October 25th, 2016 by Patrick Taylor
The Lionheart Indycar Series presented by First Medical Equipment will return to Atlanta Motor Speedway this week for the next to last race of the season. For the second season in a row, Jake Wright will take the green flag in the penultimate race on the calendar having already clinched the series championship. However, the lack of drama at the top of the standings isn’t expected to have much impact on the sim racing. Much like last season, Atlanta should be a strategy-filled event with battles throughout the field.
This week’s outcome will likely depend heavily on tire wear and pit strategy. Some sim racers in the field may choose to pit as early as 22 laps into a run, hoping to gain speed from fresh tires. In early practice sessions, lap times have increased by a half-second or more during a long fuel run, so a conservative pit strategy can be a wise decision. However, if a yellow flag should fly before the pit cycle is complete, those who pit early can find themselves trapped a lap down.
The alternative strategy will be to remain on track and wrestle an ill-handling Dallara DW-12 until the fuel tank is dry, which should take around 37 laps. Last season, Ed Tutwiler chose this strategy and stayed on track longer than everyone else. When a perfectly-timed caution slowed the race, Tutwiler found himself alone on the lead lap. He remained near the front of the field until a late-race spin on pit road dashed his hopes of victory.
With a field of almost 40 sim racers trying to out-race and out-think their opponents, the winner will be difficult to predict – and could come from anywhere in the field. Jason Robarge took the victory at Atlanta last season after starting ninth. More recently, Chris Stofer earned his first career win last week in Kansas after qualifying 18th overall.
Stofer’s unexpected win turned around a disappointing season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Adrenaline Motorsports sim racer back at the top this week. Stofer has already put in hours of testing on the league’s fixed setup and should have a good handle on what to expect from the virtual Dallara in all conditions.
He should also expect to see his Kansas rival Joe Hassert somewhere near the top of the field again this week. “Big Joe” came home fourth last season at Atlanta, which was a remarkable finish after Hassert’s race was nearly ruined by major connection issues early on. There’s little doubt Hassert will be hungry for a win after falling short of Stofer by just 0.011s in Kansas.
As for defending winner Robarge, he remains in the fight for second overall in the championship – and the $150 prize that goes with it. He needs a good finish to catch Dan Geren, who currently holds a 64-point advantage. It will be an uphill battle this week because Robarge will be starting from the back of the field. The Florida sim racer received an EOL penalty after incurring on-track incidents in back-to-back races. To make matters worse, he finished 14th last week at Kansas while Dan Geren came home third.
With such an unpredictable race, there’s always the chance that an underdog could emerge and join the growing list of drivers who have earned their first career wins this season. Alfred Shepperd finished a career-best fifth at Atlanta last season. For Shepperd, this week’s race will mark his fiftieth career start in the series – and a victory would be the perfect way to celebrate!
Meanwhile, Dragonfly Racing teammates Ed Tutwiler and Robert Blouin will also have plenty to fight for this week. Both sim racers are holding spots in the top 20 overall, but both will need to collect some points in the final two races if they want to hold off the competition. Tutwiler will be eager to finish strong after his solid run at Atlanta last season, while Blouin could easily find his way to a top finish with the right strategic calls.
Finally, Jake Wright may have secured the championship, but he will still have something to race for this week. Wright currently has 10 career wins, just one back of all-time leader Jesse Vincent. With two races left, the possibility exists that Wright could finish the season not only as the back-to-back series champion, but also as the league’s all-time wins leader.
Following a week off after Atlanta, the series will head to Auto Club Speedway on November 9th for the fourth season finale, which will also be a double-points Triple Crown race.
For more information about the Lionheart Indycar Series presented by First Medical Equipment, please visit www.lionheartracingseries.com.