Scott McLaughlin beats the competition on iRacing with strategy at Barber

PHOTO BY SETH EGGERT for KICKIN' THE TIRES / iRacing

By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer

The first NTT Data IndyCar Series win for Virgin Australia Supercars’ defending champion, Scott McLaughlin, came after he out-foxed the competition at the virtual Barber Motorsports Park.

McLaughlin pitted twice in his No. 2 Shell V-Power / Verizon Chevrolet during the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama. After his second stop, he was 10 seconds behind race leader Scott Speed. With fresh tires, McLaughlin set a blistering pace. It only took 10 laps for 26-year-old to catch Speed.

A mistake by the Andretti Autosport driver made a battle non-existent, leaving McLaughlin to hold off Will Power for the race win. When the checkered flag waved, Power was 0.418 seconds behind his teammate. Speed rounded out the podium in third.

“I’m really happy,” admitted McLaughlin. “I actually brought in my IndyCar engineer that I’ve been working with in the United States, Johnathan Diuguid. I give him credit. He put be on an awesome strategy. It’s better than me last week, I was playing with the fuel myself, trying to remember the numbers. It was a bit easier this week.

With the aid of his IndyCar race engineer, McLaughlin utilized a strategy that no other driver attempted in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. Prior to a competition caution on lap 15, the Team Penske driver ducked onto pit road. As last week’s winner, and race leader Sage Karam remained on track, McLaughlin bided his time.

When Karam, Felix Rosenqvist, and others pitted under green, McLaughlin assumed the lead. His torrent pace lead to drama behind. Attempting to catch the Christchurch, New Zealand native, Karam and Rosenqvist collided. The collision extended McLaughlin’s lead to 18 seconds, putting him in position to make a second stop and not lose touch with the race leader.

Rosenqvist went on to finish sixth. Karam’s race went downhill from that point. After a pit road speeding penalty and several on track incidents, he quietly left the race with a 27th-place finish.

McLaughlin, who will attempt to earn his third-consecutive Supercars title, uses a Sim Seats rig designed to mimic his Mustang setup. No matter how different his set-up was, it did not slow down the veteran iRacer.

“I started iRacing 10 years ago,” explained McLaughlin. “It was one of the best things that I did. As far as a race driver coming up through the ranks, I think this would be right. To be able to keep sharp, iRacing provides you with racers and sim-racers from all over the world. I love it, I always have. I think it’s really worth the investment for your future if you want to improve and continue to get better. It’s been an awesome tool for me, and it’s fun.”

Feel good story Robert Wickens finished eighth. The Honda Grand Prix of Alabama was the first race for Wickens since he suffered a back injury in a violent crash at Pocono Raceway in 2018. Although the race was on iRacing, it gave the Arrow McLaren SP driver a chance to showcase the hand controls that have been developed for him.

An incident in qualifying relegated Wickens to a 29th-place starting spot.  However, he climbed as high as third and had a clean race until contact sent him off track with under five laps to go. With a damaged front wing and a missing engine cover, Wickens soldiered on to finish.

The Finish

1. Scott McLaughlin [8], 2. Will Power [2], 3. Scott Speed [6], 4. Alex Palou [4], 5. Simon Pagenaud [5], 6. Felix Rosenqvist [3], 7. Colton Herta [12], 8. Robert Wickens [29], 9. Josef Newgarden [7], 10. Santino Ferrucci [24], 11. Dalton Kellett [20], 12. Jimmie Johnson [22], 13. Sebastien Bourdais [28], 14. Graham Rahal [10], 15. Oliver Askew [9], 16. Scott Dixon [16], 17. James Hinchcliffe [19], 18. Ed Carpenter [27], 19. Zach Veach [23], 20. Kyle Kirkwood [15], 21. Kyle Kaiser [21], 22. Alexander Rossi [13], 23. Conor Daly [26], 24. Patricio O’Ward [17], 25. Marcus Ericsson [14], 26. Tony Kanaan [25], 27. Sage Karam [1], 28. Jack Harvey [18], 29. Felipe Nasr [11].

Lead Changes: Four among four drivers.

Lap Leader(s): Sage Karam 1-24, Felix Rosenqvist 25, Scott McLaughlin 26-31, Scott Speed 32-39, Scott McLaughlin 40-45

Laps Led: Sage Karam 24, Scott McLaughlin 12, Scott Speed 8, Felix Rosenqvist 1.

Hard Charger: Robert Wickens (+21)

Cautions: One for three laps.

Margin of Victory: 0.418 seconds.

Average Speed: 115.276 mph

Fastest Lap: Felix Rosenqvist (1:06.721 seconds, 128.415 mph)

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