Virtual Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Preview
The event, which will last approximately 60 minutes, will be broadcast live on NBCSN. The NBC broadcasting team of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will call the action. The pre-race activities will be highlighted by 2019 Miss Alabama Tiara Pennington singing the national anthem and NBA and Auburn University legend Charles Barkley giving the command to start engines.
The entry list of 29 drivers - up from 25 from the series opener March 28 at Watkins Glen International - includes series champions Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan, five Indianapolis 500 winners and collectively has registered 189 series victories.
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson also is back this week after starting 19th and finishing 16th last Saturday at Watkins Glen in his first competition in an Indy car, albeit virtual.
The Virtual Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is the second of six events to be held weekly each Saturday through May 2. After this event, remaining races include a "Driver's Choice" track (April 11), a "Random Draw" track (April 18), Circuit of The Americas (April 25) and a non-INDYCAR "Dream" track (May 2).
"5 Things To Look For..." heading into Saturday's Virtual Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama:
All drivers in this week's field - including the four newcomers - will encounter a new strategic element, as a competition caution period will bunch the field on Lap 15. A single-file restart will follow the three-lap caution period.
'Welcome Back, Robert'
2018 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year Robert Wickens will return to competition this weekend as he makes his INDYCAR iRacing Challenge debut in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
Wickens, from Guelph, Ontario, suffered serious injuries in an accident during an INDYCAR race in July 2018 at Pocono Raceway. He will compete Saturday in a SimCraft simulator with special hand controls because of restricted use of his legs and feet due to a spinal cord injury suffered in the crash.
Former INDYCAR driver and current INDYCAR race steward Max Papis is helping Wickens' efforts to compete virtually. Papis' steering wheel company, Max Papis Innovations, designed and produced a custom wheel with hand controls for Wickens. The unit arrived at Wickens' home Thursday, April 2, but he didn't have enough time to get acclimated with it before Saturday's race, so he will use the MPI unit at future rounds of the virtual series.
While Wickens is excited to compete virtually, he sees the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge as another important step in his goal to return to real race cars. His journey also has included tireless hours of physical therapy and rehabilitation, which he has documented often and inspired millions with on social media.
"The biggest thing for me is although this is fun, I see this as the long-term project of getting me back into the race car," Wickens said. "I always knew through simulation was going to be the best way to trial different handbrake or paddle configurations. This is step one of a hundred to get me back into the NTT INDYCAR SERIES."
NTT INDYCAR SERIES veteran Karam won the pole and led 43 of the 45 laps in his No. 24 WIX Filters DRR Chevrolet to beat Felix Rosenqvist of Chip Ganassi Racing to the checkered flag by 3.6174 seconds at Watkins Glen International.
Now that he's a marked man as the current king of INDYCAR iRacing, Karam is dispensing tips to his rivals - to a point.
"It's fun to help them get up to speed in iRacing," Karam said. "I just don't want to give them too much information as I am still competing against them each week from my home. If I can help make the overall product more competitive, it will be great for the racing on the screen and the racing fans."
'Carpenter Back on the Road'
Ed Carpenter is known and respected as one of the best oval racers in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. All three of his career series victories have come on circle tracks, and he also has won the pole for the Indianapolis 500 three times.
Road racing? Well, not so fast. Ed Carpenter Racing owner-driver Carpenter has driven only in oval events for the last six-plus years, with his last road-course start in the series coming Oct. 6, 2013 on the street course in Houston.
But the lure of competing against his friends and rivals in the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge was too much for Carpenter to resist. So, he's hitting the road and making his virtual series debut Sunday in the No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet. Carpenter is using the No. 21 of ECR teammate Rinus VeeKay because ECR teammate Conor Daly already is using Carpenter's No. 20 virtual car, as Daly will compete in all real NTT INDYCAR SERIES road and street events this season in the No. 20.
