LONDON, May 3 (Reuters) - An online spat between McLaren’s Lando Norris and Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud has highlighted how seriously drivers are taking their virtual racing during the COVID-19 shutdown.
While there is plenty of light-hearted fun in the digital world, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc playing Fortnite in a banana costume and racing trucks and lawnmowers from his simulator, the competitive spirit is for real.
Norris, winner last weekend of an IndyCar iRacing challenge race on a virtual Circuit of the Americas, clashed with Pagenaud on Saturday against the same field at the Indianapolis Brickyard.
The 20-year-old Briton was leading with two laps to go when he hit Pagenaud’s slow-moving car.
The Team Penske driver, who had been heard to say “we take out Lando, let’s do it” on his live stream, later explained he had only meant to help IndyCar driver Oliver Askew to win.
An earlier inside move by Norris for the lead had forced Graham Rahal into evasive action, hitting Pagenaud’s car and taking him out of contention.
Norris and Pagenaud spoke afterwards over the internet and the Briton told viewers on his Twitch stream that the IndyCar driver, whose words were inaudible, had apologised.
The Formula One driver, who had spent hours perfecting the technique needed to race on an anti-clockwise oval, was clearly still annoyed.
“I must have spent like a day doing that in total, like 24 hours I reckon I’ve spent driving in a straight line and turning left and trying to perfect it.
“With the most delicate touch, I’ve tried doing it fricking one-handed, doing it with my knee. 24 Hours.
“And then because that guy gets a bit salty that a non-IndyCar driver is about to win an Indy race...it just ruins it,” he said.
Askew was taken out by Santino Ferrucci just before the finish.
Norris, a passionate gamer with 1.4 million followers on Instagram and tens of thousands following his esports racing, was not the only one to be upset.
“Maybe some people aren’t taking it seriously, they just think ‘Oh, it’s a game, it doesn’t matter’,” he continued.
“But there’s still a lot of other drivers, I had Jarv (his 2019 McLaren performance engineer Andrew Jarvis) and the engineers and the guys doing strategy.
“They’re still wanting to take part in this, have a bit of fun and try and win a race still. And then some guys they just get all selfish, don’t care about any of it.” (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)