In a dramatic finish to the, Shaun Stroud took the win in front of an extremely fast John Paquin after 200 laps of online racing! Despite a last lap attack in his Dallara (sporting a lightly damaged front wing), Paquin wasn’t able to get by the Englishman. In the end both sim racers where separated by just 0.085 sec. after 2 hours and 42 minutes of racing.  In addition, the other 31 starters offered a very entertaining race with some very nice side-by-side attacks and even some car contact in the pits.

Stroud holds-off a charging Paquin to take the win by just .085s.

Although the top 33 drivers had qualified for the race a week before in the two qualification sessions on “Fast-Friday” and “Bump-Day” (aka Saturday), they had to qualify yet again on race day shortly before the big 500 itself.  This qualification was solely about single lap speed in order to get the prestigious pole position at Indy. Almost as expected, Paquin (who lives in Indianapolis) drove the fastest qualification lap with a time of 39.386s or a speed of 228.490 mph. Behind him many cars were separated from each other by only few thousands of a second.  Denmark’s Yang Ou got the second position just 0.034s behind Pquin while and Sponsler was just six thousands behind Ou. Further back, six drivers were within 0.016s of one another: Niles Anders (P8), Tim Doyle (P9), Dan Lee Ensch (P10), Fabrizio Volpe (P11), Tim Claessens (P12) and Sean Graham (P13).  Closer still were Aleksi Elomaa (P17) and Vincent Sciuto (P18), separated by only one thousand of a second — or you could say four inches (10 cm)!  However, in the end it’s still just the position where you start the race.  The 500 is a very long race and many things can happen during that time. For example two drivers had problems with their rearview mirrors in the past years and had to make unscheduled pit stops for repairs. Of course their races were done in this moment.

After climbing into their cockpits, the drivers took position in the special Indianapolis starting grid. Since 1934 the Indianapolis 500 has traditionally started with the 33 cars lined up to 11 rows and three abreast, affording the drivers in the middle of each row with very special feelings!  At the end of the second parade lap the field raises the speed to 125 mph in order to open the doors for a 500 mile adrenalin rush when the field takes the green flag on the next lap. With that many cars so close together one would expect a high probability of  a crash in the first two turns.  However, they all managed it without contact and drew a beautiful picture when they rushed by the Pagoda Tower.  Henrik Müller, who started in P20 which was the middle of Row Seven, described his experience: “I was really excited when I was in the middle of my row on the start. That feeling was awesome. I thought I will crash the next second and with me the whole field behind. That was…. wow!”

The pace laps featured the classic eleven rows of three cars, in this case Danno Brookins (26), Rhawn Black (23) and Stroud (17).

The following laps saw a steady exchange of positions up and down in the field.  Elomaa (P17) dropped back several spots while drivers like Cary Bettenhausen (P23) and former Indy 500 champion Sean Graham (P13) worked their ways up to the front.  Paquin defended his lead very well in the early laps and was also able to retake Ou after the Dane manages to get in front for a lap.  The day’s first yellow on Lap 25 was very welcome by all not involved in the incident, enabling them to pit fresh tires and 22 gallons ethanol.  Not so 28th place starter Brian Stevens, who got a big push coming into Turn One and crashed hard into the wall in the south short-chute to create the caution.  Luckily nobody else was involved., although earlier Ken McCoy had white-walled his tires in the same spot and retired after driving his Dallara back to the pits.  Stevens and McCoy would not be alone in having their moments in the south short-chute  . . . .

While the whole field was pitting, Fabrizio Volpe and Todd Bettenhausen came together on pit road in what was, for all but them, an entertaining incident.  Just about to miss his pit stall, Bettenhausen slowed down and was tapped from behind by Volpe. Although the pit speed limit is just 55 mph, the impact it spun Bettenhausen’s car for 180 degrees and damaged both cars seriously enough to be pulled behind the wall for the rest of the race.  Up in front, the pit crew of Marty Sponsler did a great job and got him into the lead with a fast service while Paquin dropped to second.

On Lap 50 it was Vincent Sciuto who made contact with the wall – also in the south short-chute (you see, this is the place to be to attend a race). Again the same game: everybody made a pit stop but this time without the action of spinning cars in the pits or a change in the lead. Shortly after the race was restarted Rhawn Black posted the fastest lap of the race with the help of a big tow from Sponsler and Paquin ahead (and perhaps from behind by Shaun Stroud and Ou).   Black’s lap of 39.208s was not only the fastest time of the day, it was also a new record. Interesting to note is the fact that he did that lap with a nearly fuel load  fuel load as he had pitted just five laps earlier.

