IndyCar iRacing Challenge returns with a bang

In preparation for the upcoming NTT IndyCar Season, the series is giving fans and participants a pre-season reason to be excited in the upcoming months as it revives the IndyCar iRacing Challenge.

As it did when the pandemic began, the series expects to play host to many of the current crop of IndyCar drivers which starts Thursday 18th March. The iRacing Challenge will be streamed live on INDYCAR.com, the series’ Youtube channel and Facebook page while you can also find exclusive content via the drivers personal social media and Twitch accounts.

This three-race series, will kick off March 18th on the (VIRTUAL) Circuit Giles Villeneuve circuit of Montreal, followed a week later at Homestead Miami Speedway. The series will culminate on April 1st on a soon-to-be announced circuit which will be decided by fan-vote.

Drivers expected to take part will be IndyCar rookie and Australian Supercar Champion Scott McLauglhin,as well as his Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Josef Newgarden. Joining them is expected to be Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, Felix Rosenqvist, Graham Rahal, Ed Carpenter, Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou, Ed Carpenter, Conor Daly and ex-Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean.

Each driver’s strategists and engineers are invited to participate in the event to help their drivers.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MAY 02: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) (Editors note: This image was computer generated in-game) Scott McLaughlin, driver of the #40 PIRTEK Team Penske Dallara, races during the IndyCar iRacing Challenge First Responder 175 at virtual Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 02, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Romain Grosjean spoke with great excitement about the opportunity to race against his future competitors in the virtual world.

“I love the circuit. It’s one of the best,” he said. “Actually, it could be a circuit that fits the real IndyCar Series. (iRacing) did such a nice job and taking it to the next level. It is tough to go fast. It takes hours of practice, and we get so competitive. You think it’s just a video game, and then we spend eight, nine, 10 hours of practice for a short race. We are competitors, and we want to win. We are going to push it and try as hard as we can. It’s going to be great fun.”

The 2020 iRacing Challenge went down fantastically with motorsport fans around the world, praising it for its star-studded driver line-up, competitiveness, and realism. Scott McLaughlin took last years’ championship following a chaotic and infamous race at the Indianapolis International Speedway. You may remember it involving a certain Lando Norris and Simon Pagenaud.

Each race will begin streaming at 6:30pm (ET) / 10:30pm (GMT) – If you need something to ‘wet the whistle’ before the first IndyCar race at Birmingham, Alabama April 18th – be sure not to miss.

International Women’s Day 2021 – Interview with Simona de Silvestro (Part 2)

Read 1st part here: bit.ly/2OdD9nN

As part of a series of interviews leading up to and following on from International Women’s Day, we spoke to Simona de Silvestro about her 2020 season and her plans for the coming year. This is the second part of that two-part interview.

Of particular note in 2021 is de Silvestro’s return to the Indy500, this time as part of an all-female team run by Beth Paretta and backed by Roger Penske.

“For her to choose me, and especially with Roger Penske behind it, for me it’s a big honour,” she said. “Hopefully we can fill as many positions as we can with talented females.

“The 500 is really special to my heart. It really made me as a racing driver and really put me on the map, so I’m pretty happy to come back and I really can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of an IndyCar. I’m stoked about it.”

When asked if the team had any long-term ambitions, de Silvestro said, “From the team’s perspective I think that’s the plan. I think they are going to plan to be full-time on the grid next year. For me personally I’m pretty lucky to be in the position that I’m in – I’m works driver for Porsche and them letting me to the 500 is pretty cool.

“But I think that’s the goal for Beth, to grow this team. I think that she has the right tools to do it, and she’s the right person for it as well, so I think it’s quite exciting and I’m excited to be part of it from the beginning, [knowing] that the first time this team turns a wheel at the 500 I’ll be [driving]’.

Photo credit: The Porsche Newsroom

De Silvestro said the team’s decision to integrate women into all aspects of the team and not just the driver line-up was “important”, and that she thinks “with the team really pushing this, hopefully we will get a lot of young talented women coming in, and hopefully the other teams will maybe steal them from us.

“If you look at my career insights, I’ve been doing racing for a long time and it feels like now these opportunities are coming in with the right people around us. We have really great guidance with Team Penske behind us, so for whoever is coming in I think it’s the right place at the right time and that’s what’s really exciting.”

Looking back on her career, de Silvestro says she was always just focused on putting in the best performance that she could, but that she has noticed some changes when it comes to women in motorsport.

“If I look at my career, when I was in IndyCar, I felt at the time that I was pretty quick. We had podiums, we were running really strongly against the other drivers, but I didn’t get that chance to be in a top team, and I think that’s really what’s changing. I’m the first female who has ever been signed by Porsche as a factory driver and that’s a huge achievement, and for them to trust that I can get the job done.

