through the coronavirus pandemic. Check back often and as always, please stay safe!

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Racing

IndyCar: Takuma Sato Fires Back at Critics With Triumphant Victory at Gateway Night Race

After facing major lashing on national television and social media for last week’s nasty crash at Pocono, Takuma Sato overcame doubt to win his second race of the year at Gateway Saturday night. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver was able to fend off oval ace Ed Carpenter and perennial fan favorite Tony Kanaan for the victory, making for his fifth career IndyCar “W.”

The under-the-lights event started with familiar shades of trouble as Sato made contact yet again with Ryan Hunter-Reay on lap one, though this time it was a racing incident with minimal repercussions (Sato was fined for his role in the Pocono collision). This forced both drivers further back in the pack as polesitter and championship leader Josef Newgarden pulled away at the front. JoNew would lead a total of 50 laps on the night which hosted an official race distance of 248 trips around the 1.25-mile oval.

Rookie Santino Ferrucci retained his stellar pace from Friday, leading a race-high 97 laps before finishing just outside the podium in fourth.

As anticipated, Saturday’s end result was dictated by strategy—an aspect which looked bleak for Sato early on. Following his scuffle with Hunter-Reay, the Japanese veteran was in last place upon visiting the pits for the first time. However, he was able to manage both fuel and tires to compile a lengthy third stint which, compounded with a timely yellow, helped to bring him to the front of the field.

When the restart came about with just 40 laps to go, the trio of Sato, Carpenter, and Kanaan separated themselves from the rest. Kanaan would drop back but still manage P3, by far his best result of the season, leaving Sato and Carpenter to duke it out.

Sato’s No. 30 RLL Honda improved as the night went on and temperatures dropped in the steamy Midwest, awarding him with the necessary pace to defeat Carpenter for the podium’s top step.  In the end, Sato would beat Carpenter to the checkered flag by just 0.039 seconds.

“Nothing can top the Indianapolis 500 win, but this was an unbelievable emotional boost,” said Sato in victory lane. “I got unbelievable support from my team and a lot of the media, and I’m just so proud to be part of the RLL team and this series.”

“Tonight was just so special.”

The NTT IndyCar Series now heads to the season’s penultimate round at Portland International Speedway. Newgarden remains the points leader despite a final-lap spin that cost him precious positions, and points; however, the Tennessean now holds a 38-point advantage over Team Penske stablemate Simon Pagenaud and a sizable 46-point lead over Alexander Rossi. Double points available at the Laguna Seca season finale could present an equalizer to the season-long championship fight.

  • 2019 Bommarito 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway Results

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Virtual Racing on TV: Where to Find NASCAR, IndyCar and Other Action March 28-29

Any week when the biggest news in racing is that the Indianapolis 500 has been postponed until August because of the coronavirus outbreak can’t be a good week.

However, there will still be racing. And, if you don’t look too closely, you might even think you’re watching the real thing, as NASCAR, IndyCar and a Legends All Star race highlight the virtual racing offerings.

After a big ratings week (900,000+ checked out the opening race in the iRacing series), NASCAR action returns to FS1. Other virtual action will be online. Hook your TV up to your computer and you can get the online racing on your big screen, too.

IndyCar will be holding its kickoff event of the virtual season at virtual Watkins Glen. The event will bring a big field of IndyCar drivers, including a few newbies to the iRacing game.

“The world of sim racing is new to me,” said IndyCar veteran and 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan. “And when I say new, I mean it. When IndyCar announced that they were planning on creating something to keep the drivers and fans connected through this difficult time, I went after getting a sim setup for the house.

“That was last week.”

Give it a try. It might just be the only live (OK, we know it’s not real) racing for a while.

Here’s where to find the best in virtual racing, featuring some of racing’s biggest names, this weekend:

SATURDAY, MARCH 28

IndyCar

IndyCar iRacing Challenge American Red Cross Grand Prix, virtual Watkins Glen International, 4 p.m. ET, IndyCar.com, IndyCar Facebook, IndyCar YouTube, iRacing Twitch.

Noteworthy: Race will be 45 laps (approximately 70 minutes); driver will have 10 activations of 10-second push-to-pass boost; two expected pit stops.

