By: Tim Doyle
January 10, 2021
With a new season comes new hopes and expectations for The Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Kokomo Indy Elite Series competitors as they embark on the 16 race, 10 month season spanning 11 ovals, four road courses and the Detroit street course.
Defending champion Philip Kraus returns along with two time champion Adam Blocker. 45 drivers in all will attempt to make each race with several rookies signed up as well.
Kicking off the new season in traditional fashion, 42 racers descended on South Florida’s Homestead Miami Speedway for the Inside Open Wheel 225.
Knockout qualifying was the name of the game with 42 drivers and only 35 available spots. Wilson Neto was able to top the timing sheets just ahead of Henry Bennett and Jason Brophy rounding out the top 3.
On the other end of the spectrum, Matt Hollibaugh was able to squeak into the field in 35th, edging out Dan Ensch by a mere .009 seconds. The entire field of qualifiers were separated by just a half of a second!
Leading the field to green, Neto was able to jump out front but it wasn’t long before Bennett made his presence known by racing to the inside of Neto down the backstretch and joining him on the outside from his 5th starting position was Brandon Traino.
Not to be outdone, 3rd starter Brophy made it a 3 wide affair down low off turn four on the opening lap with the trio continuing the battle into turn 1 on Lap 2.
That’s where it didn’t end well when contact was made between Neto and Traino, sending both into the wall.
While this was happening, another chain reaction was caused by Tanner Watkins who went low to avoid the incident and inadvertently spinning on the apron into the oncoming field, collecting numeours other drivers. In all, seven drivers would be forced to retire after a wild couple of opening laps.
Bennett would now control the field on the restart and would lead the next 34 laps before making his first pit stop under green.
This cycled first Brophy to the lead before he pitted the following lap, allowing four other drivers to lead a lap before cycling the race lead to Christopher Demeritt who had pitted a lap before Bennett.
The duo would run nose to tail building a slight advantage over the field until the race’s second yellow would fly for the spinning car of Don Hunter.
Back under green on Lap 68, Demeritt would continue to lead over Bennett.
Brophy, running 3rd on the restart, slipped entering turn 1 and lost several spots, creating quite the battle for 3rd among former race winnr Chris Stofer, Tony Showen, Matt Pawelski and 12th starting Blocker up to 6th. On lap 86 though, Stofer would find the outside wall and lose control forcing others to evade his spinning car.
Under the yellow, Ray Kinsgbury made a rather strange strategy call by staying out on old tires, trapping a handful of other drivers a lap down.
Demeritt would line up 2nd on the restart though he would have four lapped cars between him and the leader.
Demeritt would waste no time catching the leader and displacing him to 2nd while Blocker was hot on his heels in 3rd, moving around Kingsbury a lap after.
Kingsbury would freefall through the field over the next several laps before finding trouble on Lap 101 when first making contact with Brendan Lichtenberg off turn 2 and then losing control entering turn 3, this time ending Lichtenberg’s race.
The timing of this yellow would setup a race-turning strategy for race leader Demeritt who would pit twice under the yellow, one just prior to the green flag waving, handling the lead to Andreas Eik for the first time in the race.
Blocker, running 2nd, would quickly dispatch of Eik on the Lap 106 restart and retake command of the race with Demeritt all the way back in 18th position. Pawelski, Bennett and Showen would round out the top 5.
All eyes were on Demeritt to see if he could make the fuel gamble payoff and not let track position ruin his run to the checkers. With no yellows flying, no one else would be able to make it, but the timing of a yellow could ruin that strategy in a heartbeat.
As luck would have it, the rest of the race remained clean and while everyone else pitted at various points, Demeritt was able to slowly carve his way through the pitters and run away with a 13+ second lead by the end.
Blocker finished 2nd with Eik rounding out the podium. Pawelski ended up 4th after starting 20th and Bennett faded to 5th.
Rounding out the rest of the top 10 were Kraus in 6th, Showen 7th, Chris Cahoe in 8th, Flinn Lazier in 9th (from 33rd) and newcomer Daniel Zegers bringing home a top 10 in his first career series start.
Laps completed- 150 laps
Caution laps- 15
Lead changes- 12
Next Sunday night (January 17), the Coca Cola of Kokomo Elite IndyCar Series takes to Phoenix Raceway.
On-Air coverage begins on Sym.TV at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Tome. The green flag will wave at approximately 7:15.
Header Image By Tim Doyle/iRacing.com