In his second race back from another deployment in the United State Air Force, Jonathan Goke didn’t look rusty. In fact, the airman looked like he learned how to fly in his time overseas. Goke led a race-high 62 laps en route to a dominant win in the Thumbs Up, Cancer Down 150 at Phoenix International Raceway, his sixth career win, moving him into third place all-time in the Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment.
“I was definitely not the fastest, I had some trouble with this set all week,” Goke said in the virtual victory lane. “But I found my rhythm halfway through…I was just riding, and the caution fell exactly where I needed it. I hit the pits, took my stop and we were good from there.”
A caution on Lap 88, in the midst of green flag pit stops, threw the entire race on its lid. Dan Geren, Ian Adams, Michael Goodman, Jake Wright and Joe Hassert, all with strong runs and a chance at the win, were trapped either a lap down or at the tail of the field.
To that point a relatively clean race, the final 62 laps were run in short sprints with several cautions as quicker drivers battled to regain their early race form, and fortuitous drivers fended off the pack of wolves searching for a better finish.
When the final green flag flew with seven laps to go, Goke jumped out to a comfortable lead over Ryan Otis and never looked back.
“I really just found myself in the right place at the right time,” Goke said.
Otis, who started 12th, fought through the field and pulled his best career oval finish as the runner-up.
“I was struggling at the end,” Otis said. “Everytime I’d get up to Goke, the front end would go away and I’d fall back…it backfires on you, because you’d get a good run and get up right behind them, and the second you get your wing next to them you lose all front end grip.”
Brian Yaczik battled through the pack from 15th to round out the podium.
“I’m just as happy with that as with some good saltine crackers with some soup,” Yaczik said. “Holy moly you couldn’t pass out there. A good result for us though.”
Teammates Joe Branch and Tony Showen rounded out the top five. Brandon Limkemann, Michael Gray, Andrew Kinsella, James Paulson and Rory Collins completed the top ten.
Robarge, Wright, Jason Galvin and Goodman finished eleventh through 14th, after getting back on the lead lap with less than 30 laps remaining.
Pierre Daigle (21), Geren (23), Adams (26) and Hassert (29) could not recover from the poorly timed caution, or contact with other drivers, after all looked like potential winners early on.
Kinsella, the Homestead winner in his series debut, maintains the points lead after two rounds of the Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment. Otis is seven points back in second, with Showen, Limkemann and Gray the top five.
The series heads to Imola for the inaugural HPP Simulation Grand Prix of Imola on Wednesday, March 29. As always, the race can be seen live on the Global SimRacing Channel at 10:40 p.m. EST.
The Lionheart Retro Series returns Thursday night for the Remember the Fallen 250 at Pocono Raceway, the first Triple Crown event of the year. That race can also be seen live on GSRC at 10:40 p.m. EST.