Canadian Dalton Kellett is two races into his rookie season on the IndyCar circuit and he hasn't even left home.
Kellett joined AJ Foyt Racing's IndyCar team ahead of the season, but with events being cancelled across North America due to the COVID-19 pandemic it seemed like he was out of luck. Instead, he's been competing in IndyCar's iRacing online events, wearing VR goggles in his home office in Indianapolis.
"Everyone's trying really hard and we all want to win so you can test as much as you want and more. It's been very competitive and fast," Kellett said in a phone interview on Monday. "It has been a bit of a soft introduction to running with these guys."
Because all of the virtual open-wheeled cars in iRacing are effectively identical, Kellett says it's a relatively even playing field when it comes to equipment. Experience as a driver, as a gamer, or a driver's personal computer setup have been the major factors.
The 26-year-old Kellett, a native of Stouffville, Ont., has used iRacing at different points in his career to help him practise or familiarize himself with course layouts. When it became apparent that Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb was going to issue a stay-at-home order for the state, Kellett reached out to Race Craft 1 to get setup at home for the duration.
"It allows me to step further into the game as far as treating it like being in a real race. I think if you have just a single monitor setup, you can see the rest of the room and it's hard to get that suspension of disbelief," he said.
"Where as the VR? It's like, you see the hands move in and now you're really in it. I think that the field of view is a bit different with the headset that I have."
Scott McLaughlin took the checkered flag at Saturday's Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park, holding off Penske teammate Will Power in a 1-2 finish.
Robert Wickens of Guelph, Ont., who suffered a spinal-cord injury in a horrific crash at Pocono in August 2018, finished eighth. Kellett was 11th and James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont., was 17th.
Both NASCAR and IndyCar have turned to iRacing to keep eyes on motorsports during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The events have been televised in Canada and the United States and have drawn spectacular viewer numbers. NASCAR's first two televised events both set eSports records. More than one million people watched last week when Fox made the race available to affiliates and also aired it nationally on its cable channel.
"I think it's a unique opportunity for the world of racing because we have this platform that you can't do this with a lot of other sports," said Kellett. "But with the iRacing virtual racing community, it gives us a great platform to bring content to fans at a time where I think we're all looking for something to distract ourselves with."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2020.
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