Provisional entry list: Josef Newgarden, Team Penske; Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske; Will Power, Team Penske; Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske; Sébastien Bourdais, AJ Foyt Racing; Tony Kanaan, AJ Foyt Racing; Dalton Kellett, AJ Foyt Racing; Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP; Oliver Askew, Arrow McLaren SP; Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing; Felix Rosenqvist, Chip Ganassi Racing; Kyle Kaiser, Juncos Racing; Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lannigan Racing; Santino Ferrucci, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan; Alex Palou, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan; Conor Daly, Ed Carpenter Racing; Sage Karam, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing; Zach Veach, Andretti Autosport; Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport; Kyle Kirkwood, Reay Andretti Autosport; James Hinchcliffe, Reay Andretti Autosport; Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport; Scott Speed, Andretti Autosport; Felipe Nasr, Carlin; Jack Harvey, Meyer Shank Racing

Other

Torque Esports, The Race All-Star Esports Battle, 1 p.m., the-race.com/TheRaceMustGoOn

Noteworthy: Series features drivers from the past and present of from NASCAR, IndyCar, F2, F3, Super GT and Formula E. Drivers expected to compete include Juan Pablo Montoya, his son Sebastian Montoya, Antonio Felix da Costa (Formula E), Maximilian Gunther (Formula E), Daniel Juncadella, Bruno Spengler (winner of last week’s virtual IMSA race), Gabby Ghaves (IndyCar), Rudy Van Buren (gaming star), Philipp Eng, Anthoine Hubert (F2), Callum Ilott (F2).

The Torque Esports event also includes a companion race, The Race All-Star Esports Battle Legends Trophy. The field for that is expected to include racing legends Emerson Fittipaldi, Dario Franchitti, Johnny Herbert, David Brabham, Emanuele Pirro.

SUNDAY, MARCH 29

NASCAR

eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, virtual Texas Motor Speedway, 1 p.m. Eastern, FS1

Noteworthy: There will be a 35-car field for the second race in the series. Denny Hamlin won the opener last week at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway, nosing out Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Provisional entry list (locked in): Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Ross Chastain, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch, Bobby Labonte, Erik Jones, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Michael McDowell, Ryan Preece, John Hunter Nemechek, Kyle Larson, Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Garrett Smithley, Timmy Hill, Parker Kligerman, Alex Bowman, Landon Cassill, Christopher Bell, Daniel Suárez.

Drivers expected to attempt to qualify to fill open spots in the 35-car field as needed: Justin Allgaier; Brennan Poole; Justin Haley; Austin Cindric; Sam Mayer; Tyler Ankrum; Kaz Grala; Anthony Alfredo; Todd Gilliland; Jesse Iwuji; Ryan Truex; Ty Majeski; Chandler Smith; Jeffrey Earnhardt; Stewart Friesen; Joey Gase; Kyle Weatherman; Scott Stenzel; Brandon Brown; Sheldon Creed; Ryan Ellis; Joe Graf Jr.; Christian Eckes; Alex Labbe; Myatt Snider; Chase Briscoe; Harrison Burton; Spencer Boyd; Jeb Burton; Ruben Garcia; Derek Kraus; Drew Dollar; JJ Yeley.

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Revised 2020 IndyCar Schedule Begins in Detroit, Ends in St. Petersburg

Barring an extended coronavirus shutdown, the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series will now begin in late May on the streets of Belle Isle in Detroit and will end deep in the fall on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

The sanctioning body postponed the Indianapolis 500 to Aug. 23, which required a shuffling of dates during the autumn months, while also rescheduling the once canceled season opener as the new championship race.

The events at Circuit of the Americas (Texas) and Barber Motorsports Park (Alabama) will not be made up.

The new provisional schedule will begin with back-to-back weekends at the Belle Isle Park Street Course and Texas Motor Speedway on May 30-31 and June 6, respectively. The season-opening weekend at Belle Isle will be a two-day doubleheader.

As part of the two-week buildup to the Indianapolis 500 needing to be pushed back to August, the races at Gateway and Mid-Ohio needed to be shifted to new dates.

The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio is now scheduled for Aug. 9, and the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway is now scheduled for Aug. 30.

Updated 2020 NTT IndyCar Series Schedule

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How IndyCar’s Arrow McLaren SP Is Dealing with the Coronavirus Shutdown

The 2020 season for the NTT IndyCar Series has been, to this point at least, postponed until May.

The impact of COVID-19 has effectively pushed back or canceled four races—St. Petersburg, Barber Motorsports Park, Long Beach and Circuit of the Americas—that were originally scheduled for March and April.

