Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson (pictured at right, above, with Graham Rahal) has joined the field of IndyCar drivers as a “special guest” entrant for this Saturday’s virtual American Red Cross Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International, opening round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.
The event, which will last approximately 90 minutes, will be streamed through IndyCar.com while IndyCar’s YouTube and Facebook platforms as well as iRacing’s Twitch will serve as additional outlets for viewing. The NBC broadcasting team of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be calling the action. The pre-race activities will be highlighted by iconic national anthem singer Jim Cornelison adding his voice, as he has for the past three Indianapolis 500s.
The 25 drivers in the entry includes series champions Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan, four Indianapolis 500 winners and collectively has registered 140 series victories. The Team Penske trio of Newgarden, Pagenaud and Power, along with the AJ Foyt Racing duo of Bourdais and Kanaan, have combined for nine series championships led by Bourdais’ four and two by Newgarden.
The American Red Cross Grand Prix is the first of six events to be held weekly each Saturday through May 2. The opening event will be followed by others at Barber Motorsports Park (April 4), a “Driver’s Choice” track (April 11), a “Random Draw” track (April 18), Circuit of The Americas (April 25) and a “non-IndyCar dream track” (May 2).
Fan voting through a bracket format voted Watkins Glen as the first venue for the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. IndyCar has staged 11 actual races at the permanent road course in upstate New York, with the most recent coming in 2017, won by Alexander Rossi.
Who’s the favorite?
This might be IndyCar’s first virtual race featuring a full field of its stars, but there are several drivers who could emerge as early favorites given their iRacing experience.
According to iRacing statistics, Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet) has made 1,145 road course starts in the sim game, winning 156 times (13.6 percent). Power’s rate of top-five finishes is an astounding 46.5 percent. Yet, other drivers have even better marks.
Scott Speed, who will drive Andretti Autosport’s No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda, has won 44.3 percent of his iRacing road course races (71 of 160). Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin (No. 2 Shell V-Power Team Penske Chevrolet) has won 33.7 percent (178 of 528). Sage Karam (No. 24 DRR Wix Filters Chevrolet) of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing wins at a 26.9 percent clip (143 of 532).
In terms of career iRacing road-course wins among the entrants, McLaughlin leads the way with 178 and is followed by Power (156) and Karam (143).
Other entrants with more than 100 iRacing road-course starts are Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) with 219, Alex Palou (No. 55 Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh Honda) with 105, and Santino Ferrucci (No. 18 SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan) with 101.
The starting line-up for the race will be set through a 10-minute qualifying session prior to the event that will go green shortly after 4 p.m. In the interest of fairness, iRacing will give all participants the same car setups. Teams will have the ability to design each driver’s car livery to match their desired paint scheme, making them easily recognizable to the viewers.
The IndyCar iRacing Challenge will not crown an overall champion but will add a special element where INDYCAR will make a donation to one of its partner charities.
The opening event was named the American Red Cross Grand Prix to bring awareness to the organization and the efforts to encourage blood donations amid the coronavirus pandemic. The American Red Cross faces a severe blood shortage due to an unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations during this period.
IndyCar is using the event to encourage people to give blood. Please learn how you can help by making an appointment to give blood to the American Red Cross by visiting https://sleevesup.redcrossblood.org/campaign/sleeves-up-with-indycar/. For more information on the American Red Cross, please visit www.redcross.org.