Watkins Glen, N.Y.--The American Red Cross Grand Prix, the inaugural race of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge Series, was held at the Watkins Glen International virtual track Saturday afternoon. The location for the first of six events was determined by an online vote of the fans.
Three of AJ Foyt Racing's four drivers participated and were rookies in the online simulation game organized by INDYCAR in partnership with iRacing. Charlie Kimball did not participate. His wife Kathleen gave birth to their son Gordon on March 11th, so Kimball couldn’t devote the time he needed to sim racing and still care for his family as the couple also have a 17-month old daughter.
Kanaan was in the No. 14 ABC Supply e-car and Kellett piloted the No. 41 K-Line Insulators USA e-car. Bourdais was behind the wheel of the No. 4 Tresiba e-car since Kimball couldn’t participate.
The race was streamed live on Indycar.com and featured NBC Sports announcer Leigh Diffey, plus color analysts Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell.
The 45-lap race over the 3.37-mile road course was conducted caution-free (the norm on iRacing road courses) despite several accidents which knocked out several competitors including Kanaan early on.
Sage Karam, a part-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, displayed his virtual prowess as he led 43 of the 45 laps after qualifying on the pole in his Wix Filters e-car minutes before the race began. Joining him on the virtual podium were Felix Rosenqvist and Will Power.
The rookie Kellett, in his first INDYCAR iRace, started 17th and was P-9 by lap 7. However, he had a spin which dropped him down in the order. He recovered and was on his way to a top-10 finish when he got punted with two laps to go. His crew chief/spotter Darren Manning figured Dalton would have finished eighth but the record will show Kellett placed 11th.
“I think the first INDYCAR iRacing Challenge event went really well,” said Kellett. “Had
lots of great feedback from the fans online and on Twitch, so it looks like this has been a good event for everyone. I was happy with the e-car performance and overall pace. I think we have a bit of time to find compared to the guys who have more experience but just by playing it safe and being reasonably quick that just shows you have to be smart in this type of racing and we were able to bring it home P-11. Despite a couple incidents, without which I would have jumped a few spots, I’m happy with that and also thankful for the support from the technical crew from A.J. Foyt Racing. Those guys have been pulling long days over this last week for my crew chief/spotter Darren [Manning] and I to be able to communicate and spot. Glad we could put on a good show for the debut of the K-Line Insulators USA e-car.”
Kanaan’s race ended on the first lap when a simulation error—called a netcode—resulted in his accident which gave his car unrepairable damage. The simulation analyzed that Pato O’Ward came too close and it sent Kanaan ‘flipping’ on the opening lap. His attempts to repair the car (which is basically go to the pits and hit reset—each e-car is allowed two resets per race) were not successful. It was quite frustrating for Kanaan who had put in a lot of time the last few days getting up to speed only to be knocked out by a computer glitch.
Kanaan put his 24th place finish into perspective and reminded that the primary goal is to entertain the race fans during a stressful period.
“I found out what happened to me,” he said, explaining, “I had a netcode which is basically the simulation thought we had contact, but we didn’t so I brought it back to the pits and the quick repairs never worked. My suspension was broken and we tried to fix it a couple times and it kicked me out of the game. But on a positive side, it was awesome to get the INDYCAR family back together. We had a team meeting today and it felt like race day. I was nervous for real, excited for the race. We qualified and I was just getting the grip—I just started this six days ago. It doesn’t matter if it is real or not real. We had team meeting, we had connections with the fans with the virtual autographs. I enjoyed it.”
Bourdais, who finished just ahead of Kanaan in 23rd, signed on to do the series on Wednesday and was practicing on his neighbor Tristan Vautier’s sim the next day. Bourdais didn’t receive his equipment in time to set up his own cockpit, so he borrowed Vautier’s to compete in the race on Saturday.
Bourdais, who also participated in his first iRace on Saturday, experienced a different scenario from Kanaan. After qualifying 13th he spun trying to avoid other cars in Turn 1 on the start, and then got clipped as he wove his way through the multi-car crash. Sustaining damage and not being made aware he had to pit under iRace rules, resulted in a disqualification.
“We qualified pretty well, especially since I got my first taste of iRacing on Thursday,” Bourdais said. “Unfortunately, the race went from bad to worse. I spun out on my own on the inside curb at Turn 1 trying to stay away from other cars. Thankfully my car wasn't damaged, but soon after, going thru the lap 1 crash fest, I got tagged and it destroyed our car. All of that all put us a lap down, almost two... To further dig the hole, I damaged my front wing and since I was still going plenty fast, we decided to stay out and get it fixed at our next needed stop. A lot of guys kept going with damaged cars and we thought we could as well, but we got disqualified. It’s tough, the lack of experience plus circumstances, and you need to stay out of trouble and I didn’t manage that. It is what it is.”
The next round of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge Series will take place at the virtual Barber Motorsports Park on Saturday, April 4 and will be broadcast live starting at 2:30 pm ET on NBCSN.