By: Tanner Watkins
November 9, 2019 | 10:00 PM
In a marathon day that saw nearly 12 hours of qualifications and 97 total attempts made, a familiar face outlasted each driver to challenge him on Pole Day. When the dust had settled at 5:50 PM Eastern on Saturday night, Snake Pit’s Yang Ou was the quickest driver of the day to win the Pit Lane Parley Pole Award.
Day one of Qualifications Weekend presented by AG Trucking kicked off with the first qualifying attempt of the day by Justin Carey, who led the field of over 100 drivers though the initial qualifications draw order. Not all drivers decided to run at their designated draw time, though that didn’t dampen the action.
Between 6:10 AM and 3:00 PM Eastern, 69 attempts were made and Arizona’s John Hajek-Doggett was sitting on the provisional pole. Before him, drivers such Jeff Drake, Marco Aurelio Brasil, and the aforementioned Ou all held the top spot for a period of time. Just after Noon Eastern, Ou took the pole away from Drake, before Hajek-Doggett took it back around 2:30 PM Eastern.
As anticipated, when the initial draw order was completed we saw a slew of drivers ready to qualify at the first open session beginning at 3:00 PM Eastern. Less than three hours of qualifying remained on the day and drivers were eager for a second attempt – including Ou.
Withdrawing his previous time – which was still second-best of more than 70 drivers to hit the track – Ou ripped off a blistering 229.925mph four-lap average to best Hajek-Doggett’s 229.754mph run. Later in the day, Brazil’s Wilson Neto made an intense run at Ou’s provisional pole, only to fall five-hundredths of a mile an hour short of Ou’s four-lap result.
A few more runs followed Neto, including a clutch run by Joe Branch in his No. 28 MYLAPs/Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Kokomo/Triptacular Memories Dallara IR-18. With just 23 minutes left in the day, Branch went out for his third and final attempt – of the weekend. A crash or slip would have left him on the outside looking-in, but the Indiana native turned in a dazzling run to place him 14th after day one (229.568mph).
Additionally, Logan Simmons had a notable run to 10th as an independent driver. Simmons posted a four-lap average speed of 229.590 mph.
But when the gun sounded at 5:50 PM Eastern, it was Ou had accomplished an incredible feat by taking pole in his first public iRacing appears in years. Not to mention the $100 prize offered by Pit Lane Parley to the winner of this year’s Open-Wheels.com 500 Mile Race pole award!
For Ou, making his second qualifications attempt while aiming for the pole was a no-brainer after making a small mistake on his first attempt.
“The decision was pretty straightforward for me,” said Ou. “The first run, I did a 39.3 on the first lap because of a mistake I did in Turn 3 coming to the green. So I knew there was plenty of time on the table, and I never settle for second on the grid – I am too used to getting poles, I think. Especially because I have the speed, it was a no-brainer for me to go for it.”
Following qualifications, Ou shared some interesting insight about his day – and how for the first time (that he can remember) the veteran driver felt some nerves sitting on the pit lane waiting for his turn to qualify.
“I’ve run several league races before, but not to the scale of (this) event,” Ou mentioned. “To me, that was really impressive, and I knew I was right (about making a return) today because when I was sitting on pit lane with my run getting closer, I was getting more nervous. Because you have been sitting on the pit lane for 30 minutes, and you think that you will be perfect, but when that time comes, you’re never sure.
“Today was the first time I actually understood why real drivers sit in the car and close their eyes to visualize your run – I never had to do that before because in iRacing’s official series, you practice and then you jump straight into your qualifying server. It definitely made it the closest experience in sim racing to real-life that I’ve experienced so far, so I am very glad that I did decide to join this event.”
Despite being pipped by just a few hundredths of a second for the pole award, Neto (who drives for Interlagos Motorsports) was happy to sit provisionally second on the grid following day one qualifications.
“It was a pretty intense day… it was such a unique experience,” said Neto. “Trying to put our best qualifying laps together in this format was pretty intense. We definitely feel the pressure and it was pretty fun, but in the end, fortunately for us, I had a bit of luck and it all went well at the end of the day.”
As for Hajek-Doggett, having the opportunity to potentially start on the front row was the culmination of a breakthrough run – and most importantly, a mistake-run run.
“I feel like things went about as well as I could have expected them to,” said Hajek-Doggett. “The late draw, I was originally not super-duper thrilled about, but it gave me time to have some breakfast and do some practice laps and not feel rushed.
“When I got out there, I’m not sure what to say, but somehow to my own surprise, I managed to put down a pretty much mistake-free run. I’ve been putting a lot of time into the setup and practice laps, and it certainly paid off today.”
While Ou, Neto, and Hajek-Doggett will most certainly be idle tomorrow, more than 40 drivers are expected to take part in Bump Day time trials on day two of Qualifications Weekend presented by AG Trucking. By the end of the day, the 33 starters (and three alternates) will be determined for next Sunday’s inaugural running of the Open-Wheels.com 500 Mile Race.
The first run of Sunday will go off at 6:10 AM Eastern, and all qualifications attempts will be streamed live at Twitch.TV/OpenWheels. Furthermore, RaceSpot TV will again provide final-hour coverage of qualifications, beginning at 5:00 PM Eastern. You can find them by searching for RaceSpot TV on YouTube, or by visiting iRacing.com/Live.
Signing off for this evening, we will see you all again in the morning for day two qualifications at the Open-Wheels.com 500 Mile Race!
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