Conor Daly screamed, “That was hysterical!” as he crossed the finish in second place behind First Responder 175 presented by GMR IndyCar iRacing Challenge winner Scott McLaughlin. Whatever looked set in stone starting the final lap was flipped on its head after 69 laps and three corners in the 70-lap contest as shadows of the real finish to the 2011 Indy 500 won by Dan Wheldon emerged.
A pair of crashes that began in Turn 4 changed the outcome as Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward hit leader Marcus Ericsson at the corner’s apex. The incident promoted O’Ward’s teammate Oliver Askew to the lead and Santino Ferrucci into second. But the carnage wasn’t over…
Sprinting to the checkered flag, Ferrucci steered left and hit Askew, sending both cars hard into the wall 100 feet shy of the finish line. Their big and unnecessary clash was a gift to polesitter McLaughlin who drove past with Daly in tow beneath the checkered flag. The tumbling Ferrucci was next in third, the flipping Askew was fourth, and the limping O’Ward claimed fifth.
McLaughlin, who ran out of fuel earlier in the race, couldn’t believe his good fortune.
“It’s unbelievable to get the Pirtek car into Victory Lane,” the Team Penske driver said from his home in Australia after taking his second win from the six iRacing Challenge events. “I was hoping there would be a wreck at the end, and there were two. Everyone crashed, and that’s what happens. Got lucky there with some wrecks.”
Driving for Carlin Racing, Daly started 22nd and was stuck in the middle of the pack for most of the 175-mile contest. Thanks to consistently poor decisions by those ahead of him, the Hoosier was bemused to improve 20 positions in the latter stages of the crash-filled close to the race.
“It was quite a day on the Internet today,” he said. “I think we were involved in three different accidents. It was fun!”
Ferrucci offered an apology to Askew, who drew the ire of leaders in previous iRacing events after making contact as they were in similar positions of going for the win.
“That’s my bad and I’m sorry for doing that to Oliver,” the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan driver said. “It was his race.”
McLaughlin, AMSP’s Lando Norris, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal featured heavily at the opening of the race. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Sage Karam and Penske’s Simon Pagenaud also factored up front, but their respective plans for Victory Lane were eventually spoiled.
A late caution with 18 laps remaining in the 70-lap contest saved some drivers who were marginal on fuel and took from others who’d saved enough to capitalize on those who were flirting with making splash-and-go pit stops. With fuel saving taken out of the equation, a number of drivers pitted for fresh tires and the sprint to the finish line was on.
The calm lasted mere moments as a huge tangle entering Turn 3 claimed Karam, Josef Newgarden, and others as another yellow was thrown with 12 laps to go. Pagenaud motored ahead of Graham Rahal just prior to the crash, leaving the 2019 Indy 500 winner in position to control the field on the return to green.
The lead didn’t last as Rahal took the point with nine to run, and Norris quickly joined them, going for first before making contact with Pagenaud and ruining the Frenchman’s day.
With five laps remaining, it was an Arrow McLaren SP party up front with Norris, Askew, and O’Ward holding the top three as Marcus Ericsson and McLaughlin pursued. Payback was soon delivered for Norris, though, who struck Pagenaud from behind as he was slowing to pit.
From there, the last IndyCar iRacing Challenge race planned before the NTT IndyCar Series starts its season on June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway went haywire as the victory wreath changed hands multiple times in a matter of second to close this strange virtual chapter in open-wheel-racing history.