With IndyCar and iRacing‘s reconciling, the occasion should be marked with the return of the series that spawned in early 2020.
One of the sim racing highlights of early 2020 was the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, a six-round series running from the end of March to the beginning of May, as COVID-19 shut down not just racing but most of public life. The entire IndyCar grid competed and there were even some guest appearances from the likes of Australian Supercars’ Chaz Mostert, NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and F1’s Lando Norris.
When IndyCar announced their separation from iRacing in 2022, it was with the hopes that the standalone title by Motorsport Games would happen. But when that did not come to fruition, IndyCar ended their licencing agreement and have now agreed to a new deal with iRacing, much to the delight of many IndyCar iRacing fans.
The iRacing community are certainly happy that they can now race with the IR18 on the IndyCar season tracks again, especially with the return of the Indianapolis 500 Special Event. But to consolidate the series and service reuniting, the IndyCar iRacing Challenge should return.
History of IndyCar iRacing Challenge
Like many sim racing events organised during the early part of the pandemic, the IndyCar iRacing Challenge saw all the regular season IndyCar drivers take to the virtual versions of many tracks on the schedule, as well as some that had not been on for a few years.
Seasoned iRacing player and 2013 Indy Lights champion Sage Karam won the season opener on the Watkins Glen circuit. Reigning Australian Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin – a year before his full-time debut in the series – then took victory in the second round at Barber Motorsports Park.
His future Penske teammate and 2019 Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud sealed back-to-back oval wins on Michigan and Motegi. For Round 5 on Circuit of the Americas, F1 driver Lando Norris turned up and took an easy victory even after an unforced spin, and would have most likely done it again in the finale on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
However in that race, a disgruntled Pagenaud brake checked Norris after he blamed the McLaren driver for an earlier incident. More unsportsmanlike behaviour on the run up to the line by the infamous Santino Ferrucci resulted in McLaughlin taking the victory and in doing so, also the championship.
The series returned in early 2021 for a three race run that saw future two-time series champion Álex Palou along with Karam and McLaughlin take one win apiece. Of course with how long the IndyCar off season is due to the final round typically being in September, an off-season sim racing series would perhaps be a welcome addition to keep these drivers’ competitive spirits satisfied.
But the series can be more than just for the real life drivers. As evidenced by fellow top level US-based racing championship NASCAR, they do not need to have just the real life drivers to make for a very successful professional series. Infact, eNASCAR pioneers the open-to-all sim racing series format.
Taking Cues from eNASCAR
When it comes to American-based racing championships and esports, it seems iRacing collects American motorsport series licences like Thanos collects Infinity Stones. World of Outlaws, IMSA and of course, NASCAR all have their official esports championships hosted through iRacing.
The eNASCAR iRacing Series is perhaps one of the most successful forms of sim racing esports, and IndyCar could learn a thing or two from the structure of its fellow American motorsport series. eNASCAR, along with the Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup, have a brilliant structure that uses iRacing‘s own ranking system to decide who makes the grid.
At the conclusion of every eNASCAR and PESC season, the drivers who fall into the latter half of the standings have to race in the Contenders Series to avoid being relegated. In that, they go up against an equal number of hopefuls who have competed in the Qualifying Series, so it provides real hope for anyone wanting to get into the championship.
There is a huge misconception about a lot of high-profile sim racing championships, that they are closed off and invite only – and some are, of course. But eNASCAR and PESC’s system means anyone in theory can earn themselves a spot in the series. The driver has the leverage, a team can only be in either series if the driver races for them.
Of course, there is still the ever-looming need for the real life drivers to attract viewership. Which is why what PESC does is absolutely genius. At the start of every Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup round, there are All-Stars races with prominent sim racing Twitch streamers and YouTube content creators.
Included in these races are the likes of Matt Malone, DanSuzuki, Tyson ‘Quirkitized’ Meier and also our very own Emily Jones. Even YouTubers Jimmy Broadbent and Jardier have raced in the series.
On the odd occasion, real-life drivers have taken part in the All-Star races including Porsche works drivers Laurin Heinrich and Ayhancan Güven, the latter of whom even raced in the main series. But also quite often, 2004 IndyCar champion and 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan can be found racing in All-Stars.
So whether it is just for the finale or for every round, have a series for the pros who qualify through iRacing and an invite-only All-Stars event acting as a pre-cursor just like with PESC. In any case, there is such a strong community of high-level IndyCar drivers on iRacing that it really does warrant an officially sanctioned series on the platform.
If anyone from IndyCar is reading, give it some consideration, and whilst you are at it, maybe get two-time VCO SIMMY award-winning commentator Arjuna Kankipati to cast for it.
Would you like to see the IndyCar iRacing Challenge return? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!