“If a female driver can win races, I think I can open a lot more minds. I think we need this little bit of a push to show that it can be done and hopefully in 10, 15 years it won’t even be an issue anymore, and whoever is the fastest driver or the best mechanic or engineer gets those positions in those big teams.

“I think the platform that Beth [Paretta] is putting together can showcase that, and I think that’s really special.”

As well as the Indy500 de Silvestro is continuing her involvement with Porsche in 2021, although she hasn’t yet revealed which category she will be involved in with them.

“The thing that I can say is that I’m a reserve and development driver for the Formula E programme which is pretty exciting,” she says, “and the rest will be communicated pretty soon hopefully!”

When asked what advice she would give to young women looking to get involved in motorsport, de Silvestro says, “Believe in yourself, and I think a big thing as well is communicating what you aspire to do, because at the end of the day… you always need people around you to help guide you.

“Sometimes you will get no’s, but most of the time you will find some people who believe in the same dream and they will support you to get there, and that’s really important.”

International Women’s Day 2021 – Interview with Simona de Silvestro (Part 1)

From Formula E and IndyCar to V8 Supercars and GT racing, Simona de Silvestro has had a wide and varied career. She is one of the most high-profile female racing drivers and, in 2020, competed in ADAC GT Masters for Porsche. She was kind enough to speak to us as part of our series of interviews leading up to and following International Women’s Day.

As mentioned, 2020 saw de Silvestro take part in ADAC GT Masters as a factory driver for Porsche. COVID-19 saw her build-up to the season look fairly different to normal.

“I had just come back from Australia actually because I finished my supercar racing over there,” de Silvestro says, “and then started my new venture with Porsche. It was really strange because we came away from Christmas and we had all this testing planned and then all of a sudden there was really nothing going on for quite a long time.

“From that point of view it was definitely quite strange because since I was16, everything goes on from March and it gets pretty busy. Having the time and the big break was really strange.”

When asked how COVID affected her training, she says, “It definitely [affected] the driving side. I didn’t get into a car for a long time and I had a pretty big break, but physically it was quite good.

“Luckily, where I am in Switzerland was pretty chilled in the sense that you were still able to go outside and hike and things like that. So I actually felt really prepared on the physical side because I could really just focus on that.”

Photo credit: The Porsche Newsroom

Despite the lack of track-time compared to previous years, de Silvestro still looks back on her 2020 season positively.

“It was good to learn a new car and I think a few races went quite well,” she says. “It was a bit of a mixed-up season but I’m pretty happy that this year it seems like things are starting to get a bit more normal.

“I think all of us got a bit used to it and are a bit more flexible. It’s good to see that everyone is adapting and that things are moving on and pushing on.”

One of the defining characteristics of the extended off-season at the start of 2020 was sim-racing. Drivers from any and all categories took part in virtual races to keep fans – and themselves – occupied. De Silvestro was one of those who got involved and she admits that although there were some positives to it, it isn’t something she would be quick to return to.

“I’m actually glad [sim-racing] is not happening anymore because it took a lot of commitment and it’s definitely not the same as driving a race car,” she says, “but it was still quite fun. We did the 24 Hours of Le Mans virtually with Porsche and that was a whole new experience. I never thought that I would go to my first Le Mans virtually!

“I think you just need a lot of patience for it and I don’t really have it, so the gaming part is not so much my thing. But everyone had a go at it and at the end I definitely became much better with computers and all that, so that’s a plus.”

In part two of our interview with de Silvestro she talks to us about her plans for 2021, including a return to the Indy500 as part of an all-female team.

Read 2nd part here: bit.ly/3bs5qQf

Alpine’s 2021 F1 car officially unveiled

Alpine has unveiled its new contender for the 2021 season, the A521. The first car built by the newly rebranded team at Enstone.

Although a new name to F1, Alpine have been a part of motorsport since the 1950’s. After being bought out by Renault in 1973 they have developed a reputation as Renault’s ‘high performance’ brand. The Alpine name was used for Renault’s rallying and endurance endeavours, resulting in an Alpine-Renault World Rally Championship in 1973, and the 1978 Le Mans 24 Hours.

Alpine ceased production in 1995 but was revived in 2017, before the decision last year to elevate their long-forgotten brand to the pinnacle of motorsport.

Courtesy of Alpine F1

During a virtual launch, the car was unveiled in a striking blue, white and red livery.

On the new livery, Laurent Rossi, Alpine CEO stressed the symbolism of French and British collaboration:

“This car identifies the Alpine identity. It’s livery conveys it’s values. The blue, white and red is a reference to both the French flag and Union Jack. Representing the soul of this multicultural team that merges flamboyant skills under one banner.”

