Photo: Walter G. Arce, Sr./ASP, Inc.

Dixon: ‘Steep Learning Curve’ on Racing in INDYCAR iRacing Challenge

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

It has been quite the time period for five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon during the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, trying to fully adapt into iRacing as its been both frustrating and a “steep learning curve” competing in the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge.

Since joining the sim racing series two weeks ago, it hasn’t been the kindest welcome for Dixon. This was the case last Saturday in the Chevrolet 275 at virtual Michigan International Speedway when he got collected in the opening lap crash before reaching the start/finish line. As a result, Dixon wasn’t able to recover from the mayhem and was one of four drivers (out of 31) who failed to finish the 85-lap event.

Despite frustrating luck and seeing the sim racing world much different from others on its realism, it’s been both serious and fun trying something he’s not too familiar with while juggling his home life.

“Hopefully, I’ll make it past the start line this time,” said Dixon in Friday’s video conference. “It’s been a steep learning curve. I’ve never been into sim racing or anything like that previously, so we had a week or two heads up and wasn’t really sure who was going to be jumping into this situation. Then it slowly started to get the gear and I missed the first race.

“It’s tough. It’s really challenging, and I think it’s definitely put into perspective being at home with kids. You learning and then trying to get on a simulator throughout the day when you can. Trying to keep up with the normal training levels that we go into once when we get back to proper racing has been interesting.

“I’ve found it a lot of fun and it’s been a little frustrating in some ways just because you’re trying to get up to speed and trying to catch up as quickly as possible.”

His explanation ranged from how it’s like competing with Virgin Australian Supercars star and fellow New Zealander Scott McLaughlin and a few NASCAR Cup Series drivers, including two-time and reigning champion Kyle Busch, who’ll run this Saturday’s Firestone 175 at virtual Twin Ring Motegi, a track Dixon won on both the oval (2009) and road course (2011, the last visit to date for INDYCAR).

“It’s not really the same. The format itself is fun and I think having the accessibility in the East to kind of have that crossover is pretty cool. I think more so for the sponsors,” Dixon’s viewpoint on drivers crossing over into Indy car racing. “The way these things drive, but it also depends on a lot of things how long you’ve done it. What kind of car you’ve been driving on the sim for a period of time and trying to get up to speed.

“I keep going from an Indy car to a GT car. There’s all these tiny little things you kind of need to mold into your driving pattern and how you use it. So, it’s cool for a spectacle and it’s been a lot of fun having Kyle Busch running the practice sessions. Even just having a conversations where everybody was chatting and getting along.

“The reality of it is that it’s very unreal in a lot of ways, but I think the racing has been a lot of fun.”

Dixon also brought up the sim rig he got and how much time his wife, Emma, has allowed him to practice as the married couple had their third child this past December.

“I ordered my sim with a beer holder and I’ve actually had to move past that now because it wasn’t serious enough,” said Dixon. “Now, my next level is working with my wife on my honey do list. Each check I get, I get an extra 30 minutes on the simulator. I’m actually banking some time this week, so I’m looking forward to start getting pretty serious on this game.”

In this difficult health crisis everyone’s going through, emotions have run extremely high and in the sim racing world, can bring a different side to a driver that could lead to ramifications on a driver’s career. Especially, when other drivers can hear what they’re saying which isn’t a thing in real-world competition, something Dixon has found one of the funniest things about iRacing.

“How irate some people get is hilarious,” said Dixon. “That I wish was actually part of the real racing that you can actually hear everybody yelling at each other. That would be quite fun and I think the fans would enjoy that.”

On a much more serious tone, unlike the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge has been controversy-free in that regard. More so after Dixon’s former Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson was fired from the team and suspended indefinitely from NASCAR competition this past week after using a racial slur in an iRacing event last Sunday.

Dixon received a text message from his owner, Chip Ganassi, to “just lay low” on how he conducts himself while racing online and gave his take on the situation.

“I think everybody loves people making a comeback, but every situation is extremely different. I’ve known Kyle since he used to come the “Month of May” and watch us practice probably 10+ years ago,” Dixon on Larson. “He’s been a fantastic teammate through the stuff that we did with Target to current times. It’s a bad situation for everybody involved and I think it’s because of the current situation that we’re in that it’s going to be different than anything else that we’ve seen before too.

“Obviously, for the team, for Kyle and seeing some of the comments from Joey Logano and Bubba Wallace, you can see different sides from everybody. Personally, he’s a really nice guy and it was a situation where I didn’t see it first hand but I hope for his sake it can work itself out.”

The fourth round of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge will air live at 2:30 pm EST on NBCSN as Dixon will hope luck is on his side and dethrone Team Penske as their drivers McLaughlin and Simon Pagenaud have won the last two races.

“For the fans at this moment, it’s what we have and it’s been a lot of fun to be a part of it,” said Dixon. “Hopefully, I think we’re going to have some great races coming up. Ultimately, I hope we can come back to the real-world racing before we know.”

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a three-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.