Meanwhile Jacob Kneuven was fighting his way through the field after he dropped from P11 to P30 in the first round of pit stops after serving a penalty for speeding on the pit exit with 76 mph (!) – 21 mph too fast.  After the previous cautions amd overtaking of Andrew Aitken and Müller, Kneuven was back into P13 when he went below Monica Clara Brand heading into Turn One. In the middle of the corner the rear of Kneuven’s car stepped-out. With fast reactions and a good portion of luck all following drivers avoided the spinning car ahead of them, some by inches — or less.   During the resulting caution, the lead group pitted for service and Brand took the opportunity to score lead a  lap.   The speedy Black was penalized for speeding on pit lane (despite his use of the pit lane speed limiter) and, like Kneuven at the beginning of the race, dropped to the end of the field.

driving games

Jacov Kneuven loops it in Turn One, while the surrounding drivers take evasive action.

The race now became a bit confusing due to a succession of cautions which interrupt the drivers’ rhythm and also make is tough for the pits crews to make the right strategical decisions for the remainder of the race.  Just eight laps later the next yellow came out.  Black, who was on the way through the field after his earlier penalty, was fighting for position with Brand when they went side-by-side into Turn One. Do you feel a sense of déjà vu? Not exactly, as this time  it wasn’t teh car passing Brand that got into trouble but the lady herself.  As Black went by on the inside his car began understeering and he pushed up the track.   Unfortunately Brand was still on the high side and Black touched Brand with his right front. Although Brand had no chance to avoid the contact with the wall, Black was able to continue.  Only one lap before this another driver had to retire after an incident in the same spot.   Three time Indy 500 winner Müller had a great point of view from his cockpit when Tim Doyle and Ralph Krause were battling for P8. As Müller said after the race, as the result of a driving error he white-walled his tires on the exit of Turn One and seriously damaged the right side suspension, front and rear.  Müller’s mishap would soon be repeated by Tim Claessens, also between Turns One and Two. The track workers certainly needed a big can of white paint after the race after so many cars touched or crashed into the wall in the south short-chute. But at that point there were still 24 cars in the race!

What would be the final caution for a long spell “finally” took his place on the 95th lap when Ralph Krause went loose, lost his rear and collected the closely Elomaa.   Happily, the race settled into a long green flag run from this moment onward.   Paquin, who grabbed the lead amid the flury of cautions, now pulled away from the field together with Stroud, Sponsler and Ou. The lead changed frequently between all three drivers which helped to save fuel and extend the distance before their next pit stop.   Paquin opened the first round of green flap pit stops on Lap 132, while the rest of the field soon followed.

Pitting under green conditions is always very exciting because it puts all the pressure on the pit crew and the driver. When the drivers pull off the track the car gets very light and is about to spin at any moment.  Fortunately all drivers of the remaining field solved this challenge without an incident.   This time.  Lap 151 saw another car blacken the white paint in the south short-chute., namely the Dallara of reigning champion Doyle who not only painted the wall but damaged his suspension in the bargain.   As a result his team had to pull the car back to the Gasoline Alley and Doyle retired.

With the last yellow of the race the big drama began in Lap 168. While some drivers including Paquin and Sponsler had already made their final pit stop under green and dropped at least one lap down, others still had to pit. One of them was Cary Bettenhausen. As he peeled of the track in Turn Four preparing for his last stop he lost  control and spun. Luckily Bettenhausen didn’t collect anybody, but the resulting confusion — ultimately – victimized Ou and Chris Darkes.   Immediately behind Bettenhausen, Ou and Darkes also wanted to pit.  Reacting to the spinning Bettenhausen, Ou braked which hard, much to the surprise of Darkes who tried to avoid Ou and touched the wall on his own.   What’s more, Ou and Darkes were black-flagged for entering closed pits as the yellow came out an instant before they crossed the pit entry line.

Bettenhausen's spin triggered a chain of events that, ultimately, lead to the undoing of Ou (29), a potential winner.

After Ou challenged his penalty, race director David Phillips decided to clear it. As further investigations later showed, however, Ou was also too fast when he crossed the line and fully warranted a penalty (albeit for speeding on pit lane rather than entering the closed pits).  As the field slowed, Dan Lee Ensch (whose team didn’t radio him about the positioning of the pace car) caught-up to the end of the line in the north chute at an unexpectedly high rate of speed.  He braked hard to avoid contact but spun in the process and, sadly, retired.

