By: Tanner Watkins
May 4, 2020 | 10:00 AM
Last night, the Coca-Cola of Kokomo Elite Series wrapped up their spring 2020 season at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In a 500-mile event contested on iRacing, Liam Quinn would take the checkered flag first in a wild championship finale.
After qualifications were held the weekend prior, 33 Indy Elite Series league members formed the starting grid – plus two entries to the tail end of the field in Tony Kanaan and Kyle Kaiser. The starting grid of 35 drivers would be led to green by Chris Cahoe, who grabbed the pole at 231.511 mph.
As a result of penalties from the previous round at Circuit of the Americas, Quinn and Matt Pawelski would have to start from the tail end of the field.
The first lap was run without issue as Cahoe darted into Turn 1 first, and the next two laps were clean as well. On Lap 4, though, trouble struck on the frontstretch as Matt Pawelski was tagged by Gabriel Perez. Pawelski then spun into Philip Kraus, the championship leader who would sustain some damage in the accident.
On Lap 6, the race resumed with Jason Brophy leading the way. Restarts would prove to be exciting (and dangerous) on this night, serving as the best opportunity to make up ground. The race would run green for seven laps before Bradley Walters touched the rumble curbing on the inside of Turn 4, loosening his car up and eventually making contact with Adam Blocker.
Blocker would be sent into the Turn 4 wall, later collecting John Downing in the second caution of the day. By the Lap 17 restart, Quinn was already leading the group of Kaiser (who had front wing damage), Austin Espitee and Andrew Wood. The race would go green four eight laps (with Zachary Campbell and AJ Burton joining the mix) before “The Big One” struck on Lap 25.
Normally reserved for Talladega Superspeedway races, The Big One made an appearance in Indianapolis as 11 cars were involved in a backstretch crash. Chris Stofer slid up and clipped Ray Kingsbury on the exit of Turn 2. The contact sent Kingsbury into the wall, then spun his damaged car to the inside of the track to collect Chad Simpson first, which then sent Simpson sliding down the track to add Joshua Chin and Joe Branch to the list of drivers with damage.
Before the spinning and wrecking was over, David Adams, Kaiser, Kanaan, Kraus, Riley Thompson, Perez, and Rob Powers would also earn varied levels of crash damage, woefully reducing the amount of cars on the lead lap. When the race went green again on Lap 29, only 25 of the 35 starters were on the lead lap.
The Lap 29 restart signaled the first real green flag period of the race, allowing for some great racing and tire degradation to play out.
Campbell and Burton had moved into the lead group while Espitee, Wood, Andrew Kinsella and Flinn Lazier were also racy around the top five. Green flag pit stops ran through two cycles during this caution-free run, which also featured Cahoe, Quinn, Walters and Brophy as contenders up front.
By Lap 98, the track temperature had risen to 124 degrees Fahrenheit (from 113 at the race start) and Campbell would be the driver to lead at Lap 100 – the halfway mark. Eight drivers were within two seconds of the lead at that point.
Sadly, the green flag period would end when Wood pounded the wall exiting Turn 1, later collecting Walters as his car bounced off of the SAFER Barrier in the South Chute. That was on Lap 106, and on the next lap, all cars would come to pit lane and reset their pit strategies.
Race running would resume on Lap 110 with Lazier leading the field back to green, but internet issues for Campbell began to surface on Lap 114 – creating some uneasy moments for the leaders. By Lap 115, Campbell had disappeared from the track in the second half of the lap, and did not re-appear until his bright Dallara IR-18 machine was in the Turn 4 wall.
Campbell’s internet-induced accident brought out the next caution, and once again, a slew of drivers hit pit lane for tires and fuel. Cahoe, Tony Showen, and last-hope championship contender Henry Bennett all stayed out and would lead the field to green.
For Bennett, Kraus’ exit from the race following the massive Lap 25 crash created his only opportunity to win the championship in the final race. Bennett would have to win the race to have a chance at the title, and he was doing everything in his power to put the Powerslide Motorsports entry in a position to do just that.
Unfortunately for Bennett, the green flag at Lap 119 saw him drop quickly down the running order on old tires. It seemed his car struggled a bit in the handling department during the race, and he never fully regained the track position necessary to contend for the victory as the race progressed.
For the next 15 laps, six drivers would continue to run at a brisk pace with only one second separating them at Lap 134. The lead group consisted of Lazier, Stofer, Cahoe, Quinn and Showen, until the race was slowed by a caution on Lap 141.
Kinsella had smacked the wall exiting Turn 2 while running in the top ten, though that issue did not bring out the yellow. Later in the lap, Lazier and Stofer would collide in the North end of the track in an accident that would end their days and signal another caution.
The race resumed on Lap 145 with Burton leading Quinn to green – though a 10-car dogfight in the lead pack meant that this 500-mile race had turned into a 55-lap sprint to the finish.
By Lap 152, the track temperature had plummeted to 111 degrees Fahrenheit – further aiding the drivers’ ability to dice it up two- and three-wide at times.
While the racing up front remained clean, a yellow flag was shown on Lap 173 for Bryan Carey and Brendan Lichtenberg crashing in Turn 2. Just before the caution period began, Andreas Eik had pitted under green. When the rest of the field pitted under caution, Eik was able to assume the race lead.
With only 14 cars running on the lead lap, the race went green again at Lap 177. Eik led Quinn, Cahoe, Espitee and Burton in the lead group. As the laps wore on, those four began to separate themselves a bit from Showen and Cahoe, who were struggling to make ground on the leaders. Everyone would get one last shot with a caution at Lap 193.
Exiting Turn 3, Espitee and Burton were battling in the lead group – with Espitee up high and Burton down low. As the two drivers flew into the North Chute, Espitee was on the high side as Burton ran the inside line – eventually drifting up into Espitee and effectively removing both driver from victory contention.
The yellow with seven laps to go meant the leaders would have a difficult choice to make. Would they stay out on old tires and risk drivers behind them pitting for new tires, or would they pit, knowing the risk of drivers behind them staying out?
Eventually, Quinn, Eik and Cahoe would stay out while the rest of the field pitted. Frank Levick, Brophy, Showen, and Bennett would be the first drivers off of the pit lane.
On Lap 197, the green flag was shown for the final time – and all hell broke loose. On old tires, Quinn, Eik and Cahoe were able to make it one lap before severe pressure from the drivers on fresh Firestone rubber was applied.
Heading into the penultimate lap, Brophy had gotten alongside Quinn for the lead as the field raced into Turn 2. Racing closely for the lead, Brophy ended up in the Turn 2 wall as a separate incident behind them unfolded in another multi-car accident.
The yellow flag came out for the final time, and it was Quinn being shown as the leader. Quinn would make two laps around the Brickyard under yellow to collect his first Indy Elite Series Indianapolis 500 victory.
Eik had snuck through the mess to finish runner-up, and despite a badly-damaged car, Bennett would place third – close enough to shrink his championship points deficit to 30 points, but not enough to overtake Philip Kraus. Kraus would be the 2020 Coca-Cola of Kokomo Indy Elite Series champion.
Brophy finished third in the championship while Kinsella (P4) and Eik (P5) rounded out the top five.
That was the final race of the 2020 Coca-Cola of Kokomo Indy Elite Series season, but Open-Wheels was pleased to cover both the fall 2019 and spring 2020 championships for Indy Elite and we look forward to a continued relationship in the future.
See you all on the track again soon!
Header image by Tanner Watkins/iRacing.