McLaughlin a virtual Indycar champion
With his real Indycar series debut on hold, Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin is giving the Indycar drivers a lesson in virtual racing.
Invited as a guest driver and watched by a US television audience, McLaughlin had to wake at 2am on Sunday at his Brisbane home to contest the second iRacing series race at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama on his simulator.
The early start didn't faze him as he won from countryman and Penske teammate Will Power, who was racing from his home in North Carolina, and Indycar rookie Alex Salou, who was in Spain.
McLaughlin, who placed fourth in last week's first race, said hours of practice as a teen were paying dividends as the Indycar series attempts to create content during the worldwide shutdown of sports.
"I started iRacing 10 years ago and it was the best thing I did," said McLaughlin. "For an aspiring race car driver, it is worth the investment in your future. It's been an awesome tool for me and it's great fun." McLaughlin said his rig was not as flashy as some of the big simulators used by the stars and his is actually set for a touring car. It was 6am at McLaughlin's house when he virtually crossed the finish line.
"You know, eSports has really been on the rise the last few years, and it's really taken off during this pandemic," McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin drives for Roger Penske in Australia and the team owner had planned to give McLaughlin his series debut in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That plan was scrapped when the IndyCar season was suspended last month. NBC Sports aired the virtual race on its cable channel with its usual broadcast crew of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy all calling action from their respective homes.
IRacing controlled the feed, but drivers used their own social media channels to give viewers a closer look at their experience.
The most entertaining driver through the race was Conor Daly on one of his social media feeds, where he lamented, "this is literally the least fun I've had the entire quarantine," after he was run off course.
Daly also alerted viewers that Power on his radio had called five-time Indycar series champion Scott Dixon of New Zealand "a wanker" - an offence that led iRacing to cut Power's chat ability.
Later, after Dixon spun, Daly noted that's the difference between real racing and the virtual product.
"You know this isn't real life because Dixon just spun a car. There's no way that would happen in real life," Daly said of the driver known as "The Iceman" for his cool demeanour.
Robert Wickens participated for the first time after a delay in the delivery of his steering wheel kept him out of last week's race. Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a 2018 crash and needed a wheel with hand controls. "My return to IndyCar was exactly how I imagined it - in my basement. No, I'm just kidding," Wickens said. "In a lot of ways it felt like the real thing, my eyes are burning. My first race back in IndyCar, a top 10."
Originally published as McLaughlin a virtual Indycar champion