By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Will Power’s Saturday afternoon in the second round of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge at virtual Barber Motorsports Park was a tale of two stories. One involving his road towards a runner-up finish in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and the other is his choice of words towards other his fellow competitors.
If viewers happened to watch Conor Daly’s (or any other driver’s) Twitch stream along with the NBCSN telecast like, people got some entertainment value as Power’s comments led iRacing officials revoking his communication privileges.
This didn’t take away how hard he pushed his No. 12 Verizon Wireless Chevrolet to the limit as he hunted his Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin for the race win, but ended up 0.4241 seconds shy of dethroning the reigning Virgin Australia Supercars champion.
“I was just very focused. I knew that the only way I would get Scott, because you get the dirty air wash, is if he made a mistake,” Power on the finish. “A couple times it happened, but not enough. I thought all I can do is pressure him here. I kind of kept the pressure on.
“He never made a mistake. He had a couple little moments, but he was solid. Yeah, probably good thing the mic was turned off because then I wasn’t hitting that button, telling people what I was thinking.”
Power started alongside pole sitter and last week’s winner Sage Karam in the 45-lap event. Like virtual Watkins Glen, Karam was the man to beat as Power trailed him by nearly seven seconds when the competition caution came out on Lap 15.
It lead to various strategies on when drivers will make their only pit stop and in Power’s case, pitting early was the option to stop Karam going 2-for-2. However, when that happened, Power was stuck around traffic and grew ire of one Scott Dixon, who made his first iRacing start but ended up a lap down in 16th.
Power would call the five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion “wanker,” which Daly and others heard live on Lap 27.
A lap later, the turning point of the race happened when Felix Rosenqvist hit the Turn 7 curbs a bit too hard, getting him sideways and ultimately hit by Karam. This dashed both of their chances of winning, putting Power out in front momentarily. Little did he know that Karam was involved in a crash and McLaughlin was doing the same strategy he was doing.
“I wasn’t aware that he was on that strategy and I thought Sage was still leading,” said Power. “My engineer (David Faustino) said, ‘Just focus on your lap. We can still win this thing.’
“I thought he was just being – ‘Come on. Just try this and don’t worry about anything else.’ What he was saying was, ‘You need to push out some laps.'”
As Power was pushing out those laps to put himself in prime position of winning at virtual Barber, more frustrations grew in the process. The 2018 Indy 500 champion ran aggressive which Daly noticed and told Power to calm down because it’s the internet.
Of course in the heat of the moment, Power told the 23rd place finisher to “shut up, ya wanker.” Officials had enough of Power and barred him from talking for the rest of the race.
“I’m glad that they banned me on the microphone. Actually one guy I called a wanker. Well, a couple of guys,” Power on his vulgar comments towards Dixon and Daly. “When guys spin right in front of you, drive straight back on the track, don’t even look, I guess you are, yeah, a bit of a wanker. That’s crazy.”
The 39-year-old veteran added that he had always ponder what would it be like if the entire INDYCAR grid got to communicate with one another and would find it entertaining to hear other people’s banter.
“Look, I think it will be a real bad idea in the real cars,” said Power. “I can tell you right now it would not be good. It would be entertaining, but for corporate sponsors, yeah, I just don’t think so.”
McLaughlin also pointed out that when a driver talks on iRacing, everyone can see it so they knew what happened to Power, who thought the entire 29-car grid got muted which wasn’t true.
“Everyone sees it when he gets muted, everyone saw he got his voice chat taken away (laughter),” said McLaughlin.
“That’s the best. I love it. I’m not going to have a job after this. But I tell you, I enjoyed it,” Power jokingly responded to McLaughlin’s comments.
With the mic muted, Power put his direct focus onto the driving itself as coming to five laps to go, McLaughlin passed Scott Speed for the race lead and so did Power.
Speed said that his fuel economy wasn’t great due to an early incident with Josef Newgarden (who finished in ninth) and had to save as much fuel that led him rounding out the podium.
“When we got crashed at the beginning of the race, it kind of threw us for a wildcard because you were in the back of the field. We tried to throw a Hail Mary,” said Speed. “Then when I saw those guys, no way I’m going to hold those guys off, try to lose as little time as possible, try to bring it home for a podium.”
With Speed out of the equation, it boiled down to the Penske do where the 10-year iRacing veteran that came out on top. Power scored his second INDYCAR iRacing Challenge podium in as many races, the only one to do so.
“You feel not quite satisfied because you didn’t win, but you finished the race,” Power on his runner-up result. “Last week I was satisfied with my race. I planned just to finish. This week I would have liked to have won because I’d been really quick in all the practices.
“I’m still really happy with second. My aim was to be mistake free. I didn’t make many mistakes. Executed the whole race, so P2 is good.”
Road racing action will be on hold as the gang will hit the ovals for the first time in the iRacing campaign April 11. The site for Round 3 will be at virtual Michigan International Speedway, a track that INDYCAR last raced in real-life back in 2007.
Power already have iRacing oval experience as he won the Jacob Companies 250 at virtual Indianapolis Motor Speedway, hosted by Elite Racing League Friday night.
He described how iRacing have done a masterful job on capturing the Aeroscreen feel on an oval as he and Dixon were the first two drivers to test the real-life safety innovation last fall at the 2.5-mile holy grail.
“You get the rubber streaks on the windscreen and you get the dirt,” Power on running the 100-lap event Friday. “Obviously, you have the big halo part in front of you and the two little things that stick up in the air. I do think that it’s actually getting used to the vision you will see. It’s pretty cool iRacing could implement that so quickly.”