At first glance, the A521 looks to have the trademark 2021 shrunken sidepods and more complex outboard vanes to the bargeboards – all because of the new floor and diffuser setup created by changes in the aerodynamic rules. The rear wing looks subtly different too with more complex endplates.

“We had to adapt, we had to innovate, but that’s what we do best.” said Marcin Budkowski, speaking on the new technical changes.

“This year’s car is an evolution of last years contender. […] we’ve worked and tried to improve every area that was left free to develop.”

“But also the FIA, to spice things up a bit, have changed the aerodynamic regulations that means we have lost a lot of performance which we’ve tried to recover.”

“Interestingly, they are in an area that normally doesn’t behave in the same way on track than our tool and simulations tell us. So it’s going to be very important to get the best collaboration between people at the factory and on track to develop the car aerodynamically and allow us to realise our ambitious development programme for the first few races.”

Courtesy of Alpine F1

In addition, Renault will have a new and improved power unit, looking to maintain and improve it’s impressive position as one of F1’s most powerful units in terms of straight line speed.

On the team’s power unit, Laurent Rossi stated: “The delay in the technical (engine) regulations means we will be using an evolutions of our RE20A unit. There are a few developments with the power train and we have worked specifically for optimum  performance and reliability.”

The team finished fifth in the constructors championship in 2021, with three podiums to there name, their first in almost a decade of racing.

With returning two-time champion Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, they will be hoping to have similar success with what will be a formidable line-up with a mix of youth and proven championship winning pedigree.

“The team at Enstone are highly experienced and motivated” said Racing Director, Davide Brivio. “I’m very lucky to have two very excellent drivers.”

“The dynamic between Fernando and Esteban is going to be an interesting one, they can definitely benefit from each other. “

The Alpine A521 will make its first extended on-track appearance at the start of pre-season testing in Bahrain, which takes place from 12-14 March.

Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen launches the C41

Alfa Romeo become the latest team to officially launch their 2021 F1 challenger – the C41, during an online media event in Warsaw.

Scheduled during a week of official car launches, it joins the current trend of online hosted events, rather than its traditional reveal usually unveiled at Winter Testing.

The team went all out to impress the tens of thousands of fans, using music and dance to portray a classy, elegant and cultured impression of Alfa Romeo.

The Alfa Romeo C41 car breaks from sequence, given the team raced with a C39 in 2020. However, the team wishes to skip the C40 name in favour of a title that aligns the chassis number with the year of racing.

The team  also underwent a livery change with a white on red style, the inverse of the last few years.

Credit: Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen Team

Alfa Romeo will be aiming to bounce back after a difficult 2020 which saw the team score just eight points as drivers Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi struggled to compete with the midfield teams further ahead.

However, with a new and improved Ferrari power unit, fired up earlier this month, Alfa Romeo can find plenty of optimism surrounding their hopes for an improved campaign.

Credit: Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen Team

On the changes made to the C41, technical director Jan Monchaux said:      “[We had to] Invest our tokens on a new nose […] front suspension, front wing and the bargeboard deflector. The rest of the effort was spent on the floor and the diffuser where due to the regulations we lost a lot of downforce.”

Due to changes in the technical regulations, teams are restricted to what they can develop. Many parts of the 2020 cars are carried over to this year.

“The chassis is the same, the gearbox is obviously the same and the rear suspension as well because of the regulations”

“Then for return-on-investment reasons we decided to carry over radiators and some part of the body work to really in the short time we had to concentrate on the areas we were expecting to provide the highest return on investment.”

Speaking of the team’s hopes, Fred Vasseur said: “For sure the expectations are high,” he explained. “It is an exciting time for the team at the launch of a new car.”

“The most important is to try improve so to put a goal is limiting. Step by step we have to come back. It is a long path but we will improve.”

“We will see in Bahrain in a few weeks time where we are exactly.

Many factors are being considered for Alfa Romeo’s long term plan back to the front including investments on infrastructure such as a new wind-tunnel and simulator. “We’ve invested a lot of money and energy to the simulator. We are at an early stage at the project. I am really convinced on it.”

On preparations for the season, Kimi  underplayed it explaining that it has been: “Very normal life, nothing special. We are excited for the year.”

“There’s rules changes, but in a few weeks we will see from testing how things are running, how things are feeling and roughly in one months time we will see roughly where everybody is.” 

 I enjoy the racing and the challenge to try to improve things and to get better”

Both drivers will be retained for the 2021 season supported by reserve and test drivers Robert Kubica and Tatiana Calderon.

On his 2021 European Le Mans program Kubica said: “It’s a great opportunity I will have to discover a new car, new series, but also a bit of different way of racing”.

“From a performance point of view the field is very competitive in European Le Mans Series. But of course we are working on getting ready and first of all will be to learn as much as I can and try to do something good.”

