In a series in which the only predictable trait has been unpredictability, the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge could get even wilder during Round 3 on Saturday, April 11.
That's because the virtual racing series featuring stars of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and some special guests is moving to an oval - the super-fast, wide, 2-mile Michigan International Speedway - after the first two rounds took place on natural road courses at Watkins Glen International and Barber Motorsports Park.
The Chevrolet 275 will feature exciting, tight action for all 85 laps after the green flag flies at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday (live on NBCSN). INDYCAR events at the popular track in the Irish Hills of Michigan included wild racing with numerous photo finishes from 1968-2007, as the generous racing surface with multiple lines creates many passing opportunities.
Drivers in this six-round virtual series, which takes place every Saturday through May 2, use identical car setups provided by iRacing. That will place a premium on slipstreaming in packs for position and managing tire wear as fuel loads drop.
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Statistics - both overall and recent - also point to a very competitive race Saturday. Three of the 10 INDYCAR races featuring the most lead changes in history have occurred at MIS. And the last time INDYCAR raced at the 2-mile oval, Tony Kanaan edged Marco Andretti by a scant .0595 of a second for victory Aug. 5, 2007.
2004 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Kanaan and Andretti could repeat that photo finish Saturday, as Andretti is joining the series for the first time this week in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda fielded by Andretti Herta with Marco Andretti & Curb-Agajanian.
Andretti is one of three prominent drivers making their INDYCAR iRacing Challenge debuts Saturday, along with 2012 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hunter-Reay is driving the No. 28 DHL Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport, while veteran iRacing competitor Earnhardt - now a motorsports analyst for NBC Sports - will be behind the virtual wheel of the No. 3 Nationwide JR Motorsports Chevrolet.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers Max Chilton and James Davison also will join the series Saturday, with Carlin Racing's Chilton in the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet and Davison in the No. 33 Honda.
Those newcomers will be among 31 drivers taking the green flag in the largest field yet for the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge.
Among the favorites for victory Saturday will be Sage Karam and Scott McLaughlin. Round 1 (Watkins Glen) winner Karam will drive the No. 24 DRR WIX Filters Chevrolet fielded by Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, and two-time Virgin Supercars Australia champion McLaughlin will try to earn a second straight win in the No. 2 Snap-On Team Penske Dallara after holding off teammate Will Power by .4241 of a second to win Saturday, April 4 at Barber Motorsports Park.
2014 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner Power also must be considered a primary threat for victory in the Chevrolet 275. He is the only driver to finish on the podium in both INDYCAR iRacing Challenge races so far, placing third in the opener at Watkins Glen and second last Saturday at Barber in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
While Power is the only driver with two podium finishes in the series, the level of unpredictability goes even deeper throughout the field. Just six drivers have earned top-10 finishes in both races to date: Power (3-2), 2019 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year Felix Rosenqvist (2-6), McLaughlin (4-1), 2016 series champion and 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud (6-5), two-time and reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden (7-9) and 2019 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge Rookie of the Year Santino Ferrucci (8-10).
The fuel window for this race is expected to be approximately 37 green flag laps, slightly less than half of the race distance. So, depending on the number of caution periods, drivers and their team strategists could decide on two stops for service or try to stretch fuel to finish the race on one stop, creating even more strategic elements. There will be no competition caution to bunch the field Saturday, unlike Round 2 at Barber Motorsports Park.
The starting lineup will be set through a 10-minute qualifying session prior to the event.
Saturday's race at a virtual version of Michigan International Speedway, located in Brooklyn, Michigan, is the third of six races in the series. Future venues include a "Random Draw" track April 18, Circuit of the Americas on April 25 and a non-INDYCAR "Dream" track May 2.
The INDYCAR iRacing Challenge will not crown an overall champion but will add a special element where INDYCAR will make a donation to one of its partner charities.