November 17, 2019 | 4:00 PM
In an exceptionally-clean race that saw only two caution periods across 500 miles of battling on-track, Italian driver Michele Costantini was the man left standing at the end to win the inaugural running of the Open-Wheels.com 500 Mile Race on Sunday.
Costantini, who pilots the No. 66 Dallara IR-18 Honda for Apex Racing Team with Indy 500 Group, led 63 laps en route to victory while setting a blistering pace of 199.641 miles per hour.
The race began with Indianapolis’ traditional three-wide start, with the field being paced by seven-time Indianapolis 500 starter Richie Hearn. Once Hearn departed in the Cadillac CTS-V pace car, legendary sim racer Yang Ou held the field at 60 miles per hour before Race Director Tanner Watkins gave the command to go green.
After all drivers safely maneuvered their way through the first few turns on Lap 1, the field settled in for a lengthy green flag run – something that would become a trademark for today’s race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on iRacing.
Ou would relinquish the lead by the end of Lap 1 to Brazil’s Wilson Neto, and Neto would trade the lead with his countryman Marco Aurelio Brasil through much of the first fuel stint. As the drivers cycled through the first round of green flag stops, Costantini had worked his way into the mix after patiently sitting in the top-five to that point.
A slew of drivers took their shot at the lead during the race’s middle stage – and there were 52 official lead changes on the day overall – with drivers such as Henry Bennett, Rick Music, Adam Blocker, Josh Chin, Chris Stofer, Jeff Drake, and Joe Branch all taking turns up front.
The first caution of the day didn’t fly until Lap 98 when Team Talent driver Dakota DiCienzo smacked the wall on the exit of Turn 4, sending his machine into the pit lane. The yellow shook up the starting order, sending Brazil and Neto to the middle of the pack while Team Talent-affiliated drivers such as Chin, Drake, and Quinn began to stake their claim on the top five.
Considering the timing of the mid-race caution, fuel strategy would come into play – as it always does at Indianapolis. Varying strategies would emerge through the race’s final 100 laps, and the battle would build with the final stint being oh-so-important.
With Costantini leading on Lap 167, he would pit for the final time in an attempt to stretch his fuel 33 laps – a distance difficult to achieve without the support of the draft and strategy. Bennett would assume a similar strategy, while the trio of Chin, Quinn and Drake would use two pit stops to make it to the end.
As the race reached its final 10 laps, Costantini would be tucked up behind his alliance team member Christopher Demeritt in an attempt to save fuel while simultaneously assuming the race lead. Chin, Quinn and Drake were quickly approaching to try and challenge (while Bennett was trying to save fuel himself in second place) but the laps were winding down.
Watch the event replay below, courtesy of RaceSpot TV!
Just as the race was shaping up for its final few laps, it would be Drake drifting high on the exit of Turn 2 and pounding the wall in the South Chute. The contact brought out one final caution – just the second of the afternoon – which assured the race would end under yellow flag conditions.
When the 200 laps had been completed, Michele Costantini had won the inaugural running of the Open-Wheels.com 500 Mile Race.
“I am just ecstatic… I have no words,” said Costantini in the post-race interview with RaceSpot TV.
While many drivers were concerned about fuel at the end of the race, Costantini utilized his teammates to draft and save those ever-valuable drops for Lap 200.
“I had Chris (Demeritt) in front of me the whole time, and then I had AJ (Burton) in front as well – who had damage – so I could just ride behind them running high lap times and saving fuel. With both of them, I was going to make it either way. I just can’t thank (Indy 500 Group) for this… I wouldn’t be here without them.”
The final running order included an Italian winning the race and two drivers from the United Kingdom & Ireland club rounding out the first three positions. Northwest club member Simon Briant was the first driver in the results who is affiliated with an American racing club, followed by Adam Blocker (P5, Carolina), Joshua Chin (P6, Florida), and a pair of Indiana club drivers in Bradley Walters and Rick Music.
All in all, 12 drivers led in various portions of the race, and a total of 17 drivers finished on the lead lap. 24 drivers were running at the end of the race, capped by Ou, who finished 24th after enduring a difficult race in his iRacing return.
Stay tuned to Open-Wheels.com for continued wrap-up coverage of the 2019 Open-Wheels.com 500 Mile Race presented by Mitchell Transmissions.
Header image by Tanner Watkins/Open-Wheels.com.