While drivers within the racing community have taken their talents to iRacing or filled their time by working out to keep fit, the teams have been behind the scenes trying to make the best of an increasingly difficult situation.

Taylor Kiel, managing director at Arrow McLaren SP, has been in the midst of calling audibles for an organization that features drivers Patricio “Pato” O’Ward and rookie Oliver Askew, as well as two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso for the 104th Indianapolis 500, still scheduled for May 24.

At the moment, the focus is finding the best solutions to help keep the team moving forward, even while everyone is in self-quarantine mode.

“It’s been a challenge, that’s for sure,” Kiel told Autoweek. “We all kind of wish that we were back in the shop right now trying to figure out how to go and win the next race. Ultimately, where we’re at is in a state of unknown. We don’t know what our next race is going to be or when we’re going to be able to safely and responsibly regroup as a team. The challenge in front of us now is how do we make the most of this time.”

Teleconferences and video calls have helped keep the dialogue open in an effort to stay the course as much as possible. A leadership group meets regularly to discuss their agendas and obstacles, which then gets networked out to the rest of the team.

“We’ll have that high-level meeting on say, Monday and Friday, and they’ll go out and communicate the message and work towards the common goal with their groups,” Kiel said.

“The communication’s there, but more in a detailed sense what we’re expecting from the mechanics, the pit-stop guys, our travel team is to stay healthy and to really take this thing seriously. Their health is really important, it determines their attendance, which determines their productivity, which determines any number of things—and that is a huge core piece of our team.

“What I know that they’re doing now is following the quarantine, trying to stay active. We’ve worked really closely with our partners at St. Vincent Sports Performance. They handle all of our strength and mental training for our over-the-wall crews. They put together an at-home package for these guys that they can do workouts, very creative types of workouts given that not everybody has a home gym. So they’re staying active, they’re staying healthy, they’re staying engaged with their respective leaders, their crew chiefs or department heads, whatever it may be.”

Additionally, Kiel had the crews take a couple of days off for themselves following the fallout of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, as they were dealing with the stress of a schedule that “changed by the minute.”

Depending on how long the waiting period will be until cars get on-track again, the biggest enemy is complacency. In turn, keeping things fresh is paramount.

“At this stage in the game, testing is all but gone,” Kiel said. “Racing is off in the distance, and we’re hoping that May comes quickly and this all blows over and that we’re racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That’s the goal. That’s the biggest challenge that faces us now: ‘How do we stay engaged? How do we maintain the focus? How do we continue to push forward with unique objectives?’ And that’s yet to be determined.

“I know that our leadership group is working really hard to identify those stones that we need to turn over that we haven’t yet. … There’s a lot that goes into the top rating as a race team, and it’s not just building a car and then racing it. It’s organization, it’s procedure, it’s making the workplace better, it’s increasing efficiency. It’s all of those intangible things that a guy in my position thinks about all day long, but now I’ve got a group of people that can think about it most of the day, as well. Allowing everybody to work together to try to make our race team stronger from the inside out is kind of where my mind is shifting as we go forward with this. But certainly, maintaining the eye on the prize and that is making sure that we have the best team and the best race cars prepared and ready to rock when we do go racing.”

While iRacing has certainly done its part to keep everyone entertained and drivers sharp, it isn’t something he sees as a key component to help in terms of the engineers practicing and targeting setups.

“The big thing that I would worry about in a situation like that is, while those games are excellent for the amateur gamer, the ride models and the track profiles and those types of things are not at the level that we need them to be,” said Kiel. “I would fear that our group starts to work on those habits over time. It’s important for us to continue to do what we do.

“Our simulator work in Charlotte with Chevrolet is just on a much higher level than sitting down on a home system with an engineer. Our group does a really good job there. Luckily for us, with two rookies, we’d front-loaded the same driver on the loop schedule anyway, so our guys (Askew, O’Ward) have just had a massive amount of time in the simulator leading up to the first race of the season. One thing we’ve also done is we’ve done more track testing than anybody leading up to the season because we’ve been really aggressive with our schedule. All of that because we’ve got two young guys, I wanted to get them as much seat time as possible before the first race.

