Two-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin won the unofficial IndyCar iRacing Challenge title, and he pulled it off by surviving the final corner on the final lap of the final race.
Entering the 70th and final lap of the sixth and final race of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at virtual Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Scott McLaughlin, a two-time Supercars champion for DJR Team Penske who has competed in this virtual open-wheel racing series with Roger Penske’s team, was running in fifth place.
The driver who has never competed in an actual IndyCar race entered the race in third place in the unofficial championship standings, 15 points behind teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, who were tied atop the standings with 176 points each.
McLaughlin, who won the race at virtual Barber Motorsports Park, lost his advantage over his teammates when he was taken out by Oliver Askew late in the race at virtual Twin Ring Motegi just over two weeks ago while in the lead.
With Pagenaud out of contention in the finale, several laps down in 25th place after leading but then being involved in two late wrecks with Lando Norris, the championship was slated to come down to Power and McLaughlin.
Power was running 14th place as the first driver not on the lead lap. A 14th place finish is worth 16 points, and Power had already secured three bonus points: one for leading at least one lap and two for leading the most laps.
With Power set to score 19 points, McLaughlin needed to score 34 to tie him. A tiebreaker would favor McLaughlin, as Power had not won a race in the series.
Sitting in fifth place in turn four of the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) oval in Speedway, Indiana on lap 70 of 70, the 26-year-old New Zealander was slated to score just 32 points: 30 for a fifth place finish, one for taking the pole position and one for leading a lap.
That’s when the top four drivers decided that they’d rather play demolition derby than try to win the First Responder 170, effectively a virtual Indianapolis 500.
Marcus Ericsson had just shot to the lead on the outside of Patricio O’Ward in turn three. O’Ward proceeded to drive into the side of him in turn four, taking both drivers out of contention for the win.
Askew shot from third to first place as a result, with Santino Ferrucci following closely in second. It looked as though it would be a classic Indy finish, with one driver barely holding off the other as they took the checkered flag just mere hundredths of a second from one another.
That’s when Ferrucci, who later stated that his move was inspired by competing in other forms of iRacing and “trying to get on his door because of the NASCAR style”, slammed into the side of Askew.
Both drivers crashed, but their cars spun and rolled across the finish line.
Not before McLaughlin drove past, however.
The driver of the #40 Chevrolet somehow found himself winning the race — and the virtual championship — mere moments after trailing Power in the championship standings.
Here is how the three Team Penske drivers, who occupied the top three in the standings in some order after each of the last four races, ended up stacking up compared to one another.
Position – Driver: Points (Behind)
1st – Scott McLaughlin: 213 (0)
2nd – Will Power: 195 (-18)
3rd – Simon Pagenaud: 182 (-31)
Scott McLaughlin had been slated to make his IndyCar debut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in the 2020 season prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
Whether or not he ends up making his series debut this year remains to be seen, but when asked after the race if he would like to compete in an oval race at some point, he confirmed that he would not only love to do that but that he would love to compete in the series full-time one day.
“I’m just interested in IndyCar, so IndyCar includes ovals. I’m interested in being the best driver I can possibly in the future to be a part of the IndyCar championship,” he stated. “Yeah, ideally I’ve got to learn a lot in real life. I had my first test at Texas a few months ago, and that was pretty mind-blowing, the speed and speeds that I have never been before. I can only imagine what Indianapolis is like in real life, but yeah, that dream will have to hold for a little bit.”