Karam dominates IndyCar iRacing Challenge season opener

Image via IndyCar

Karam dominates IndyCar iRacing Challenge season opener

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Karam dominates IndyCar iRacing Challenge season opener

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Polesitter Sage Karam drove away from the field in his No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevy on Saturday, the Pennsylvanian handling second-place Felix Rosenqvist (+3.618s) and third-place Will Power (+11.416s) with ease to capture the American Red Cross Grand Prix iRacing event on the virtual Watkins Glen full course.

Image via iRacing

Karam leapt from the front row to lead Chip Ganassi Racing’s Rosenqvist in the No. 10 Honda and others in the 24-car starting field through the first round of pit stops in the 45-lap contest, and pushed the gap out to 3.6 seconds by Lap 27. The lead trio carried on after the second stop, Karam, Rosenqvist, and Power in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevy playing on their own stretch of circuit as fourth-placed Scott McLaughlin in the No. 2 Penske Chevy crossed the finish line more than 30 seconds behind Power and over 40 seconds behind the winner.

McLaughlin took fourth from Arrow McLaren SP’s Oliver Askew with six laps remaining, and despite his best efforts to reclaim the place in his No. 7 Chevy, the 2019 Indy Lights champion fell just a few seconds short.

More than 11,000 viewers followed the event on iRacing’s YouTube channel, the event also carried live on IndyCar.com, Facebook live, and Twitch.

“It was nerve-wracking for sure at the end,” said Karam, who was nearly taken out by a spinning Kyle Kirkwood in the closing laps. “I picked left and thankfully it was the right choice. I think [the race] was great. The guys committed to it very well this week. It was a lot of fun and it was great we could give the fans something to watch. The Wix car looked pretty good up front, so hopefully we can replicate that when we go racing for real.”

Rosenqvist started iRacing during the offseason, and did his best to keep pace with Karam, who has turned more laps on the simulation platform than any of his rivals.

“That was a long and sweaty race,” said IndyCar’s 2019 Rookie of the Year. “Runner-up it is. [Karam] seemed to have it pretty much under control. I could do some quick laps here or there, but I’d overheat my tires. He always had something more than I had.”

One corner complex — the Bus Stop chicane — produced the majority of the crashes during the event.

Image via iRacing

Lap 6 was an especially painful affair for Team Penske as McLaughlin sought to take seventh place off of Askew at the Bus Stop. Despite leaving the AMSP driver room on the inside, a collision in the middle of the chicane tipped both drivers into spins that caused Penske’s Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden to pile into each other. In a single lap, Team Penske’s four-car assault running inside the top 10 was reduced to two, with Will Power in fifth and McLaughlin persevering in ninth with a broken front wing.

Lap 13 saw more Bus Stop drama as AMSP’s Pato O’Ward got sideways exiting the complex and was tagged from behind by Indy Pro 2000 champion Kyle Kirkwood in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Andretti Autosport Honda. O’Ward’s Chevy-powered entry was battered in the contact while Kirkwood suffered lesser damage that was limited to his front wings.

He’d cause Karam’s heart rate to rise in the waning minutes with the spin that nearly handed the win to Rosenqvist.

A half-spin by Jimmie Johnson on Lap 20 slowed his solid march forward. The seven-time NASCAR Cup champion would later add an unforced crash exiting the Bus Stop to blight any chance of a solid finish. Johnson was classified 16th at the checkered flag.

Image via iRacing

With two quick repairs allowed during the race, the affected Penske drivers were able to overcome their earlier adversity as Pagenaud crossed the line in sixth with Newgarden immediately behind in seventh. As a team, the foursome excelled with its entries claiming P3, P4, P6, and P7, while Power was also credited with the fastest lap of the event.

Alexander Rossi’s frustrations while preparing for the event were compounded in an opening lap crash where the Indy 500 winner pulled left to try and pass Josef Newgarden while approaching the Bus Stop, and found Alex Palou’s Dale Coyne Racing Honda was already occupying that piece of road.

After completing multiple flips, Rossi headed to the pits for repairs that left his Andretti Autosport entry at the back of the pack. He would soldier home to take 17th.

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