“As we sit now, it goes back to where our car preparation, where our team was at, I think both of our drivers are as prepared as they can be for the start of the season. Now, you know, that said, Oliver has since the break just been pounding laps in a shifter kart. Pato’s back home in Texas with his family, and he’s working out and doing the things that he needs to do, as well. Both of those guys are certainly staying engaged, they’re focused, they’re locked in, they’re ready to go at a moment’s notice.”

The biggest thing to help with their education from afar has been connecting with the engineering group by breaking down onboard footage and walking through all of the data analysis, among other things.

“It goes back to what we talked about in terms of making our race team stronger and our business stronger,” Kiel added. “From that perspective, we can help the drivers become stronger in their intangible work, too. Being able to sit down and scour through data with the engineers more efficiently and do the unsexy things out of the race car, so to speak, teach them how to be better in those aspects. It’s not all about just sitting in the cockpit and driving, there’s a lot that goes into it to make a very complete championship-level racing driver.

“That’s what … we’ll spend the majority of our time here during this break, and even as we go on through the season, is it’s more about giving them a crash course and then a full dive into what we expect from them as drivers and then how they can be the best version of themselves.

“We’ve got the tools to make that happen. We’ve got the people to make it happen. Now, we have the time to make it happen. There’s always a silver lining, for sure.”

Now, to address the elephant in the room: Alonso.

The process has been as seamless as it can possibly be, all things considered. Although the team has been evolving with the unknowns, Kiel has leaned heavily on Zak Brown, McLaren CEO, and Gil de Ferran, sporting director at McLaren, in keeping Alonso updated.

“They’ve looped him in on what we’ve got going on and what our situation is, and he’s fully understanding that this is a day-by-day thing,” Kiel said. “This is a very unique thing and something that we’ve never experienced. We’re all on this journey together. I think at this point, there’s just a human element of understanding right now that’s actually quite refreshing to see, not just in the racing community but in the world. That’s been fine. You know, it is what it is.

“There’s not a whole lot that we can do about it. But we’ve certainly kept him in the loop and he’s kept us in the loop on where he’s at, what he’s doing and what his plans are. So all is good on that front. Obviously, we’re very hopeful that we can run that race because with Fernando and our team, we’ve certainly got a lot to prove. I’m very confident in what we can do there, so very hopeful that it goes off without a hitch.”

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Time, Coronavirus Working against the 2020 Indianapolis 500 Happening on May 24

On the surface, IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials are saying and doing all the right things.

Behind the scenes, however, it’s a good bet they’re working harder on contingency plans and alternative dates than they are preparing to run the Indianapolis 500 on its scheduled date of May 24. Anyone watching the growing numbers of positive coronavirus tests and cringing at the mounting death toll being reported daily, it’s hard to believe that his national emergency will be over in the next six-eight weeks.

Sure, the Indianapolis 500 is closer to nine weeks out, but this isn’t a race that can be locked in in a week or two before the green flag. Fans aren’t going to flip their “go back to normal” switch that quickly.

The Centers for Disease Control issued recommendations on March 15 that included no gatherings of more than 50 people for eight weeks, in effect shutting down all major sporting events until at least after May 10. That CDC recommendation, which IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are adhering to, wipes out the GMR Grand Prix at IMS on May 9, despite the series’ best-case scenario.

It’s difficult to imagine that on May 10 or May 11 the series would give the all-clear, full-steam-ahead message that the Indianapolis 500 schedule for just two weeks later would be a go. It’s even harder to imagine 300,000 fans excitedly heading to their hotel rooms, rental homes, airline flights and ultimately their close-quarters seating to watch the race just two weeks after the CDC’s current lockdown ends.

No one wants to see an Indianapolis 500 run with half-empty, or worse, grandstands. And no one wants to put any fan, competitor, crew member (at least one crew member and one Pirelli Tires staffer from the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix tested positive in Melbourne), race official or volunteer worker at risk at a motorsports event that draws fans from all over the globe. And, no, no one will be taking the temperatures of all fans coming into the venue.

IMS and the series put out the following statement on Monday:

“We are aware of the CDC’s interim guidance suggesting the postponement of events involving more than 50 people over the next eight weeks.

Our priority is to do our part in protecting the public health while still conducting the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge as scheduled on May 24.

This continues to be a dynamic situation which we are monitoring constantly in coordination with federal, state, local and public health officials. We are planning for all contingencies and will be prepared to run the GMR Grand Prix and Indy 500 as the COVID-19 situation permits.”

