The Firestone 175 and fourth round of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge Series took place on the virtual 1.52-mile oval of Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi Saturday afternoon under virtually sunny skies and before a packed grandstand (the grandstands are always packed at INDYCAR iRaces).
Hopes were high as Tony Kanaan posted his best start of the series by qualifying sixth in the 7-Eleven No. 14 Chevrolet. Unfortunately those hopes were dashed in the first lap as Kanaan had a spectacular flip on the back straight (in iRacing all of the accidents are spectacular) triggered by a netcode!
Kanaan was dicing with Scott McLaughlin for position and the system “calculated” that they touched (video shows they didn’t). The technical explanation included the fact that McLaughlin was racing from Australia and the lag in the internet connection probably caused the system error. Kanaan’s wing “broke” sending him into the wall and into the air. There wasn’t a yellow and Kanaan was towed to the pits for a Fast Repair (or total re-set).
His teammate Sebastien Bourdais, who started in the back after his qualifying run was cancelled, had plans to hang back ion his No. 4 Tresiba Chevrolet and let things get sorted out but a multi-car wreck on lap five collected him as he tried to skirt through the wreckage. He too had to be towed to the pits for a Fast Repair.
Dalton Kellett, who also had a problem in qualifying and started in the back half of the field, was able to get through the lap five accident but may have sustained some minor damage to his No. 41 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet.
Pit stops for Bourdais and Kellett went off without incident but Kanaan had another strange thing happen during his pitstop which could not be explained by the iRacing technical staff. As the pit stops began, Kanaan cycled towards the front and was in eighth when he ducked into the pits on lap 56 for tires and fuel. However, the tires never registered as being replaced and when he went back on track, he was three laps down. He held on for as long as he could but finally brought the car to the garage on race lap 90. His exasperation was palpable.
“Very frustrating race,” Kanaan texted afterwards. “First there was a computer problem that took us out of the race in the beginning. Then another problem in the pits where they apologized, and told me they would give me an answer next week. I’m really disappointed with the way they are running things as I’m taking this way too seriously for that.”
Without another yellow, the odds for top-10 finishes for Kellett and Bourdais were not in their favor on the super fast superspeedway. They never got within sight of the lead pack. They placed 19th and 20th respectively.
For the fourth straight week, Kellett and his No. 41 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet emerged the top finisher in the Foyt Racing stable.
“A lot of excitement at the start of the race!” exclaimed Kellett. “Luckily, I got through the big wreck on the back straight cleanly, but I may have gotten a bit of damage before the first pit stop. Had a good race there at the end. We (he and Bourdais) were trying to work together and trade spots back and forth to see if would catch that pack of guys ahead of us. There was just too big of a gap and I had slightly newer tires on the pit cycle so the last bit we were just running by ourselves. That race really came down to qualifying and I made a mistake on my qualifying lap and ended up fifth from the end (28th), and luckily we were able to move up from there. It’s tough when you start that far back. Looking forward to the next one, I think we’re going to COTA which I think will be a lot of fun. It’s a cool track.”
Bourdais was disappointed also as the race did not turn out as he had hoped after some strong practice runs this week.
“Another disappointing event for the AJ Foyt Racing Tresiba/Chevrolet #4,” Bourdais texted. “This time I mostly have myself to blame though. I really thought I had a good chance to qualify well but I unfortunately touched the wall coming out of turn 4, which in iRacing cancels the lap. We therefore started the race from the back and hung back about 2s to let things settle down, but I still got caught up in the first big wreck, which consumed our only fast repair. Knowing we didn’t have any more freebies (Fast Repairs or resets) I was double careful and didn’t catch the right train. This, combined to the fact there wasn’t a subsequent yellow, didn’t allow us to finish better than 20th.”
Simon Pagenaud claimed his second straight victory in a tight duel at the end with Scott Dixon. Will Power finished third followed by Marcus Ericsson and Robert Wickens.
The next iRace will be at the virtual Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas next Saturday afternoon on April 25. It is the fifth of the six-race series with the final track still to be determined.