By now everybody had made their final pit stop and, with one lap to go before returning to green, the lapped cars got their wave-around.  Ou was penalized (again) as was Daniel Olszewski.  While Olszewski duly made his stop, Ou did a drive through the pits but as it was clarified later by officials that the timing system rated this as an overtaking maneuver under yellow and worthy of a black flag.   Thus, following the restart the timing system automatically gave both drivers the penalty. In Olszewski’s case it was soon clear that this was not correct.  With Ou, however, the officials were not sure if the penalty was warranted – particularly after the questionable clearing of the previous penalty.  With race control trying to unravel what happened with the timing system, Ou stayed on track waiting for the call.  But  because he didn’t serve his penalty within three laps, the timing system automatically disqualified him.  Realizing continued was hopeless, Ou pulled his car off the track, ending the day for a competitor who was certainly was one of the fastest of the day and had great chances to win – until lap 168.

Stroud found a willing -- and invaluable -- drafting partner in Aitken.

After the wave around, the field assembled in the correct order with Shaun Stroud from Paquin with five lapped cars cars between them.  Stroud was thus able to open up a comfortable gap with 26 laps to go.  Ten laps later, Paquin and Sponsler were still two seconds behind the leader who, at that moment, made what turned out to be a winning decision: Instead of lapping Scotsman Andrew Aitken and losing ground to his pursuers while driving alone around the track, he radioed and asked if they could draft together.  Aitken responded by giving it his best with Stroud right behind.  While working in tandem with Aitken may not have enabled Stoud to gain ground on his pursuers, the Scotsman’s tow helped reduce the rate at which Paquin and Sponsler were catching the leader.  This situation lasted until three laps to go when Stroud’s lead had shrunk to just one second. Aitken now did the correct thing and pulled to the side to let the leader and his chasers past.  The next two laps were nerve wracking for all top three drivers . . . and certainly nail biting for those who were spectating this drama!

Paquin was closing up very fast and was only 0.169s behind at the start of the last lap!  But he had damaged on his left front wing on Lap 99 in a minor contact with Dan Lee Ensch.  Paquin later said he didn’t notice any change in the balance of his  car as the result of the wing damage, but the straightline speed was slightly lower.  Despite a valiant effort, Paquin was  unable to catch Stroud before the yard of bricks at the start/finish line nor was Sponsler able to get past Paquin. In the end the first two made a great photo finish, separated by only 0.085s!

Paquin and Sponsler threatened the leader in the final laps but, in the end, Stroud came home the victor.

No less valiant that Paquin’s late race heroics was the performance of Olszewski, who had damaged his front suspension — and his hands — after hitting the wall early in the race and yet went the distance.   With damaged car and painful hands, he managed to make it to the finish 16th – and receive 14 points and the great feeling of finishing the Indy 500 as his reward.   Also all the other finishers did a great job finishing the historic and prestigious race.

An extremely happy winner Shaun Stroud said after the race: “Was easily my best moment in Sim Racing especially considering I’d never driven an oval until February this year!

“My plan heading out was to stay with the front draft and save fuel (…) seemed to work, not saving as much as Yang but in the end that is what saved me from being caught out by the final yellow, so really feel for Yang,” Stoud continued.

“After the restart and taking the wave around just tried to get through the traffic as quickly as I could putting as much distance between me and John know he had to get through more, Once I realized John would catch me quickly, I asked Andrew for help which he gladly obliged with me just sitting behind him knowing he would get the wave around if we didn’t make it all the way green.

“With three to go Andrew made the very classy move to let the top three fight it out and fight it out we did.   I was expecting John to easily draft past me but not knowing he had damage, with two to go out of Turn Two John pushed badly and I got a small gap.   Hoping that would be enough, I continued to put the car in the middle of the track on the corresponding straightaways before defending hard on the backstraight and carrying good speed around Turns Three and Four.

It’s wonderful to bring the ‘Borg Müller’ trophy over the pond to England.”

Not all winners finish first.  Take Mark Schutte who finished eleventh: “I reached my goal of going full distance. Too bad I got trapped a lap down, but that’s racing. Still a great time.”

Hawaii’s Danno Brookins, who finished ninth, had  a similar reaction: “It was great running wheel to wheel with a great bunch of drivers for this special event, and as others stated, the past week of tweaking, qualifying and anticipation added much to the whole experience.”

For all the drama at Indianapolis, the top four positions in the iam point standings remain unchanged.  Müller stays in the lead but second placed Ou is now only 13 points behind. Already 72 points behind lies current champion Doyle in third.   Lee Ensch is fourth while Olszewski takes fifth away from Bill Krause who drops to sixth. The next championship race will take place at bumpy Sebring International Raceway December 19, 2010. Can all-rounder Yang Ou win the race and get the lead back? Or will it be Doyle’s day, one where he can celebrate his comeback in the fight for the championship?

The winner of the contest for naming the leader at the halfway point of the 500  is Mark Schmieding from the USA.   Marks wins wins a free 3-month subscription for correctly naming John Paquin.

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