Major sporting events in May and June are already being canceled. The Kentucky Derby, scheduled for May 2, has been pushed back to Sept. 5. Major League Baseball is hopeful of a late-May/early-June startup, but even that date is anybody’s guess at this moment.

The ACO, governing body of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, says that it will announce its decision on the 2020 24-hour sports car classic on April 15. Le Mans, arguably the biggest race in the world, is scheduled for June 13-14, and you can bet that event will be next-to-impossible to pull off three months from now given worldwide travel restrictions and the continued spread of the disease in Europe.

Then, there’s the ugly specter of spending good money that might be flushed down the toilet on tickets or hotel reservations. Consider the recently canceled Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Fans who bought tickets for that canceled race are being told, “Sorry, no cash refunds.” Fans are being offered vouchers for future races run by promoter Green Savoree Racing Promotions.

Granted, different races, different series (not to mention hotels, rentals, airlines) will have different refund policies in the case of canceled races, but what’s happening in St. Petersburg is not a good look for the sport. We’re surprised that the series hasn’t stepped in to address that one. Seriously, who’s actually buying tickets or booking rooms today for races scheduled to take place in May—even the Indianapolis 500—after learning about what’s going on at St. Pete?

We’ve all seen rainouts where the race is run a day or two later and fans can make the decision to stay the extra day or two. However, asking a fan to come back weeks or even months later—or next year—is a tough ask.

Here’s hoping IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway don’t string this decision-making process out much longer regading the 2020 Indianapolis 500.

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IndyCar Developing Contingency Plans for Post Coronavirus Season

Like everyone else in professional sports, all IndyCar officials can do right now is wait for the figurative coronavirus storm to pass and make the best decisions with the time and resources available.

The national state of emergency declared by United States president Donald Trump on Friday afternoon proved to be the final development that forced the cancellation of the season opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Central Florida.

IndyCar was the last major North American motorsport to postpone its season, even after having USF2000 cars on track that morning, albeit behind closed grandstands. Like other sports, IndyCar had attempted to move forward with contesting a race without fans in attendance but was left with no other choice but to shut down.

In a Friday media teleconference, IndyCar CEO Mark Miles said the risk to any gathering of people had become too great.

“We learned that Disney was shutting down, we saw The Players Championship and Ponte Vedra go from their announcement they were going to play a major tournament for them without a crowd to canceling,” Miles said. “Really, there isn’t a sporting event left that feels comfortable running even without fans. I just think that’s reflective of what’s going on in the country and in the world.

“In this country, as you know, very few universities are unaffected. Schools at other levels are closing and asking families to stay home. Businesses are banning travel and asking their employees in many cases to work from home. Really I think it’s just the reality that our society right now is discouraging getting people together.”

Miles wouldn’t provide the exact number of people that were permitted into the facility on Friday but called it “way low.”

To his point, only essential personnel and select media were allowed into the track, numerous annual credential holders told in advance that they would not be permitted entry.

In addition to canceling St. Petersburg, IndyCar moved forward by announcing the postponements of all racing activity through the month of April. That means races at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama and the Circuit of the Americas in Texas have also been postponed.

The Grand Prix of Long Beach in California was previously postponed when city officials nixed all events with large public gatherings through April, Miles saying he doesn’t see an opportunity to reschedule.

There are also concerns for what this means for smaller teams, that barely break even or turn a minimal profit just to continue racing throughout the season. Will the season be extended into the autumn and early winter months? Is the month of May and the Indianapolis 500 at risk of a similar postponement or cancellation?

Those are questions Miles can’t yet answer but is starting to form contingency plans around. He hopes to contest as much of the 17-race schedule as possible once it is safe to do so.

“I would just say we are absolutely focused on May,” Miles said. “We’re still in St. Petersburg, Florida. I’m with (Indianapolis track president) Doug Boles. We’re all going to go home and keep doing what we do. We’re going to be absolutely ready. That’s with the normal schedule. We will obviously evaluate everything every day by the hour.

“We’ll make any changes we have to make. But our mindset and our efforts are completely dedicated to being ready to put on a great show throughout May.”

The most important takeaways form the Friday IndyCar press conference at St. Petersburg can be found below.

Is the Indianapolis 500 At Risk?

As it stands right now, the first IndyCar race of the season would be the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The current cancellations run through the start of the month of May. But what if IndyCar has to cancel into the early summer months?

