Scott McLaughlin has finished third in the opening round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, which puts real-world IndyCar stars against each other in a three-race sim-racing series.
The IndyCar rookie ran in the top-three for almost the entire race at Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve, even having a brief share of the lead after making an early pitstop.
However, a mistake while battling with race winner Alex Palou with 12 laps in hand cost McLaughlin a shot at the victory.
Qualifying on the front row, McLaughlin tucked into the tow of Palou on the exit of the wall of champions to run second through the opening sequence of turns.
Australian racer James Davison was hot on the Kiwi’s tail and the pair spent time running wheel-to-wheel along the back straight on lap one.
McLaughlin held position but had forfeited nearly two seconds to Palou.
Behind the leading trio was incumbent Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato and Sage Karam. However, a misjudgement under braking by Karam pitched Sato into a spin at the hairpin.
With no one able to find any ground on those in front, timing when each driver made their compulsory pit stop would be crucial in shaking up the running order.
McLaughlin opted to undercut Palou but cycled back into a profusion of traffic, which compelled him into using most of his push-to-pass to get through.
Palou held out another three laps before diving into the pitlane.
However, a series of flying laps put McLaughlin at the head of the field. Palou tucked into second and Road to Indy prodigy Braden Eves in third.
Palou was quick on his fresh set of tyres, and McLaughlin soon found his mirrors filled with the black and blue of the Chip Ganassi Honda.
The lead switch came on lap 20 of 32 when McLaughlin was pushed wide at turn two. Palou had placed himself on the inside line for the right-hander, and when McLaughlin locked his front right, the Kiwi slid onto the grass.
That gifted Palou a big lead, while McLaughlin would be demoted to third when Eves pounced on the opportunity to snatch second.
Karam looked to put the heat on McLaughlin for a chance at the podium. But when Karam made an error while setting up a move, the Penske driver could amble home in third.
“It was a lot of fun,” McLaughlin said.
“I had to try something there in the PPG Chevy. I had to jump in and get some tyres and try and get the undercut.
“But I just got caught in a lot of traffic and used my push-to-pass too much – I am learning all of that. But it was good fun and proper racing.
“The main thing is we got the car onto the podium. Alex is a fast racer, and he is going to be fantastic this season.
“I am now going to try and replicate what I have done today into real-life, but it is going to take a lot of effort.”
McLaughlin also showed off his brand-new sim-racing rig for the event, which is custom-designed to replicate his exact driving position for the real-life IndyCar.
The second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge will be held at Homestead Miami Speedway on March 25.