“You always want to do your best and I think this will be a goal.”

On the driver line-up, Vasseur stated stability and continuity was key: “We only have three days (testing) this winter, we won’t lose time to know each other and to build up a relationship. The relationship between the team and the drivers is a good one and this is crucial.”

Credit: Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen Team

IndyCar’s Race for Equality and Change

“RIGHTS. JUSTICE. OPPORTUNITY.”

Those words were taken from IndyCar veteran JR Hildebrand in a Twitter post in August 2020.

This was in response to the lack of diversity in American motorsport, a few months following killing of George Floyd:

“I’ve been confronted with the inarguable fact that our experience in this country is not all the same, and that some critical disadvantages that black Americans (along w other ethnic & racial minorities) face have existed for far too long (and it’s not good for anyone!)”

A quick glance at the 2021 grid may give the impression that IndyCar has listened to it’s critics. Latin American drivers are a main-stay in the series, including the likes of Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Pablo Montoya.

Japan’s Takuma Sato reached the very pinnacle of American motorsport winning the Indy 500 while Danicka Patrick has held the torch for female representation at the Indy 500 every year since 2000.

An exuberant Takuma Sato celebrates his second Indianapolis 500 win. For the first time, the Indy 500 winner and his car were raised on to the Victory Podium. — Photo by: Chris Jones

However, on closer inspection the reality is somewhat more bleak. The only African-American drivers to compete in IndyCar were Willy T. Ribbs in 1991 and George Mack in 2002.

On review of the current 2021 grid there are no female or BAME drivers who have full-time race seats as of 8th February 2021.

Doug Boles and Willy T. Ribbs posing for a photo at SVRA 2019. — Photo by: Dana Garrett

In addition, IndyCar is facing an uphill battle with its viewership. An IndyCar survey revealed that out of 69 million self-declared IndyCar fans worldwide, a staggering 79% are white, Caucasian while 66% are male.

However, we should not be surprised with these percentages as traditional social conventions surrounding motorsport, wealth inequities and lack of representation are bound to cause an environment with little accessibility.

So what is being done to change this?

Race for Equality & Change is a multi-point plan envisioned by IndyCar, a long-term strategy to dealing with inequality in the sport.

Key focuses include:

  • Recruiting and developing a diverse workforce throughout all levels of IndyCar and IMS.
  • Diversifying the competitive driver field at the grassroots, Road to Indy and NTT IndyCar levels.
  • Supporting impactful grassroots youth motorsports programs, including enhancing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s longstanding partnership with Nexgeneracers, a 501c3 that introduces minority students to the world of motorsports.
  • Diversifying employment, leadership and ownership within the SERIES and with Indycar promoters.
  • Investment in minority communities to encourage greater engagement with IndyCar and IMS.
  • Establishing a procurement program to meaningfully increase the number of minority-owned businesses that contract with IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway each year.

Results quickly followed. African American Jimmie McMillan was installed as Chief Diversity Officer for Penske Entertainment Corp. Meanwhile, Penske announced a partnership with NXG Youth Motorsport, an organisation founded on the principle of introducing minority students into motorsport.

(Courtesy of MylesRoweRacing.com)

In December, the Force Indy team became the first all-African American team in the Road to Indy’s junior categories.  Myles Rowe was the first African American driver to take part in the IndyCar ‘Equality and Change’ program testing a USF2000 and has just been announced as Force Indy’s first official driver.

Andretti Autosport driver, Simona de Silvestro, watches Indianapolis 500 practice along the pit wall at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — Photo by: Chris Owens

Meanwhile, Paretta Autosport will be the first all-female team to compete at this year’s Indianapolis 500. Simona De Silvestro has been announced as their official driver.

 “IndyCar has been a leader and a welcoming place for women for many years because of the hard work of many women and men before us” team principal Beth Baretta explained, “but now we have a stronger commitment with IndyCar‘s Race for Equality & Change’ to make sure opportunities continue in the future”.

This is some remarkably positive news that signal a change in the ethos in American motorsports. Too long have the political divisions in America spilled out into the dogmatic, hierarchical community of racing. There is a growing optimism that IndyCar want to take this seriously, putting into place pragmatic steps to represent the entirety of American society, rather than a tiny sect of it.

There is a long road to go. Children need to be convinced that motorsport is a place they will feel welcomed, valued, and full of opportunity. Spectators and fans need to feel IndyCar is a place they can call family, with sportspeople they can related to and look to for inspiration.

We have not even completed year one of IndyCar’s ‘Race for Equality and Change’, but I sincerely hope IndyCar’s race is not a sprint that peters out after 200m, but more of a marathon that charges relentlessly for years to come.

Let us see if they can keep this momentum and show what they can do in 2021.

©2017 The Pitcrewonline