Saint Francis, WI – When the checkers flew after 1000 laps in the 28th running of the HO Indy 500, defending race champion John Wiedemann was the victor for the fourth time in his career racing in the prestigious event. It was a battle that saw Ev Kamikawa lead for eighty percent of the race, then two lead changes later Wiedemann took command and cruised to the finish for his third victory of the season and another chance to drink the milk in victory lane.
Ten drivers competed in Round 15, the final race of the 2020/2021 IndySlotCar season, meaning that qualifying took on greater importance with eight spots available to make the HO Indy 500 field.
Qualifying started slow with three drivers waving off their qualifying attempts until 500 rookie Steve Rist put the first time on the board with an 8.627 second four lap run. Dan Margetta was the next quick driver, just short of Rist’s time by 31/1000 of a second. Mike Lack timed in next a less than two tenths of a second behind Margetta, but with that qualifying run he sealed his record breaking seventh championship in the IndySlotCar Series. After the first round of attempts, five of the ten drivers had set times.
With a second attempt in a fast car, Mike Kristof laid down a run that not only scored him the pole for this race but crushed the previous track record that he posted last season. His run of 7.987 seconds broke the eight second barrier and beat the record by .078 seconds. Teammates Bill Black and Pete Dorn set times with their second runs. Kamikawa and rookie Brad Core posted times with their third runs.
With “bumping time” ready to begin, Wiedemann pulled his car to qualify his backup car but did not improve his position. Kamikawa pulled out his backup car and posted the fifth fastest time. Wiedemann dropped his backup car like a bag of sand and made a deal to acquire Margetta’s backup ride, qualifying it in the seventh spot and putting Dorn on the bubble.
Two drivers were left to try to bump into the field, Dean Strom and Brad Core. Strom would come agonizing close with his backup car and then Rist’s backup with runs .281 seconds and .141 seconds slower than Dorn’s posted time of 9.032 seconds. With only two backup cars available, Dorn’s and Lack’s, the options were limited. Dorn’s price for the backup car was 20,000 IndySlotCar bucks more than Strom wanted to spend and a phone call from Matt Hayek instructed his Super High Intensity Team to under no circumstances let Strom have the backup car. Strom and Core would qualify nineth and tenth, missing the field.
The Consi Race was no consolation for Strom as he took the win but didn’t care. Core finished second while Dorn and Wiedemann used the race as a practice for the upcoming heat races.
The top two finishers in the heat races would go on to contest the HO Indy 500. In the opening heat, rookie Rist (qualified 2nd) took on Margetta (qualified 3rd), Kamikawa (qualified 5th) and Dorn (qualified 8th). Enjoying the inside lane, Rist led the first half although all driver seemed to struggle to find their pace. The second half was a different story with Kamikawa moving to the inside and running away with the victory. Rist was able to maintain and hold off Margetta to make the final one his first try at the HO Indy 500. The flip side to that story was Kamikawa with the win making his record setting 15th HO Indy 500 final.
Heat two had the polesitter Kristoff pitted against Black (qualified 6th) and teammates Lack (qualified 4th) and Wiedemann (qualified 7th). Struggles in the inside lane early cost Kristof and allowed Lack to take the lead by two laps into the second half. Black and Wiedemann followed nine and twelve laps behind the leader. Once again, the story changed in the second half with Lack struggling with handling and Wiedemann taking advantage of a change from the outside to the inside lane. Kristof took over the point position and Wiedemann came back to finish second, five laps ahead of Lack in third.
Kamikawa loves to say “I led at the line” at the start of the race but he did more that that today, he led the first 810 of 1000 laps of the HO Indy 500. Starting in the inside lane, Kamikawa used it perfectly to grab the lead from the start. While Wiedemann ran second and tried to keep pace with the leader, Rist and Kristof again struggled early in the race running the outside lanes. With the first round of pitstops near lap 200, the top two drivers decided to pit together. While Wiedemann had a bit of a struggle taking on fuel, Kamikawa was clean and put even more distance between himself and the field. When the first lane change came at lap 250, Kamikawa had the lead over Wiedemann by nine laps, Kristof by 24 laps and Rist by 26 laps.
Each driver moved one lane outside with Kristof dropping to the inside groove for the next 250 laps. Kamikawa continued his torrid pace and stretching out his lead even with excessive spillage during his fuel stop resulting in marshals calling him in for a 5-second stop-and-go penalty. An accident between Rist and Wiedemann during their fuel stops put them back further. At the end of 500 laps and the first half of racing Kamikawa maintained the lead by 27 laps over Wiedemann with Kristof closing in to five laps behind second and Rist another 18 laps behind third.
A tire change in the pits prior to the start of the second half was won handily by Wiedemann who was able to gain about three laps before the rest of the field left the pits. With Kamikawa moving another lane to the outside, his dominance in the race started to fade. Kristof took command of the inside lane and charged forward. Pits opened again as each driver hit lap 600 and Kamikawa was the first one in. Disaster struck in the pit stop as wing changes forced him to remain in the pits for 30 seconds. The rest of the field had quick stops about 20 seconds less than Kamikawa and the race tightened up. With 750 laps completed, Kamikawa maintained the lead but just by five over now second place driver Kristof, 13 laps behind the leader was Wiedemann and Rist was just another seven more laps back.
The last segment was set with Kamikawa in the outside lane, Rist and Kristof in the middle, Wiedemann in the inside lane, 250 laps left to run and one more pitstop. All drivers hit the pits for the final fuel load as they reached lap 800. All drivers enjoyed the fuel stop and Wiedemann asked his crew if he could stop again. After the fuel stop Kristof wasted no time and in ten laps took over the lead as Kamikawa was slowed on the outside. Then things started to fall apart. With Rist struggling mightily with handling, the bug seemed to bite Kristof as well. Wiedemann was flying in the inside lane and moved quickly into second and forward to challenge Kristof. A couple spins by Kristof allowed Wiedemann charge to the lead and pull away to victory by 14 laps over Kristof when the race concluded. Kamikawa maintained to hold on to third with Rist finishing fourth.
The win gave Wiedemann two in a row and four victories in the last eight HO Indy 500 events. His four wins tie him with Kamikawa for the most all time. The victory also allowed Wiedemann to retain the Foyt/Mears Award for Oval tracks.
Lack continued his spectacular career winning his seventh IndySlotCar Series championship. He also captured the Andretti/Mansell Award fir Road Courses with his victory in The Shrine Cup two weeks ago. Lack finished 37 points ahead of Wiedemann. Strom was third with Black and Rist completing the top five in the standings.
The 2021 HO Indy 500 concludes a season that saw fourteen different competitors, eight drivers capture wins, five drivers get to victory lane more than one time, ten divers make multiple final appearances and a total of 30,528 laps turned by the racers.