Taking victory in an IndyCar iRacing Challenge race only enhanced Scott McLaughlin’s standing among his peers, but the race itself required the Supercars champion to take an unconventional route to victory.
That meant setting an alarm barely a snooze after midnight in the wee hours of Sunday morning, before logging on at 4:00am ahead of the day’s action.
While his North American rivals cozied up in the mid afternoon Stateside, Brisbane-based McLaughlin was perhaps the only person awake in his suburb.
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The day – or morning, in McLaughlin’s case – went to plan, the Shell V-Power Racing driver leading Will Power in a Team Penske one-two in the virtual Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Virtual Barber Motorsports Park.
While no novice when it comes to sim racing, McLaughlin admitted the preparation and the competition itself led to “the weirdest Sunday I’ve ever lived”, but also “one of the most satisfying”.
“The alarm went off at 2.50 am… I wanted to give myself the best chance to be ready to roll for qualifying and the race,” McLaughlin wrote in his latest Scott’s Corner column via Grove Racing.
“A strong coffee, some toast, and juice followed. A few stretches to wake up and I was set to jet.
“Qualifying was OK but I was a touch disappointed with eighth fastest. It would make the early going tough from the fourth row.
“The gap before the race was a challenge. I was trying my best not to fall asleep… can you imagine if I missed the start of the race because I nodded off?”
While an online race, where real-life consequences are far from what the real thing presents, IndyCar has taken the virtual championship – which McLaughlin now leads after two races – very seriously.
NBC put on a proper broadcast, commentators and all – and that has set a blueprint for Supercars to follow when its BP Supercars All Stars Eseries commences on Wednesday.
For McLaughlin, who had already impressed the IndyCar fraternity at a Circuit of the Americas test, backing up his performance in the virtual race
“We recorded a Balls and Bumpers podcast on Friday and I told my mates Jack Riewoldt and Tim Hodges how confident I was… in fact, I boldly told them I would win,” he explained.
“We had put the hard work in, we had a good strategy, and I have been working so hard on my simulator to be my best.
“As most of you who know me would know, I’m a perfectionist and want to be the best at everything I do. And with a heap of time on my hands of late (don’t we all?) I had spent so much time being as sharp as I could be when we went racing at Barber.”
Racing against the likes of seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, IndyCar champions Power, Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden was “surreal” for McLaughlin. Particularly exciting for the Kiwi was being followed by Johnson on Twitter.
Drivers are being engineered in the virtual product as they would be in the real thing, and McLaughlin was skippered by Penske’s lead engineer Jonathan Diuguid.
The win was one thing, but it perhaps should have come as little surprise considering McLaughlin managed to drag himself to fourth in the Watkins Glen opener despite competing without an engineer.
Still, beating IndyCar’s best – although initially crowned by a trip back to bed – has set McLaughlin up for a crack at the virtual Michigan oval next time out.
“Last week at Watkins Glen I tried to organise the whole race myself – it was too much to remember fuel numbers while I was out there racing. This allowed me just to focus on steering the thing as fast as I could.
“On the last corner I locked a brake which gave me a scare, but it was OK… and just before 6am Brisbane time, I took the chequered flag for the win.
“I was that pumped sitting in my simulator in Brisbane, winning a race in Alabama on the other side of the earth. I celebrated with another glass of juice, did a couple of media commitments, and then went back to bed, still buzzing.
“For those wondering, the rest of my day included a movie on the couch, a walk with Karly and the dog, and a gripping final episode of MAFS.”