Simon Pagenaud Wins IndyCar's 1st Virtual Race on Oval at Michigan Speedway

Blake SchusterCorrespondent IIApril 11, 2020

BROOKLYN, MICHIGAN - APRIL 11: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) (Editors note: This image was computer generated in-game) Simon Pagenaud, driver of the #22 DXC Team Penske Chevrolet, crosses the finish line to win the IndyCar iRacing Challenge Chevrolet 275 at virtual Michigan International Speedway on April 11, 2020 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

IndyCar made its long-awaited return to Michigan International Speedway on Saturday in the most unusual of ways. The two-mile oval track served as the backdrop for the series' Chevrolet 275 iRacing competition as the sport continues to create opportunities for its fans and drivers to stay engaged while events remain suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud took home first place Saturday, with Scott McLaughlin and NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. placing second and third, respectively, out of the 31-car field. 

At a time when Pagenaud would otherwise be preparing for a return to Indianapolis in May, the French driver was trying to hold on to a lead from a simulator in his home. 

"This is the most stressful I've ever felt in a race car," Pagenaud said per the Associated Press

The race wasn't without glitches. The first green flag was marred by massive crash that led to confusion by the drivers and a number of cars getting towed off the track. Despite anger among some of the crews, IndyCar gave a stern reminder about what the point of the event was.

"The show is more important than where you guys finish in the race," and unnamed iRacing official said. "I'm sorry; we will debrief after the race."

Pagenaud went all out for the occasion, donning his full firesuit and spraying champagne after taking the checkered flag. 

Competing from his home in Brisbane, Australia, McLaughlin could hardly believe he was spending the local sunrise trying to fend off Earnhardt.

For his part, Dale Jr. knows he lucked out with the crash early on. After lobbying IndyCar for an invite to the virtual race, the NASCAR icon used his experience in iRacing to pull out a third-place finish. 

"I had fun racing all those guys, a lot of them were pretty ticked off how the strategy worked out after that crash," Earnhardt said. "The fastest cars probably didn't win today, and the best SIM racers probably didn't win today."