By: Tanner Watkins
November 11, 2019 | 8:00 AM
After two grueling days of qualifications saw 146 attempts made, an inaugural class of 33 drivers that will start next Sunday’s Open-Wheels.com 500 Mile Race presented by Mitchell Transmissions was finalized on Sunday.
While the spotlight on Saturday belonged to our Pit Lane Parley Pole Award winner Yang Ou, Sunday’s focus turned to the back end of the grid and the magical number of 33. “Bumping” began early in the day on Saturday due to the large list of entries (an impressive 104) but the real players in the mix began to emerge as Sunday progressed.
Just after noon Eastern time, former iRacing Indianapolis 500 winner Jonathan Goke made back-to-back qualifying attempts. Goke’s first run on Sunday (after making one attempt on Saturday) was not quick enough, and the second Sunday run saw an issue on the warm-up lap to thwart his shot at getting a real attempt in.
About an hour later, feature iRacing Indianapolis 500 winner Matt Pawelski was sitting outside the top-33 before a clutch run put himself inside the field – while bumping Matt Hollibaugh out of the provisional lineup. Pawelski’s attempt triggered two more runs – this time by Adam Plunkett and Brendan Lichtenberg, both drivers who were on the outside before bumping themselves into the field.
It wasn’t until 3:05 PM Eastern before we saw another qualifications attempt that produced bumping. John Downing put his Sadi Sim Autosport machine into the field, moving Chad Simpson out. Ten minutes later, Brazilian driver Silvio Sanchez ran 30th-quick to push Andreas Eik out of the top-33. It was the second time on Sunday that Eik had been moved outside the cut line.
The final hour of qualifications, beginning at 5:00 PM Eastern, certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of excitement. Broken Aero driver Brandon Traino – who had been absent all weekend after serving as a NASCAR pit crew member in Phoenix on Saturday – ripped off the fourth-fastest time of the weekend to push Adam Plunkett out of the field of 33.
Twenty minutes later, Eik made his third and final attempt of the weekend. In an impressive run under the highest amount of pressure, Eik re-joined the field of 33 while bumping his Team Talent teammate Andrew Wood out of the provisional field.
At 5:35 PM, Wood would respond with his own final attempt. The veteran driver was looking to bump Sanchez from the field, but in the end, he would run the 34th-quickest time – just missing the cut by 0.002 seconds over the four-lap average time.
Veteran drivers Ryan Norton and Michael Chinn both turned in efforts after Wood, but were unable to best Sanchez’ four-lap speed of 229.456 mph.
For Wood, missing out on this year’s race was certainly difficult to digest considering the narrow margin of defeat.
“It was a tough weekend, for sure,” said Wood to RaceSpot TV after qualifications had concluded. “My first run (of the weekend) was a joke, and the second run yesterday, after talking to a bunch of the guys in the paddock, it seemed like it was going to be a pretty good bet that I would be in the show. So I went to sleep a little easy last night, but when I saw the times this morning, I started to shake and quiver a little bit.
“I knew I had to put a lot of time in today, so I spent a lot of time doing practice qualifying runs and such. And actually, what I was running would have had me easily in the field… The last run I had there seemed okay to me. I took away all of the timing (and scoring) and I just wanted to hit my marks. When I finished the session there, I felt like I was in.
“Just missed it by a couple ticks there, but I gave it my best effort this weekend. I put in a lot of time – much more than I did a few months ago (for the iRacing Indy 500) – and the bright side is that I will be the first reserve in case someone can’t make it next weekend.”
Within the field of 33 drivers that will take the green flag in next Sunday’s race, eight former iRacing Indianapolis 500 winners will be competing, and 30 of the 33 participants have top-split experience in the iRacing Indianapolis 500. Three rookies – Zachary Campbell, Hugo Olsson, and Logan Simmons – will fight for the Rookie of the Year Award since they do not have a prior top split iRacing Indy 500 start.
In a demonstration of this field’s incredibly-close margin of speed, polesitter Yang Ou’s full qualifications run (over four laps) lasted 2 minutes and 36.572 seconds. Compare that to last-place qualifier Silvio Sanchez, who’s run lasted 2 minutes and 36.892 seconds, and the full field was separated by just 0.32 seconds over the course of a 10-mile qualifications attempt.
We will have a follow-up article on the starting field this week that has more stats to consume, but the talent level of this year’s Open-Wheels.com 500 Mile Race was on-par (if not greater than) any year of the iRacing Indianapolis 500.
And now, the attention turns to Sunday, November 17. Race day is six days away, and drivers will be preparing their race trim setups over the next week to ensure they have the best chance to compete for the win this weekend.
We will have continued coverage of the 2019 Open-Wheels.com 500 Mile Race – including a spotter guide, practice reports, and even Veterans 100 race qualifying – as the week continues. Stay locked-in to Open-Wheels.com for all things “500” with the inaugural running looming this weekend!
The 2019 Open-Wheels.com 500 Mile Race will be held on Sunday, November 17. An early-morning pre-race show will be aired live from 9 to 11 AM Eastern time at Open-Wheels.com/Today500 before RaceSpot TV begins their live, worldwide coverage at 11:15 AM Eastern.
Make sure to follow Open-Wheels’ and RaceSpot TV’s social media accounts for link postings about the race day broadcast.
The 2019 Open-Wheels.com 500 Mile Race is presented by Mitchell Transmissions. Mitchell Transmissions is an established business in the Evansville, Indiana area who boasts three decades of mechanical experience to help service the needs of many makes and models. You can visit Mitchell Transmissions in Newburgh, Indiana at 10672 West State Road, or give them a call at 812-853-3286.
Header image by Tanner Watkins/Open-Wheels.com