Pagenaud wins Michigan Esports IndyCar race, Earnhardt third
Team Penske-Chevrolet’s Simon Pagenaud won the Chevrolet 275 at virtual Michigan International Speedway, third round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, while teammate Scott McLaughlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr completed the top three after early stops left them saving fuel and running cautiously in the closing stages.
Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda’s polesitter Marcus Ericsson led Will Power’s Team Penske-Chevrolet from the start, and they were chased by Felipe Nasr of Carlin Racing-Chevrolet but behind them there was carnage that involved Marco Andretti, Felix Rosenqvist and Robert Wickens. That allowed Watkins Glen winner Sage Karam of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing-Chevy, and Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing-Chevy into fourth and fifth behind Carlin Racing’s Felipe Nasr.
On the restart on Lap 7, Power took less than a lap to draft past Ericsson, and in typical pack-race form, they then proceeded to swap back and forth, allowing Karam and Nasr to hang close, with Kaiser, AJ Foyt Racing’s Dalton Kellett, Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach and Challenge debutant James Davison to keep up.
Approaching the Lap 20 mark, Karam, Power and Nasr were in charge while Graham Rahal in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-Honda was now past Ericsson into fourth with Davison in sixth ahead of Patricio O’Ward in the Arrow McLaren SP-Chevy entry. However, the latter soon had a connection problem and rejoined five laps down.
Alex Palou of Dale Coyne Racing-Honda with Team Goh, who had also been caught up in the startline carnage, had recovered to run in the top 10 just behind Alexander Rossi, while Earnhardt – who had avoided the mess – was running 14th.
By Lap 30 of the 85-lap race, Power, Karam and Nasr had a tiny margin over Rahal, Ericsson and Davison. On Lap 40, Karam became the first front-runner to pit, and Power stopped next time by, with fellow Aussie Davison right behind him but losing it as he braked to pitlane speed limit. Nasr had a similar accident and was then collected by Kyle Kaiser, while Rossi slithered but kept it under control.
Karam was perfect in pitlane – and on in and out laps – which left him well clear of Power once everyone had made their stops. Carpenter had also moved toward the front although Rahal soon usurped him.
However, Power took only until Lap 50 to reach the front and continue his battle with Karam, as Rahal and Carpenter stayed close behind, ready to take advantage of any loss of momentum from the leaders. Confusing the issue was Newgarden who was running a lap down and desperate to get his lap back, and he was well able to keep up with Power, Karam and Rahal who were trying to save fuel.
Behind them, Rossi was up to fourth ahead of Carpenter, and soon Palou had deposed the ECR car too, but Carpenter would spin as he entered the pits and take himself out of the running. Also impressing was iRacing debutant Hunter-Reay, running sixth.
With 15 laps to go, Rahal pitted, and next time by Karam did the same, one lap before Power. That left Palou leading but he grazed the wall, thus Hunter-Reay, Veach, Pagenaud, Kaiser and Earnhardt Jr were the top five, with the retired NASCAR star lying 15sec down.
As front runner after front runner eased up, pitted or simply ran out of gas, defending Indy 500 winner Pagenaud moved smoothly into the lead and without any threat. Barber Motorsports Park winner McLaughlin, passed Earnhardt Jr to claim second place, more than 13sec down on Pagenaud, while Junior was just two seconds in arrears.
Power recovered from his second stop to clinch fourth ahead of Rahal (top Honda runner) while Jack Harvey’s Meyer Shank Racing-Honda emerged sixth ahead of Rossi and Hunter-Reay. Carpenter and Palou recovered from their faux-pas to complete the top 10, while Karam faded to 14th.
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