"I am looking forward to finally getting some racing in on Saturday," Carpenter said. "It has been a long time since I competed in a road race. Both the cars and iRacing have changed quite a lot. I am a week late to the party, but hopefully I will be up to speed enough to give the 21 car a good ride!
"I know my friends and family are excited to watch me, so no pressure! Hopefully everyone tunes into NBCSN and enjoys a little bit of relief from their quarantine."
'Turns for Troops'
United Rentals and NTT INDYCAR SERIES veteran Graham Rahal are teaming up to continue the Turns for Troops program during the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge. United Rentals has committed to donate $50 per lap that Rahal completes this season to the SoldierStrong program to help improve the lives of U.S. military veterans.
Through cutting-edge rehabilitation, recovery and scholarship programs, SoldierStrong transforms the lives of U.S. service members by empowering them to regain their mobility, freedom and overall sense of identity.
Fans can learn more about Turns for Troops and SoldierStrong by visiting turnsfortroops.ur.com.
Virtual Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Fast Facts
When: 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, April 4
Track: Barber Motorsports Park, a 17-turn, 2.38-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama
Race distance: 45 laps/107.1 miles (approximately 60 minutes)
Push-to-pass parameters: 10 activations for a 10-second duration
Expected pit stops: One. Cars will be allowed two "Fast Repairs" during the race.
Competition caution: A planned competition caution period will bunch the field on Lap 15. It will consist of three laps, followed by a single-file restart.
Twitter: @IndyCar, @iRacing, @BarberMotorPark, #INDYCARChallenge, #INDYCAR, #HIGPA
TV/Online: 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, NBC Sports App. Leigh Diffey is the lead announcer, alongside the network's INDYCAR analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. The pre-race activities will be highlighted by Miss Alabama 2019 Tiara Pennington singing the national anthem and NBA and Auburn University legend Charles Barkley giving the command to start engines. The podium finishers will be interviewed on the live NBCSN broadcast. Diffey also will host a post-race virtual press conference with the podium finishers for media members (call-in details will be distributed).
Spotter guide: Click here to see a detailed spotter guide for this Saturday's race.
VIRTUAL HONDA INDY GRAND PRIX OF ALABAMA presented by AmFirst PRE-EVENT QUOTES:
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 4 Tresiba Chevrolet): "I am still trying to understand how the whole system works and how to generate lap time. Overall, I miss the feel of the race car to perform, but I have spent a fair amount of time trying to improve. Hopefully it pays off and I can put on a good performance in the Tresiba car."
ED CARPENTER (No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet): "I am looking forward to finally getting some racing in on Saturday! It has been a long time since I competed in a road race, both the cars and iRacing have changed quite a lot. I am a week late to the party, but hopefully I will be up to speed enough to give the 21 car a good ride! I know my friends and family are excited to watch me, so no pressure! Hopefully everyone tunes into NBCSN and enjoys a little bit of relief from their quarantine."
CONOR DALY (No. 20 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet): "Really, the most exciting thing about this weekend is that Ed Carpenter is going racing on road courses again. I'm very excited to have my teammate out there! We're ready to battle it out against our virtual opponents that are also in their basements or closets or laundry rooms, playing video games on the internet. Let's hope this U.S. Air Force car looks good on internet screenshots! It's going to be a good show for the people and hopefully make them smile a little bit."
MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "I'm really looking forward to the second round of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge. Barber Motorsports Park is a fun track to race on. I've been practicing a bit this week, and it feels pretty good! I'm still quite new to this sim world but getting there step-by-step. And I think it should be better than last week, at least. Now I've connected my motor for the force feedback unit more properly and not have it in safety mode like last time. So, that's a good improvement already there! So, hopefully it's going to be a good race, good entertainment. I hope we can put on a good show and get the Chip Ganassi Huski Chocolate Honda car up to the front!"
SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 18 SealMaster Honda): "I'm super-excited to be racing the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda this weekend in the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge at Barber Motorsports Park. I'm really happy that INDYCAR has opened the grid to a bigger selection of cars and drivers. I'm also incredibly impressed with how iRacing is continually updating things. The updates and field will benefit the show for the fans, which is the most important things. It's also a lot of fun for the drivers. To race against guys like Jimmie Johnson, who you wouldn't normally see, is really awesome. It's also really great to see that we are back on NBCSN this weekend, so tune in: There is going to be a lot of action."
KYLE KAISER (No. 11 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): "I've been extremely impressed with INDYCAR and iRacing's collaboration. The first race was a lot of fun in the No. 11 Juncos Racing entry, and as everyone gets more comfortable on the simulator, it'll only become more exciting. I'm glad the second race will be broadcast live on NBCSN for more fans to watch the great product INDYCAR has put together. I'm hoping the hours I've been putting in on the simulator this week will get us a top-10 finish!"
TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet): "Another virtual race this weekend. I've been putting a bit more hours on the sim, but it's still very new to me. I'm doing this for the fans, but to be honest, I can't wait to get to the real racetrack."
SAGE KARAM (No. 24 DRR Wix Filters Chevrolet): "I was pretty worn out after Saturday's race. It was very mentally draining. In iRacing, we don't have the fear factor of crashing or wrecking the car. But you are racing on the edge with proper steering and pedal pressure as in an Indy car, and you are racing wheel-to-wheel in a competition. And all of the drivers are extremely competitive. You have to continue to concentrate like a regular race. As a part time driver in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, I needed to be sharp with my reflexes and car control when I wasn't on track. I discovered iRacing quite a while back, and I truly believe it has helped me with my racing career. I was more nervous before the Glen race than at the Indy 500. I paced the house for six hours before the race. When I was a kid, one of my dreams was to be interviewed on ESPN 'SportsCenter' after winning a big race. And then last Saturday, I was on the 11 p.m. ESPN 'SportsCenter' talking with John Anderson after winning the iRacing race. I always thought it would be after a regular INDYCAR race, not from iRacing. But this current pandemic has caused the world to really turn upside-down. And we are doing this racing for our fans, too. With nothing happening in sports, it is a fun way for them to watch INDYCAR racing in a different form. The Barber track isn't one of my favorites, but I'll be ready on Saturday."
DALTON KELLETT (No. 41 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet): "Barber Motorsports Park is one of my favorite road courses in the U.S. I wasn't slated to drive the No. 14 car there this season, so I am actually very excited to have a chance to race there in the No. 41 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet! Last weekend showed that we can put on a good race for the fans, and the quality of competition will only improve as everyone gets accustomed to the nuances of iRacing. Looking forward to a good show!"
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN (No. 2 Shell V-Power Team Penske Chevrolet): "It was bloody fun to race against everyone in INDYCAR last weekend in iRacing and to do it again this weekend at Barber. I got a lot of pub back here in Australia and in New Zealand for just being a part of it. We had some pretty wild moments, but it was all in good fun. These dudes are just as tough of competitors online as they are in person. So, we will do it all again this weekend. My alarm will be set to go off at 2 a.m., which is super early, but no worries. I heard it's going to be broadcasted in the U.S. on NBC Sports Network, and that's just awesome. I'm ready to get after it."
FELIPE NASR (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): "I can't wait to get back out there this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet for the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge. Racing with everyone last weekend at Watkins Glen was so much fun, and even though I got taken out early and had to battle back, I had a great time. I've been putting in a lot of time on the simulator this week, so hopefully we can come away with a better result this weekend!"