“These are questions that can’t be answered,” Miles said. “You have to know we’ll do everything possible to have the Indianapolis 500 and the Grand Prix before it in May. If somehow that ends up not being feasible, we’ll be looking at all the other possibilities. Nobody knows of that… Just too many variables to anticipate at this point.”

Doubleheaders For Remaining Tracks?

It is all but certain that the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and Grand Prix of Long Beach will not take place in 2020. For IndyCar to reach 17 races, it may decide to contest doubleheaders at some of the remaining venues this season.

There is already a scheduled doubleheader on the schedule, in June at the Belle Isle Raceway Park in Downtown Detroit. The event on the streets of Toronto contested doubleheaders in 2013 and 2014.

IndyCar may look to pull that lever later in the summer.

“I think that’s an idea that we’re aware of, something that we’ll take into account,” Miles said. “There’s all the considerations … taken into account, when we make the plan going forward. What can a broadcaster cover? What can the promoters do? What works for Honda and Chevy and our suppliers? We’ll do whatever is possible to do to create the fullest season.”

Concern for Smaller Teams?

Team owners Michael Shank (Michael Shank Racing) and Elton Julian (DragonSpeed) both own IMSA and IndyCar teams and have already publicly commented that the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to shutter their entire operations.

That’s not lost on Miles.

“I think we’re concerned about our whole ecosystem,” Miles said. “As I said just about an hour ago we had a call with all of our team owners. Everybody is taking stock in the situation. Everybody will sort and grind through it. I didn’t hear anybody thinking they weren’t going to be in business.

“We will be in very regular touch with them. I think if there’s anything about INDYCAR teams, it’s they’ve shown their resilience. They know how to manage. They care about their people. Right now, I think even more than thinking about their businesses, they’re thinking about their employees, keeping them safe, keeping them employed.

“We have real admiration for our team owners and I’m sure they’ll get through it.”

Organizational Quarantines?

“We were taking precautions as we opened the gates this morning, everybody that was coming into work answered questions about their recent travel and their recent health,” Miles said. “We were prepared with medical personnel to get them help if there was any indication that that was appropriate. That was here.

“Otherwise what we’re doing with teams, at this point I think most of society already has this, but we’re making sure they’re getting good information about the risks and good information about how to protect themselves and their employees.

“We’re not in a position to have to tell them what they’ve got to do. They’re smart people and they’ll figure it out in their own situations.”

Mandatory COVID-19 Tests for Returning Participants?

Mark Miles isn’t sure if it’s feasible or likely that IndyCar would require a negative coronavirus test as a condition for returning to work.

Like everything else right now, it’s just fluid.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Miles said. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it quite frankly. That’s one of those things we’ll think through when we know when we can get everybody back together, based on what conditions are at the time.”

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IndyCar, IMS “absolutely focused” on the Indy 500

IndyCar CEO Mark Miles says that the NTT IndyCar Series is focusing on being “absolutely ready with the normal schedule” for the Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Following the IndyCar Series’ announcement this morning that the first four rounds of the 2020 season had been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic spreading across the U.S., the current plan is to have the season open with the GMR Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road course, following up with the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Miles said in a teleconference today: “We are absolutely focused on May. We’re all still in St. Petersburg, Florida right now, I’m with [IMS track president] Doug Boles and we’re going to go home and keep doing what we do and be absolutely ready with the normal schedule.

“We will obviously evaluate everything every day by the hour and we’ll make any changes we have to make, but our mindset and our efforts are completely dedicated to being able to put on a great show.”

The series had left a month-long gap in the schedule this summer – last two weeks of July, first two weeks of August – to allow TV partner NBC to cover the Olympics in Tokyo. Given that event is currently under question, should local laws prohibit any running at Indy in May, shifting the date of the GP and 500 into that gap would seem one feasible option.

“I just think those are questions that can’t be answered,” said Miles. “You have to know we’ll do everything possible to have the Indianapolis 500 mile race and the Grand Prix before it, in May.

“If somehow that ends up not being feasible we’ll be looking at all the other possibilities that we can. Nobody knows the answers – your hypothetical question included, regarding the possibility that the Olympics aren’t happening.”

He went on: “We want to race, we want as full a season as we can have. We want to race in all our cities. The bottom line is that we just don’t know enough right now to know what’s possible when. What we can do is monitor the situation endlessly and be in contact with all of our promoters and local officials and focus on that.

