Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more series are organising their own eSports leagues, with professional drivers participating in these virtual races. Indycar has been no exception to this, organising the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge.
Last night’s First Responder 175 was the sixth and the final round of the iRacing Challenge, a 70 lap race around the oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with the race being won by Scott McLaughlin for Team Penske eSports. The field featured 33 professional racing drivers, including many full-time drivers competing in the real-life Indycar Series. With a full field of professional racing drivers, competing in a professional eSports Championship, held on what arguably is the most realistic motorsports simulation ever created, disciplined and fair racing was to be expected. For the majority of the race, disciplined and fair racing was certainly demonstrated by the field. However, in the closing stages of the race, what played out on the virtual Brickyard was anything but that…
Controversial moments of the final few laps
Pagenaud Sees Red
With 12 Laps to go, a massive pileup occured in the midfield, triggering a Full Course Yellow, with the caution being lifted with 9 laps remaining on the counter. By the end of the 61st lap, a hard charging Lando Norris had climbed his way to third, and was jostling for position with Graham Rahal, and Simon Pagenaud on the start-finish straight, with the trio running 3 wide into Turn 1. At Turn 2, Lando Norris dived on the inside of Rahal to seize the lead, with Pagenaud running on the outside. In what appeared to be an attempt to give Norris some space, Rahal moved up the banking clipping the front wing of Pagenaud’s car. Pagenaud then struck the wall, his car spinning on the banking, away from the racing line. As Pagenaud attempted to rejoin the track, he struck another car on the racing line, spinning onto the pit exit road.
Pagenaud later returned to pitroad, conducting a “fast repair”. As the frenchman left the pitbox, he said on his personal stream to his race engineer Ben Bretzman: “We take Lando Out! Let’s do it! (laughs)”
The exchange between the duo continued as Pagenaud got onto the pit exit:
Bretzman: “He’s (Lando) 6 seconds behind you. There’s a huge pack behind him.”
Bretzman: ” 4 and a half” (Pagenaud Continues driving, now on the oval track)
Bretzman: “Just make sure you never do the decisions you might regret someday”
Pagenaud: “I don’t regret anything. What are you talking about? I’m racing.”
Bretzman: “3 Seconds.”
Bretzman: “There’s 3 Mclaren Arrow behind you. 2 seconds, yeah 2.5 seconds“
Bretzman: “Yeah that was not a very good move by Lando, he knew he had fresher tyres there. We should never stick the car inside of 2, that low on 2 cars, erm in real life, definitely that would not fly, erm works in virtual world. But all part of racing unfortunately so, but that’s ok“
Pagenaud: “Ugh! (Lando plows into the back of Pagenaud) I was pitting.. Ah ..I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do.“
Bretzman: “We’re stuck in the fence“
Pagenaud: “I am (both laugh). I didn’t mean to crash him, I was just pitting. I wanted to slow him down a bit, but I wasn’t going to crash him. I just went to pit.”
Ferrucci smashes into Askew
After Patricio O’Ward inadvertently took out race leader Marcus Ericsson, who had moments earlier, overtaken the 2 Arrow Mclaren SP drivers from 3rd, Santino Ferrucci climbed to 2nd, behind Askew, drafting behind the Mclaren driver, as the pair reached the chequered flag. With a short distance to the finish, he seemingly turned into Askew, with both cars crashing across the line after hitting the wall. Ferrucci would finish 3rd, while Askew would finish just short of the podium in 4th.
It’s time to draw a line on what’s acceptable, and what’s not.
The actions of both Pagenaud, and Ferrucci in the race are definitely unacceptable, and indicate a clear lack of restraint, and a total lack of sportsmanship from both drivers. Had the race been held on the actual speedway, the reckless actions of both drivers could have led to serious injury to the other drivers involved, owing to the high speeds involved in Oval Racing.
It should also be said that despite the race being held in a virtual environment, and with no actual championship points at stake, it still is an official racing series, being broadcast live. The viewers may not be just fans, but also Team bosses, potential and current sponsors, as well as team suppliers. Pagenaud and Ferrucci may not have just put a massive stain on their own reputations, but may also have put their sponsors and teams in a negative light to the public, and there is potential for real-world consequences. This point cannot be understated, as shown by the recent incidents involving drivers participating in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, that led to real-world consequences. NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace was dumped by a sponsor, after “rage-quitting” an event, and fellow Cup Series driver Kyle Larson was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing for using a racist slur in an iRacing event.
Following the crash, Pagenaud claimed that it was an accident, while Ferrucci stated that he did not expect to plough into Askew. However, both collisions seemed intentional, especially when seen from multiple viewpoints. Simon Pagenaud is a former Indycar series champion, and was the winner of the 2019 Indianapolis 500, and while communicating with his race engineer, had already displayed intent to cause a collision with Norris. In Ferrucci’s interview with Indycar on NBC, a replay of the crash from his angle was shown, revealing that prior to colliding into Askew, he had actually moved his wheel slightly to the left, which then brought his car on the path to a collision with Askew. It should also be mentioned that Ferrucci had previously received a 2 round ban in Formula 2 in 2018, prior to his arrival at Indycar, for unsportsmanlike conduct, after crashing into his then team-mate Arjun Maini on a post-race cooldown lap.
Both drivers have escaped any sanction, as of time of writing. However, it is in the best interests of everyone, that at the very least, both receive suspended race bans, should the iRacing Challenge return later this year. This would serve as a reminder to all parties that any unsportsmanlike conduct in all official competition, will not be tolerated, and hopefully prevent a recurrence of such conduct in future oficial Indycar iRacing events.