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet): "Last week was so much fun. It was great to be back racing in INDYCAR - in the digital world. iRacing is such a cool thing for fans, in general, since they can experience what we can do first-hand. Not only can they watch the race broadcast, but a lot of us are streaming our individual races to YouTube, Twitch and other outlets. I had a huge following on my YouTube page. I've been spending a lot of time in my rig preparing my PPG Chevy for this Saturday's race at Barber. It's one of my favorite tracks in person, and it's also pretty great through iRacing. I'm comfortable there, as my team has really helped me be successful there in the past, so I'm really looking forward to this event. I know all of us drivers are going to love it, and I can't wait for even more fans to see us this weekend when it's broadcast on NBC Sports Network. It's going to be awesome."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): "The INDYCAR iRacing Challenge has been a lot of fun. Last week was a rush to get ready and get to a competitive level, for sure, with 15-hour days of work to find speed and acclimate myself to my new simulator and the virtual Indy car. This Saturday in Barber I feel much more in control, and my chances to be more competitive are much greater. I love a new challenge, and I am extremely pleased that we can still showcase our sport to our fans. We have an amazing fan base. It's pretty cool to see the Menards Chevy and soon the DXC Technology car on our broadcast with NBCSN this Saturday at 2.30 p.m. ET. This is getting more and more competitive, as I can see drivers training days and night to get better; we are a competitive breed, after all. Good news is we are going racing this weekend! Enjoy!"
ALEX PALOU (No. 55 Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh Honda): "Once again, I'm really excited for this weekend's INDYCAR iRacing Challenge. Last weekend's first race was not what I had expected, but I was really quick, which was good. We had good pace during the race, but then I messed up a bit with the pit stop settings. I didn't have a crew on the first stop, and the second one they didn't change my tires, so I crashed with old tires. It was a learning experience! It was my first official iRacing race. I've done some races before but never at this level of competition; it was more for fun, playing video games. I've been preparing for Barber quite a lot, and I've upgraded my sim, so hopefully that helps, too. I'm hoping we can finish in the top five, as that would be a really good result. Of course, a podium would be even better, but we'll have to see how Sage (Karam), Felix (Rosenqvist) and Will (Power) do. I think those three are always really quick and difficult to beat."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "I really do just love iRacing. We had a lot of success last weekend at Watkins Glen, and I can't wait to race this weekend at Barber. It's such a technical track. It doesn't matter if you're racing in person or digitally; it's a challenge, and I love that about it. It's one of those tracks where that first turn is so important, so I've definitely been working on my plan for the Verizon Chevy. I know I'm excited for the race, and it's so awesome that the race will be on NBCSN this Saturday. It's going to be a great show for the fans."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 One Cure Honda): "Building some excitement for One Cure and doing this to raise more money for our Turns for Troops program with United Rentals is the main goal for us, and I think it's great for the race to be on NBC Sports. It feels good to try to get closer to our goal of reaching $1 million raised this year even though we aren't officially racing. Virtual Barber is a lot different than the real Barber. It's hard to get the right sensations and right feel for what you're doing and, frankly, just to understand the limits of the car and everything else. It's not that it's fake in a way that it's completely off. You have to learn the limitations, and the limitations are very different than reality, and so that does make it quite challenging. I figure I have spent way too much time on iRacing lately but not as much as some of the others. I've been watching how much practice some guys are getting, and some are getting tons. In contrast to most, I still have a business to run with the performance shop, so I simply can't spend all day, every day like a lot of guys are, but I'm giving it my best effort. It's definitely addicting. We definitely want to be competitive and do well. How much better am I now than a week ago? I don't know if I'm a lot better. I would say I'm similar, but I'm trying my best to be competitive and do the best I can and certainly trying to improve. My biggest surprise is just how important the steering wheel is. I'm finding that just getting your settings right is 99 percent of the battle. Once you get it right, you can find a lot of lap time fairly easily."
FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "Looking forward to get back on it this weekend. I've not practiced so much yet, so I feel like I have some work to do in the next 24 hours! The field looks way tighter, looking at the lap charts so far. So, it will be a fun race, indeed. I finished in P2 last weekend, but I'm hoping to fight through to the top tomorrow in the NTT DATA Honda car!"
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