Scott McLaughlin has been gifted victory at the death in the IndyCar First Responder 175 contested at the hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Fifth at the final corner, two separate collisions involving the leaders allowed the Kiwi to slip into the lead with metres left to run.
“That was exhilarating,” said McLaughlin post his victory. “I thought we were going to get third and then the two crashed in front of me…so really cool.”
“I did the Steven Bradbury mate. Everyone crashed and that’s what happened.”
Conor Daly claimed an unlikely second and Santino Ferrucci, who came together with Oliver Askew on the final straight while duelling for the lead, brought home a wounded car in a controversial third place.
As it Happened:
Pole-sitter McLaughlin got the jump on Lando Norris at the green flag but came vulnerable from the slipstream down the back straight and allowed Scott Speed, Norris and Graham Rahal to slip past.
McLaughlin then became a victim of a hard-charging Will Power. The 2018 Indy 500 victor scything his way from seventh to third within the first three tours.
The race’s first caution was waved after five laps when Dayle Cone Racing’s Alex Palou became squeezed along the pitlane wall, causing Tony Kanaan to go for a wild spin into the outside wall, taking iRacing race winner Sage Karam out with him.
On the restart the order was Speed, Rahal and Power with the Australian continuing to charge towards the lead. He made light work of Rahal at turn three before hunting down Speed and forcefully barging his way into the lead.
The lower track temperatures compared to qualifying and mid-week practice races meant several drivers began to suffer from the effects of tyre wear earlier than anticipated, allowing the leaders to build a margin to the challenging pack.
Courtesy of the early caution, Power and Norris were able to extend their first fuel stint. The duo both opting to pit on lap 33.
Subsequent race leader Sage Karam peeled into pit road the following lap but became unstuck on the entry, spinning into the wall and ruling himself out of a strong finish.
An early pitstop from IndyCar journeyman James Davison paid dividends as he was able to feed ahead of Norris and behind fellow countryman Will Power.
Second then became the lead when Will Power came back to pitlane 29-laps from home and just nine-laps into his second stint. The Penske driver going for an early final stop, aware that he could not make it to the chequered flag on his current fuel load.
It put a large question mark over the rest of the front runners and whether they could all make it to the line.
Norris peeled into pit-road on lap 52 and became the fortunate victim of caution for an incident involving Davison – who was on his outlap – Stefan Wilson and Speed.
The incident meant the previous round winner filed out ahead of Power and was the first driver in the queue with fresh tyres.
However, several drivers decided to pit behind the pace car. The likes of Rahal, Felix Rosenqvist and Simon Pagenaud all opting to stay out and risk running on empty in the final laps.
Yet another caution was waved just two laps after the restart. A spectacular multi-car crash in the turn 3-4 short chute triggered from Takuma Sato tagging Josef Newgarden saw a myriad of drivers spear into the wall.
The restart was going to be pivotal, with Norris sitting comfortably on fresh tyres in fourth behind Pagenaud, Rahal and Rosenqvist.
It would not take long for Norris to charge into the lead, executing a wily move on Rahal who then forced Pagenaud into the outside wall at turn two.
While a fourth caution period was avoided, the collision meant all three Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet’s of Norris, Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew to move into the top three podium positions.
Their ensuing battle for victory ultimately paved a way for Marcus Ericsson and McLaughlin to catch the leaders.
But a slowing lapped car of Simon Pagenaud saw race leader Norris make unavoidable contact with the Frenchman, spearing himself into the wall and out of the race. The race leader was thus eliminated on the penultimate lap.
The accident allowed Marcus Ericsson to take control of the race on the final lap, but he too came to blows on the final corner with Pato O’Ward. The ex-Formula 1 racer sent into a spin while coming out of turn four, eventually finishing the race down in 11th.
And if the race couldn’t get any more enthralling, Santino Ferrucci, who out of nowhere was in a shot of stealing a race win, collided with new-race leader Oliver Askew mere metres from the finish stripe. Replays show that an overly eager Ferrucci sent Askew into the wall in a bold attempt to cut the McLaren off.
However, their loss was McLaughlin’s treasure. The two-time defending Supercars champion and ardent sim-racer therefore being gifted an incredible victory right at the death.
It rounds out an impressive IndyCar iRacing stint for McLaughlin, claiming two out of the six-round wins including a coveted victory at Indianapolis.
After suffering a difficult race, fellow kiwi Scott Dixon capitalised on everyone’s misfortunes to claim a strong top-ten finish.
McLaughlin’s attention now turns to Wednesday’s fifth BP Supercars Eseries round, while the IndyCar field continue preparations for a likely return to racing at Texas Motor Speedway in June.