Opinion: Did Pagenaud go too far at Indy in Norris esports clash?

One of the success stories of life in lockdown has been esports stepping up to the plate to give us all a fix of racing while the real world is on hold. But Saturday’s IndyCar iRacing Challenge event at a virtual Indianapolis descended into the sort of chaos that had fans up in arms across social media.

Opinion: Did Pagenaud go too far at Indy in Norris esports clash?

The American esports racing double header of IndyCar on Saturday and NASCAR on Sunday has worked really well (something for the real-world bosses to think about, perhaps?) – as an appointment to view, they’ve become essential viewing in my household. However, another aspect of 2020 living, a party video call with friends to replace our real-life socialising, got in the way – so I only had one eye on the action as it entered the closing stages at Indy, just as cars seemed to be flying everywhere.

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Lando Norris, the F1 interloper, had again dazzled with his sim-racing skills. I’d been glued to the race earlier on, and really impressed with the patience and lack of incidents as the pack whirled around – and the overall impression wasn’t too far away from what I’d seen on track with my own eyes almost 12 months ago.

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske and Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske and Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Photo by: Chris Graythen - Getty Images

Race winner Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske

Race winner Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske

Photo by: IndyCar

My call started just after Simon Pagenaud had been nerfed into the wall, an unfortunate chain of events as Norris (on fresher tyres) made a bold move at Turn 2 that edged Graham Rahal out of his lane and left Pagenaud with nowhere to go but the wall. The 2019 Indy 500 crawled to the pits for repairs.

And this is where their individual streams told the real story. On Pagenaud’s channel, he was fuming about his wreck.

“I’m gonna take Lando out,” he said as he left his box after resetting his car, multiple laps down. “Let’s do it!” And then he asked his spotter where Lando was.

Later, on Norris’s channel, Lando reviewed a video of Pagenaud’s Twitch stream – with fellow F1 racer Max Verstappen on too. When told what he was about to unfold, Verstappen replied: “What the fuck? That’s so stupid.”

Lando said: “I even said it at the time, that Pagenaud’s going to take me out. Two seconds later, I’m flipping around!”

“Wow, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen,” added Verstappen before flippantly suggesting they replace stewards with a boxing ring in the paddock!

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As the accident unfolds, Pagenaud claims “I was spinning” and then “I wasn’t going to crash him, I just wanted to pit” – which sent Norris into a fit of laughter: “He’s such a liar! He’s such a class act. What a loser.”

Before then, it looked like Norris was on target to repeat his victory in Austin a week earlier. But the contact with Pagenaud, who appeared to just lift off right in front of him at over 200mph, sent him spinning.

Norris later spoke to Pagenaud, who apologised but was sticking to his story, and related his side of their conversation: “He said he wanted to come into the pits, and he wanted to slow me up, he wanted Askew to win. He didn’t want me to win. So he tried slowing me up a little bit, and then was going to come into the pits… had no intention of taking me out.

“Do you know how many fricking hours I put into driving the lefts? Trying to perfect it with the most delicate touch. Twenty-four hours, and then cos that guy gets a bit salty that a non-IndyCar driver is about to win an Indy race… just ruins it.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport, crash

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport, crash

Photo by: Chris Graythen - Getty Images

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske and Alex Palou, Dale Coyne Racing, spin in Turn 3

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske and Alex Palou, Dale Coyne Racing, spin in Turn 3

Photo by: Chris Graythen - Getty Images

Conclusion

So what did we learn from all this? Is sim racing just a bit of fun which drivers need to make spicy for the TV show? Or should it be taken as seriously as real-world racing?

Should Pagenaud be banned for his move from a future sim event as a punishment? Might iRacing feuds risk boiling over into the real world when racing begins?

Is it fair that drivers with high profiles (and their mates!) get to ‘Twitch-shame’ when they feel hard done by? Or are Twitch streams simply the sim racing equivalent of team radio, so you’re simply getting the inside story?

Is everything fair game, unless you rage quit (see Bubba Wallace, who lost a sponsor) or use a racial slur (see Kyle Larson, who has seriously damaged his career and reputation)?

One thing it absolutely does prove: even nice guys like Pagenaud have planet-sized egos when it comes to their racing, whatever platform it’s on.

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