2016 IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud has won an incredible fuel-saving battle in the third round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge from Michigan International Speedway.
Seemingly nowhere all race, the patience of Pagenaud was played to perfection as one-by-one the race leaders came in to pit for fuel within the last 10 laps.
Racing in the early hours of the morning from his Brisbane home, Scott McLaughlin finished second in his inaugural oval race, another benefactor of everyone else’s’ fuel trouble. A surprise result for the kiwi as he was tangled up in an enormous opening-lap crash, dropping himself back to 22nd.
Rounding off the podium is NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr who utilised his late stop for fuel to leapfrog himself inside the top-three on the final lap.
The race was punctuated a by an opening-lap crash as the field came to the green to bring out the race’s first and only caution. Chip Ganassi’s Felix Rosenqvist was the accident’s perpetrator as he tagged Oliver Askew into the outside wall, causing chaos to unfold behind him.
The resulting melee consequently flipped race two winner McLaughlin. The kiwi ultimately compelled to battle his wounded Penske Chevrolet back to pitlane, re-joining the race in 22nd.
Unfortunately the same fate unfortunately was not shared by fellow kiwi Scott Dixon who pre-race admitted he was excited for the challenge of oval racing.
Having qualified 12th, Dixon was another victim in the opening-lap chaos, but the five-time series champion feared much worse, having to retire from the race altogether.
The simulated draft proved to be extremely powerful as Power, Ericsson and Sage Karam traded positions for the lead on every passing lap once the race resumed on lap four.
With the top eight drivers within one second of the race lead by lap 30, how the drivers were going to transition on and off pit road during the sole mandatory pitstop was going to prove critical for the battle for the victory.
Sage Karam was the first driver from the led battle pack to pit on lap 41. Race leader Power covering off an undercut attempt by Karam by pitting one lap later.
Karam’s earlier pitstop paid large dividends as the race one winner had established a 1.2s lead over Power once the field completed their stops.
But a resilient Power began to etch into Karam’s advantage, stealing the draft to draw himself back to within one-tenth with 35 laps remaining. The ever-intransigent Graham Rahal also worked himself into play for the lead as the top three extend a 1.9s lead over the field.
However, the top five runners who all pitted in response to the early stop of Karam were obliged to save fuel as it quickly became clear they may not have enough in the tank to reach the chequered flag.
Everyone’s questions on fuel were quickly answered as the top three pitted on lap 70 for a splash-and-dash. Those who pitted late, including McLaughlin, were rewarded for the early race efforts and found themselves within striking distance of the lead.
One-by-one the new race leaders came in for fuel, promoting Simon Pagenaud, who was outside the top-ten for most of the race into the lead and ahead of McLaughlin and NASCAR Legend Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Pagenaud then cruised to his first victory of the virtual series while McLaughlin maintains his points lead with a second-place finish. Power began to chase after the lead he unwillingly was forced to relinquish after his second pitstop. The Aussie was up to fourth and on the tail of Earnhardt Jr and McLaughlin as the trio crossed the line.
|1||Simon Pagenaud||85 laps|
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr||+15.337s|
|12||Kyle Kaiser||1 Lap|
|13||Conor Daly||1 Lap|
|14||Sage Karam||1 Lap|
|15||James Davison||1 Lap|
|16||Dalton Kellett||1 Lap|
|17||Felipe Nasr||1 Lap|
|18||Tony Kanaan||1 Lap|
|19||Marcus Ericsson||1 Lap|
|20||Sebastien Bourdais||2 Laps|
|21||Felix Rosenqvist||2 Laps|
|22||James Hinchfliffe||2 Laps|
|23||Santino Ferrucci||2 Laps|
|24||Josef Newgarden||3 Laps|
|25||Pato O’Ward||5 Laps|
|26||Robert Wickens||6 Laps|
|27||max Chilton||6 Laps|