It’s finally here. The most intense and gruelling month in all of the iRacing service has finally come for 2018. While May is busy every year, this year in particular is a big one to keep track of. Many of the names and drivers in the other events will be familiar. However, the iRacing Indycar community is a unique group, with different drivers and teams then most are familiar with. So I present to you, the 2018 iRacing Indy 500 precursor:
First things first, lets set the mood. I suggest listening to this to get you into the correct mindset.
The iRacing Indy 500 is the great melting pot of sim racing. There is not a single event that sees so many participants from the variety of styles iRacing provides take it so seriously. The various 24s may feature a NASCAR PEAK team (normally in Gale Force), and you may see some others do some cross over events, but the iRacing Indy 500 is the one event that multiple drivers from multiple disciplines circle in their calendars and say “I want to be in the top split and I want to win”.
Part of the reason for this is the way splits are setup. For most events, it is just straight up iRating that decides which cars are where. Because of that its unlikely you’ll see many oval teams in say the top split of an endurance race, mainly due to the dumb registration rules iRacing currently uses for team events.
Here though we set the fields with an old brick yard tradition: the 4 lap average. While qualifying for most events is a bit of a farce and can have issues with drivers focusing on pure qualifying speed over consistency for long events, the Indy 500 is different. Setting the car up for a fast 4 lap average is tricky and creates an interesting hybrid between a traditional qualifying and race setup. You want the maximum speed from the tires for those first couple laps, but you also want the tires to last and maintain speed through the 3rd and 4th laps as well.
Not only is it not uncommon to have a different weight jacker setting for every corner of a lap, the best will have different settings for every corner of every lap, with your WJ and Anti Roll Bar options changing between Lap 1 and 2, and 2 and 3, and 3 and 4 because as the fuel burns off and the tires get hot, no corner is the same from lap to lap.
Last year I managed to put the car 14th overall, and nothing comes close to the intensity of that run in my sim racing career, and that’s a virtue shared throughout the list of competitors. There’s 3 sets of bragging rights when doing Indy 500 qualifying. The pole, making the top 33 (The hypothetical top split grid positions), and getting a good enough spot to get into the top split (Usually ~top 38-39 as people will no show).
Do not let yourself get confused. Some of these are names you have never heard of, but the competition for this event rivals any of the iRacing World Championships. This is a crown jewel event for the drivers in the iRacing Indycar community. The history of the iRacing 500 is also unmatched with the way the community keeps track of it. There is a hall of fame thread on the Dallara IR18 forums right now, something unseen across the other communities.
Over 8 years there has been 7 pole sitters: 2010 John Gorlinsky, 2011 Yang Ou, 2012 Mitch McCracken, 2013 Martin Miller, 2014 John Paquin, 2015 Rick Music, and 2016-17 the only repeat pole man Brandon Traino.
That history also includes 8 different winners since 2010, with no one ever winning the big race (the Saturday morning race) more then once. That list includes: 2010 Justin Dalsant, 2011 Tim Doyle, 2012 Yang Ou, 2013 Brodie Kostecki, 2014 Tim Holgate, 2015 Cam Stark, 2016 Matt Pawelski, and 2017 Christopher Demeritt.
Those lists show the variety of talents that have taken part, and the differing talents that have succeeded here. John Gorlinsky and Justin Dalsant represent the likes of the NASCAR World championship series. Tim Doyle was one of the best Indy drivers and remains a solid pick. Yang Ou was a LITERAL god in the Indy Car and performed better then anyone before or since. Cam Stark was a solid World Championship Grand Prix Series talent. Demeritt is part of the young blood in the Indycar series. Matt Pawelski is a solid multi discipline racer with results in the Indycar and Top Split World Tour Endurance events such as a 2nd place at Sebring the same year he won the 500. Tim Holgate has been the best Indycar driver of the modern era on iRacing. John Paquin was the dominant force in his day, and Rick Music, Martin Miller, and Mitch McCracken are some of the longest running names in the Indycar community.
Of course one of the big talking points for this years race is the new car. The Dallara DW12 has been put out to pasture (See you in the Classic Indycar Series in like 5 years) and we have moved to the Dallara IR18.
Much like in real life teams have been gathering data as much as they can. While things on road courses did not really change much, the low drag speedway aero kit is a huge shift, with teams scrambling to find speed any way possible. There is a lot less room for adjustments on these cars aerodynamically than its predecessor.
