Essentially every primetime sim racing series was in action this past weekend, from Formula 1 and IndyCar to NASCAR and The Race’s Legends Trophy. As such, there were hours of virtual competition at tracks across the globe, like the beloved Twin Ring Motegi oval to the Chinese Grand Prix circuit in Shanghai.
As real-deal racers become more acquainted with all the nuances of sim action, we’re starting to see closer action and, yes, fewer crashes. That means more realistic racing while we wait on the world to go back to normal…whenever that’ll be.
Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron, who largely fought his way into NASCAR through sim racing, showed his skill again by winning Sunday’s virtual Pro Invitational event at Richmond Raceway. It’s the youngsters second consecutive win in the eNASCAR series, both of which came at short tracks with his first victory taking place at Bristol two weeks ago.
Byron finessed his way to the front in his No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro, avoiding the inherent calamity of packed short oval racing. A host of cautions played into everyone’s strategy, as did an overtime attempt, but Byron was able to lead a race-high 94 laps at day’s end.
“I wasn’t in a racing family growing up, so this was really my avenue to cut my teeth,” said Byron in the virtual victory lane. “Obviously, much different way than most guys grew up, but I feel like in my generation, it’s pretty normal, so very thankful for what it’s done for me.
Saturday marked IndyCar’s virtual return to the Twin Ring Motegi oval, where it hasn’t raced in the better part of a decade. Three drivers who previously won there in real life contested the fourth round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, though it was reigning Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud who nabbed his second consecutive sim racing win at the asymmetrical track.
There was a late-race push from Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who battled for second and conclusively staved off Team Penske driver Will Power. The top three made it interesting during the closing laps, though Pagenaud maintained a slight speed advantage that pushed him across the finish line first.
“Today was a lot about tire saving, the right strategy once again,” said Pagenaud, who works in combination with his real-life race engineer Ben Brentzman for sim action. “At the end it got a bit crazy. Yeah, what’s fun to me, it’s actually that you’re racing the exact same guys as usual, exact same moves as you would in real life. You keep turning your wheels in your head.
“Right now we’re not racing (on real tracks), so we’re racing (virtually) on the weekend. That gives me a lot of joy. The adrenaline was definitely at the maximum level at the end of the race.”
The Race Legends Trophy
A pair of multi-discipline drivers were victorious in The Race’s Legends Trophy doubleheader this weekend, hosted at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park. With the first round going to sportscar veteran and former Stewart F1 pro Jan Magnussen, the over-40 field of drivers saw a mighty duel between the Dane and defending race winner Jenson Button. With everyone in equal McLaren M23 F1 car machinery, it’s truly a matter of driving skill—and a little bit of luck—that decides these Legends Trophy events.
Handily for Juan Pablo Montoya, he had enough of both to claim victory at the afternoon’s second race. The two-time Indy 500 winner survived opening-lap chaos behind polesitter Petter Solberg and retained his position for the entire 13-lap race, earning his first Legends Trophy “W.” Previous winners Dario Franchitti and Emanuele Pirro completed the rostrum.
Ferrari hotshoe Charles Leclerc entered Sunday’s virtual Chinese Grand Prix with hopes to win his second competition in a row. A dominant victory at the sim racing Australian Grand Prix proved he was untouchable at Albert Park, though on Sunday, Red Bull’s Alex Albon pressured him until the end of the 23-lap affair. Regardless, the Monegasque driver was victorious again by a gap of 2.512 seconds.
Leclerc, whose best finish at the Chinese Grand Prix IRL is fifth place in last year’s race, started Sunday’s race from pole position. He ran a one-stop strategy, switching to hard compound tires on lap five and finishing out the race with little rubber left at the high speed, braking-intensive circuit.
Renault test driver Guanyu Zhou made a magnificent last-lap pass on Stoffel Vandoorne to round out the podium.
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