“From our perspective – our hope, our vision, our plan is to restart in May and get in as much of a season as we can. I know that our promoters are going to assess their individual situations as well. We’ll be every day, every hour talking to suppliers, to the paddock, to our sponsors, our broadcasters, and promoters and we’ll put on as big a show as we possibly can this year.”

MotoGP has floated the idea of bulking up its restarted season with double-headers, and Miles admitted that was a concept pondered by IndyCar too.

“Yeah, that’s an idea that we’re aware of, something we’ll take into account,” he replied. “All considerations have to be taken into account when we make the plan going forward. What can a broadcaster cover? What can the promoters do? What works for Honda and Chevy and our suppliers? We’ll do whatever it’s possible to do to create the fullest season.”

Support from teams and series partners

Miles said that IndyCar’s partners and suppliers, showing an appreciation that the COVID-19 pandemic had created so much uncertainty, were fully empathetic with the Series’ decision to call off the races, and uncertainty over the future shape of the 2020 season.

“We’re in touch with all of our business partners and couldn’t be more appreciative of the support of NBC, NTT, Firestone, Honda and Chevrolet,” said Miles. “They’re all businesses and they are each dealing with the situation as a business and an employer and with their customers including us, so there’s a lot of empathy and support there.

“Roger Penske [owner of Penske Entertainment, new owners of IndyCar and IMS] and I called with all our team owners – same thing. Obviously they want to race and we want to race and we really hate we can’t give our fans what they want right now but there’s a very strong sense of cohesion inside the IndyCar paddock that we’re doing the right thing, what we have to do right now.”

Regarding the fate of the smaller, less well-funded teams, Miles commented: “I think we’re concerned about our whole ecosystem, but… everybody’s taking stock of the situation and everybody will sort of grind through it. I didn’t hear anybody thinking that they weren’t going to be in business.

“We will be in very regular touch with them. And I think if there’s anything about IndyCar teams it’s that they’ve shown their resilience and know how to manage. They care about their people. Right now I think even more than thinking about their businesses, they’re thinking about their employees and keeping them safe and keeping them employed

“So, we have real admiration for the team owners and I’m sure they’ll get through it.”

 

 

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City of Long Beach Postpones IndyCar Grand Prix

The COVID-19 pandemic claimed another prestigious race on Thursday evening as the mayor of Long Beach, California was forced to postpone all “large scale events” through April 2020 – including the Indycar Grand Prix.

The decision was revealed by mayor Robert Garcia in a series of tweets.

Announcement from the City of Long Beach and Mayor Garcia:

Long Beach Cancels All Large Scale Events Through April 2020

Cancellation will Affect Beach Streets, Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach and Others

The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach has taken place for the last 45 years. It is the city’s most popular event and is attended by approximately 180,000 people annually.

The City looks forward to working with Grand Prix Association of Long Beach as well as other promoters to find solutions for holding their events at a later date as the situation warrants.

The news was confirmed by the event promoters, who say they will seek a new date if possible, once the coronavirus concern passes.

“In light of today’s announcement from the City of Long Beach prohibiting all large-scale events in the City through April 30, 2020, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will not take place as scheduled on April 17-19. While we recognize that this is a serious inconvenience for our loyal attendees, sponsors and other clients, nevertheless, this action is consistent with our primary objective of assuring the public’s safety and well-being at our event.

“We are in conversation with the City of Long Beach, various race sanctioning bodies and the Long Beach Convention Center to discuss the viability of rescheduling this event at a later time in the year. If that is not possible, then we look forward to presenting the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 16-18, 2021. Further details about possible refunds or credits will be forthcoming.”

The announcement follows a series of country-wide cancellations or postponements of numerous sporting events or leagues. The NBA, NHL and MLS each suspended its seasons. Major League Baseball has ended spring training and postponed the planned start of the 2020 season.

The NCAA has canceled all spring events, including the remainder of its basketball and baseball seasons.

The World Endurance Championship and IMSA canceled the Super Sebring doubleheader at Sebring International Raceway. The NHRA has postponed the Gatornationals in Gainseville, Florida.

Meanwhile, NASCAR and IndyCar will race this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the Streets of St. Petersburg — albeit in empty venues with no fans allowed in attendance.

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