As the Lionheart Indycar Series presented by First Medical Equipment prepares for its final road course race of the 2016 season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, it’s very apparent that things have changed dramatically since the series first hit the road back in March. Back then, Jake Wright seemed virtually unstoppable and many expected him to sweep all seven road races this season. Wright has won five of six simraces, but as the season progressed, it became apparent that many of his opponents were raising their game to present a serious challenge to the defending series champion.
It was on March 30th at Watkins Glen that Wright first proved himself as the man to beat on the road. After Christian Steele surprised many by taking the pole, Wright passed him on Lap 14 and never looked back, ultimately winning the race by five seconds over Steele. Two months later, Wright won Road America by a similar margin over Jonathan Goke. He went on to dominate both Montreal and Sonoma, finishing more than twenty seconds ahead of his nearest challengers, lapping the majority of the field in the process.
Just when it seemed Wright would indeed go undefeated on the road, Lionheart left North America for a two-race international swing – and everything changed. At Brands Hatch, Michael Gray kept himself within striking distance and then used a strong pit stop to squeeze ahead of Wright. A fierce battled ensued, which ultimately resulted in contact between the two drivers. Gray emerged victorious, nearly running out of fuel as he crossed the finish line to take the upset win.
Gray’s teammate Dan Geren stepped into the spotlight at Phillip Island, snatching his first career road course pole and leading 13 laps. It was only a self-spin that cost him victory, and even after the incident, Geren recovered and chased Wright down. The race was highlighted by Geren’s daring pit lane exit that momentarily placed his Dallara DW-12 back ahead of Wright’s car. The two championship contenders battled side-by-side through the next few corners and Wright managed to re-gain the lead. He ultimately won the race by just under a half-second.
All of this points to an exciting and unpredictable race at the virtual Laguna Seca, a facility that hosted Indycar racing for more than twenty years. It’s unclear if the winner will be decided by a daring pass in the corkscrew – a move that made Alex Zanardi famous in 1996. However, it seems very likely that Jake Wright will once again face at least a few challenges for the win. The main question is: who will pose the biggest threat?
Dan Geren has once again been quick in practice, and Michael Gray has been virtually equal to his teammate in pace. However, it’s rookie Ryan Otis who has proven himself to be quickest thus far. Otis has already won a practice race at Laguna Seca, and he’s topped Wright on the time charts on at least one other occasion. Otis qualified an impressive second at Sonoma, but an EOL penalty kept him from battling for the lead. He did show his abilities elsewhere on track though, charging through the field to finish a solid fourth. Could Otis break through, or will Geren and Gray once again prove to be Jake’s biggest challengers? Could an unexpected winner emerge? One thing is certain: the list of potential contenders continues to grow!
Elsewhere in the field, Pierre Daigle and Jason Robarge are slated to make their fiftieth career starts at Laguna Seca. Both sim racers joined the series in Season 2 and they are both battling for positions within the top ten overall this season. Meanwhile, two new drivers will make their debuts this week, as Jared and Tyler Turnbull join the main Lionheart roster. The uncle-and-nephew combination are the first family duo to race together in the league since brothers Ray and Matt Kingsbury shared the track in Season 2.
Lionheart is also proud to carry on their annual tradition of participating in Breast Cancer Awareness Month throughout October. Once again this season, cars from No Name Racing, Team #NailedIt, Dragonfly Racing and numerous others in the field have added pink to their paint schemes to support the cause. These special paint schemes will run this week at Laguna Seca, as well as upcoming races at Kansas and Atlanta. Please visit www.nationalbreastcancer.org for more information.
The Indycar Grand Prix of Monterey will be broadcast live on the Global Sim Racing Channel (GSRC) and iRacingLive on Wednesday, October 12th, beginning at 10:35PM ET. For more information about the Lionheart Indycar Series presented by First Medical Equipment, please visit www.lionheartracingseries.com.