By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Sage Karam may have ran away with the American Red Cross Grand Prix at virtual Watkins Glen International to kick-off the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge campaign Saturday, but Felix Rosenqvist also had a smooth 45-lap race after crossing the line in second.
Without any prior experience at the popular 3.4-mile road course, Rosenqvist fell in love with the circuit fans voted as the venue the 25-car grid would drive.
“I love this track. I haven’t raced there in reality, but this track has such a nice flow into it,” Rosenqvist on the track INDYCAR last raced in 2017. “You can definitely feel it in iRacing as well. Almost every corner is a high speed corner. It seems to have a lot grip and one of those tracks you kind of hang on to a lap in qualifying.
“I would love to do that again because it’s a historic track as well with F1 and other kinds of series that’s been there many times. Yeah, hopefully we can go there again in the real car.”
In the closing laps, Rosenqvist did everything he could to cut down Karam’s deficit once lapped cars (with only seven drivers finishing the race on the lead lap) came into the mix. Both were able to get by lapped traffic just fine, but the Chip Ganassi Racing sophomore was one-upped by the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing racer, who won by 3.618 seconds.
“I was trying to catch Sage, but I think that was a deserved win for him,” Rosenqvist said. “I tried taking advantage of some lapping from the cars behind, but he always seemed to get through the traffic even better.”
Where Rosenqvist felt his main struggle was tire management as his black No. 10 NTT Data Honda would get on a roll to make a charge on Karam for a few laps, but his lap times waned once it became an issue.
“He seemed to have it pretty much under control. It seems like I can do some quick lap times here-and-there, but then I would sort of overheat my tires and then I would have a couple of laps slower,” Rosenqvist said. “It just kind of went in that cycle, so he can always respond to my lap times. He just had something more than I have.”
Compared to Karam, who’s dominant race had a near scare after seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson crashed in front of him at the Bust Stop on Lap 33.
“There were some cars flying and stuff, and every time I thought Sage was collected, he seemed to get through all of them,” Rosenqvist on Karam’s encounters with lapped traffic. “You have to do all the laps until the finish because you never know when because it’s very easy to make a mistake on your own or to get together with someone. It’s pretty hard to race closely.
“He had more things going on when he lapped other cars, but he never lost any time, so yeah, it was hard to make any advantage doing that. I never really had any battle with anyone, just the lapped cars, but I just blew my Push-to-Pass trying to get around people quick, and I think Sage kind of did the same thing.”
Next Saturday will be Round 2 of 6 for the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge as they’ll hit the virtual Barber Motorsports Park, a track Rosenqvist finished 10th in real-life last season, which will be streamed live at 4:00pm EST.
Whether its Watkins Glen or the “lovely circuit” in Alabama, Rosenqvist is prepared for what lies ahead. More so when drivers will continue to spend hours trying to conquer a circuit, but also possible instances where a driver won’t showcase their stuff until it really matters.
This was the case during qualifying after Rosenqvist was quicker for much of the session until Karam knocked him off from pole position with a time of 1:25.065.
“Whatever lap time someone makes, you have to try and beat it. It doesn’t really matter which track or driver and that’s kind of the danger of sim racing,” Rosenqvist said. “You can spend endless hours just trying to get quicker and quicker, so that was clever of Sage to sandbag. He actually didn’t look like a contender, but I kind of expected something was coming. He was a bit sneaky there.”
“I think Barber is going to turn out probably tighter. There’s going to be more guys maybe upgrading their rigs and spending more time, so I think the second race is going to be pretty tough.”