Pagenaud among winners in wild Penske esports event

by Jack Benyon
4 min read

Reigning Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud was among the race winners in his Penske team’s variety motorsport event on iRacing, with 2017 IMSA champion Ricky Taylor and NASCAR Cup driver Matt DiBenedetto also scoring victories.

Pagenaud was returning to simnracing just over a week on from his role in the controversial end to the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Indianapolis, where he became embroiled in a spat with McLaren Formula 1 driver Lando Norris.

Back online and racing publicly, Pagenaud won the final of the three heats, a 30-lap race in Legends Ford ’34 Coupes on the figure-eight layout of the Irwindale Speedway.

The event, run with the backing of Verizon under the #PayItForwardLive Invitational banner with the stated aim of supporting small businesses, featured 14 Penske-affiliated pro racers across NASCAR Cup, IndyCar, IMSA and the Australian Supercars series.

The car and track combinations were only revealed to drivers shortly before the start of each race, and the reveal of the figure-of-eight finale prompted reigning IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden to comment: “Oh my gosh, this is a figure-eight, right? This is a terrible idea, and by terrible I mean great.”

Newgarden took the lead from NASCAR driver Joey Logano off the line, with eventual winner Pagenaud dropping to as low as 10th, recovering but then having an apparent spin that sent him right back to 10th place.

IMSA regular Juan Pablo Montoya – who has been active in everything from World of Outlaws dirt racing to The Race Legends Trophy in this period – passed Newgarden on the eighth lap, but seemingly spun by himself on lap 15.

That brought Ryan Blaney and Newgarden into the battle – only for the latter to be hit while going through the central section of the figure-eight layout.

Another spin for Montoya allowed Blaney to take the lead, with Pagenaud and Austin Cindric now emerging as his nearest pursuers, as Newgarden was hampered by a collision with Helio Castroneves that sent the latter’s Ford high into the air.

On the final lap, Pagenaud got close enough to Blaney to nudge him loose, which led to the Penske NASCAR man collecting Cindric – although the two ultimately managed to complete the podium behind Pagenaud.

The opening race had been held on the Michigan oval in Street Stock machinery, which proved very conducive to pack racing.

But as three NASCAR Cup drivers in DiBenedetto – who drives for Penske affiliate team, Wood Brothers Racing – Blaney and Brad Keselowski assumed control out front, incidents began to chip away at the pack.

First, Penske’s most recent NASCAR champion Logano got loose pushing Taylor and was turned by IndyCar driver Will Power, which led to an airborne crash.

Logano returned to the pack two laps down. While he initially looked to be aiding his fellow NASCAR drivers he would ultimately hook DiBenedetto and send him flying, with Pagenaud also collected in the incident.

Newgarden was forced to check up while battling Supercars driver Fabian Coulthard for the lead late on, and then clashed with Blaney, leaving Coulthard and Taylor to decide the win between themselves.

They completed the final lap of the 10-lap contest side by side, with Taylor emerging victorious by 0.038s and Newgarden beating Montoya to third place by a similar margin.

With the starting order reversed for the second race, held in the Lucas Oil Off Road Pro 4 Truck on the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval configuration, Logano lined up on pole. But he was then pushed by Helio Castroneves into the first corner and clipped Power on exit, launched airborne once more as a result.

DiBenedetto then nudged Castroneves out of the way for the lead, and though he briefly came under pressure from Power, he displayed superior pace from then on.

This allowed DiBenedetto to ease to victory by over six seconds from Power in a largely trouble-free 10-lap race up front.

Clashes and half-spins were aplenty further down in the pack, including a huge rollover for Cindric and a big crash for Dane Cameron within the span of mere moments.

And the non-stop battle ultimately meant that, behind a podium-completing Scott McLaughlin, the rest of the pack was more than 20 seconds down on DiBenedetto.

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