The car has proven to put on awesome racing on the short ovals and road courses, but the super speedway package has only been seen once in the Elite 500 with the cold weather in that race turning the event into a pack race. How will the warmer temps of the official race affect on track performance, especially in traffic? Because of the new car, many of those outside drivers will be looking for some technical alliances with the Indycar teams. It is always a big talking point, but lets do a quick run down of some of the teams, their drivers, and their alliances as we look to the 2018 race.
Team Broken Aero has been the dominant team in the iRacing Indy 500 the last 2 years. Driver Brandon Traino has held the pole the last 2 years running with Matt Pawelski and Christopher Demeritt winning the last 2 races. However Broken Aero seem to be semi fractured at the moment, with drivers facing real life issues making it difficult to test for these events. Because of this we may see the weakest turnout from them in a long while in this event, with perhaps less then 2 cars participating.
This grouping is probably the one most easily labelled “Super Team” coming into the month of May. Powerslide, Banshee, and Absolute Zero have been in a technical alliance for a while. Christian Steele won the Friday race last year, and in my opinion would have been the favorite had he not had prom on Saturday. They also include some of the best drivers in the Indycar right now such as Andrew Kinsella, Henry Bennett, and Liam Quinn. The Banshee group includes Martin Miller, Matt Cooke, Jon Porzuc, and the meme master himself Jeff Drake. Matt Cooke won the 16th street championship a couple years ago, Martin Miller is, as said earlier, a consistent threat, and Jon Porzuc is tied with Tim Holgate for most number of entries in the top split race with 6.
On top of this the Indy 500 precursor, the Indy Elite 500 was dominated by this group. Of the 10 or so cars
This group also has a technical alliance with Team Chimera which has plopped Joshua Chin into the mix as well, with other potential Chimera members such as Jamie Wilson, Simon Trendell, Ben Tusting, and myself likely making appearances over the month. Josh has been on an absolute tear winning the last 3 round of the Indy Elite series with a total of 4 wins in 8 races. The team has won 7 of the first 8 races in Indy Elite with Kinsella winning at New Hampshire and Espitee winning at Phoenix and the Indy elite Indianapolis 500.
The Elite 500 was dominated by the group, with them controlling the front of the field the entire race. The only team able to match over the course of the race was SADI, however Snake Pits Tim Holgate was in the midst of running through the field until a mistake off turn 4 found him in the outside wall early on.
To put in perspective the power this group brings lets look at last years qualifying: Martin Miller P3, Christian Steele P4, Jeff Drake P5, Austin Espitee P6, Tanner J Watkins P8, Josh chin P9, Andrew Kinsella P11, Randolph Chenowth P14, Henry Bennett P19, Matt Cooke P21, James Swinbanks P23, Jon Porzuc P25, Randy Crossno P28, Liam Quinn P31. That is 14 of the top 33 cars, every driver guaranteed a top split start were they to run.
Snake Pit is an average sized team, but they pack a lot of power with a roster of Tim Holgate, Joe Branch, Neffry Aawg, Tim Doyle, Niles Anders, Vick Caudill and Joe Flannagan. Theyre one of the only teams with 2 iRacing Indy 500 winners of Tim Holgate and Tim Doyle on their roster. In addition to being past race winners, Holgate and Doyle are tied for most top 5s in the Saturday race.
Tim Doyle was one of the best several years ago, and while he has tapered off he still runs consistent and can put together a winning day if some things go his way. However he has made a habit in recent years of poor qualifying and driving through the field. In a 33 car grid that likely wont be possible, especially in a field that will likely be separated by less than 2 tenths over a 4 lap average.
Holgate has been the most dominant driver in the last few years, scooping up quite a few Indy championships and finished 2nd twice last year in the Indy elite 500 and the iRacing 500, both times losing the race by under a tenth. With that said however Holgate has been off to a notably bad start this year, particularly on the road courses. In Indy elite he has 2 DNFs and a 7th in the last 3 races of Indy GP, Barber and Long Beach. His performance has been better on the ovals, but still inconsistent. He was probably the best car at Phoenix after spinning twice off of turn 4, the second time ending his night while Branch managed to end up P3. His best run in the IR18 thus far is P3 at Milwaukee, though he got a 2nd at Loudon and was a contender at Homestead however those races were in the DW12. He was also flying through the field in the early goings of the Elite 500, but a mistake off of turn 4 took him out of contention.
Joe Branch is an important piece of the puzzle as well. In the Indy Elite 500 a couple weeks ago Joe Branch made a late race charge and was relevant deep in the race, despite being nowhere near the front during the first 180 laps of the race. Could he potentially make something happen and bring the teams Indy 500 wins total up to 3?
