Watch: Scott McLaughlin stars on virtual IndyCar debut with top-five finish
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On his virtual debut in the iRacing IndyCar Challenge at Watkins Glen, Scott McLaughlin has recovered from a crash to finish one spot short of the podium; which was dominated by series regulars.
Sage Karam held the lead from the start, and was able to hold off a late charge from Ganassi Racing pilot Felix Rosenqvist. Former series champ Will Power finshed third, with McLaughlin making a late pass on race-long sparring partner Oliver Askew for fourth.
While battling Askew early, the Kiwi’s race then took a turn. After getting a good run out of the sweeping turn two and three, McLaughlin pulled alongside Askew into the braking zone for the bus stop chicane. McLaughlin had the inside line initially, before inheriting the outside line for the second half of the chicane.
McLaughlin appeared to offer plenty of room, but after clouting the inside kerb Askew ricocheted into McLaughlin. Both spun, with McLaughlin then getting collected by two of his Penske Racing teammates Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud. The Supercars Championship points leader took on damage, but was able to continue in the top 10 before his first stop.
At the front Sage Karam dominated the race early, ahead of Felix Rosenqvist and Scott Speed. Having recovered from his earlier off, Power was recovering quickly; navigating by Speed prior to the halfway mark. A spin for Speed on lap 23 eliminated him from the lead pack, shifting McLaughlin up to fifth.
From there McLaughlin’s race was primarily about slowly reeling in Askew for a second shot at getting past for fourth, using push-to-pass along the way. A margin that had been up to six seconds was down to two seconds with 10 laps to go, with Karam, Rosenqvist, and Power still locking out the top three positions.
With six laps to go McLaughlin had caught him, and following a clean run through turns three and four he once again took a shot on the back straight. Popping out of the draft to Askew’s outside, McLaughlin was ahead before the braking zone and into fourth cleanly.
From there the race remained static. Karam escaped a crash with a spinning Kyle Kirkwood by millimetres and then defied traffic to retain a healthy lead and the win over Rosenqvist, with Power completing the podium. After a great race of recovery, McLaughlin finished fourth over Askew. There were fuel concerns leading into the final few laps, which saw the margin come down to under a second. But a mistake on the final lap from Askew removed all doubt.
Beyond the top five, Pagenaud, Newgarden, Toyota Racing Series graduate Santino Ferrucci, Kirkwood, and Conor Daly completed the top 10, with some of the series' biggest stars, multi-time NASCAR title winner Jimmie Johnson and former Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi limping to 16th and 17th respectively. Round two of the series takes place next weekend at a yet-to-be-decided circuit.