An older group, and an experienced group, Snake Pit is always a contender at the speedway.
Although Vortex in recent years has gotten famous for their performance in endurance racing their roots lead to Indycar where they are always a relevant force.
Georg Naujoks, TM Hauser, AJ Burton, Thomas Sturm, Robert Grosser, Michele Costantini and Timo Isoniemi will fly the Vortex flag for this years month of May. Vortex doesn’t often have the power of the larger teams, but they’re a consistent group and have been part of the iRacing Indycar community for years.
Where this group gets real interesting is their technical alliance with Apex. Apex traditionally worked with Broken Aero in the past, and it showed last year with drivers Kevin Ellis and Jamie Fluke in contention up until they had problems in on track incidents. Kevin and Jamie are definitely looking to have a strong month, and Alex Simpson may tag along as well.
There are 2 other interesting names they are working with, CoRe Simracing and Coanda Simsport, with what seems like drivers Pashalis Gergis and Mack Bakkum wanting to make Indy debuts as well. The question is, will they be able to run the big Saturday race? The VRS GT Series 6 hours of the Nurburgring is on the same day as the big iRacing Indy 500, this coming Saturday and Pash and Mack are important parts of their respective teams.
They also add a couple of drivers they have raced in fixed series and trust, those drivers being a pair of Australians of Graham Bunyan and David Strid. This team also does a lot of running in the old Dallara IR05 in the Classic Indycar Series, which is always a lot of fun.
A classic Indycar team which has expanded heavily into other markets the last 4 years, with a top tier technical alliance, I suspect this group to be very fast in the month of May.
Last Lap Motorsports
Last Lap Motorsports is the current home of Matt and Ray Kingsbury. The Kingsburys go back a long way in the Indycar community, though they have been in and out of the Open wheel community over the years. That said, they always have a go at the 500 in May.
The team right now is only the 2 Kingsburys, though according to Ray they have a “pretty informal” alliance with Paul Wildridge, Tyler Gore, and Owen McLachlan from the Precision Racing League. They’ve shown some speed though, Ray having a good run at Gateway in the Absolute Beginners Indycar league which features some top names such as Bennett, Kinsella, and Quinn.
They may be the team most on the back foot entering May, but with the new car and aero kit anyone can be a contender.
SADI Sim Autosport
Some of the prettiest cars on the grid belong to SADI, and some of the fastest do as well. SADI driver Bradley Walters had a chance to win the first Indy elite race in the new car at Milwaukee but had to settle for P2, and teammate Simon Briant at one point led the Elite series points. Those two are definitely the pride of SADI, and typically the names you find up front. Adam Plunkett and John downing are capable of running strong as well.
This group also showed speed in the Indy elite Indy 500. While Powerslide dominated the event, SADI had multiple cars in the top 10 all day, meaning they may be able to make something of the race this coming Saturday.
Expect at least a couple SADI cars in the top split, if not the whole quartet.
One of the unique things about the Indy 500 is some of the names you can see find their way into the top 33 every year. Normally these guys are working with someone, but it is not always super clear who.
Two one off drivers are in a 5 way tie for most top 5s, those drivers being Aleksi Elomaa and Ray Alfalla. Both these drivers could not be from more diverse back grounds, Aleksi being Finnish and originating from Glacier Racing (Though moved to Inex a couple years ago) and Ray being Cuban American and the most successful NASCAR Peak Antifreeze Series driver to date.
John Gorlinsky has also come from NASCAR roots and run well, including setting the Pole time in 2010.
Josh Skroupa had a fantastic run in last years race however his participation has been sporadic, and thus its unlikely he makes an appearance.
The most notable solo tends to be Brandon Trost. Brandon has been a bit of a renegade and has burned a lot of bridges in the Indycar community. There is no question about his pace, but his on track conduct has lost him a lot of respect, and as such hes struggled to find a team to call home. This has led to him becoming inactive. As a driver with 999 oval starts in 2013 (And 3299 career oval starts) he has only done 9 races in 2018, and many people in the community are unsure where he has gone. Will we see Brandon Trost? We will have to wait until race week to find out.
The 2018 iRacing Indy 500 is upon us, and the races are always amazing. In the last 8 years victory has been decided by under a tenth of a second on 5 occasions, a virtue of the high standard of competition in the top split. Will we get out first repeat winner this May? Or will we get another new winner to add to the list?
We will have to wait until May 19th to find out.