Round 14 of the 2017 Lionheart Indycar Series presented by First Medical Equipment had everyone guessing before the virtual cars took to the grid. What kind of sim race would unfold within the tight confines of Dover International Speedway? Would it a be a caution-fest? A strategic battle? A thrilling fight to the finish?
As it turned out, it was all of the above.
The American Cancer Society Race for the Cure 150 began with half-a-dozen cautions that slowed the field for 25 laps in total. The most notable victim of the early carnage was Andrew Kinsella. The Canadian, who was leading the series points until just a few weeks ago, was tossed violently into the wall following a netcode contact on lap 22.
Other early casualties included Brian Yaczik, who started third overall, along with Tony Showen, Brian Greenlee, Pierre Daigle, Michael Gray, Brandon Limkemann, Ron Hacker, and Dave Barber.
The abundance of pace laps allowed the field to vary their pit strategy. Some chose to pit early and often while others remained on track and gobbled-up positions as their fuel tanks slowly ran down. What none of them knew at this point was that following a restart on lap 59, the yellow would never re-appear. What began as a battle of attrition quickly turned into a strategic showdown and many were left questioning whether they had enough fuel to complete the remaining 91 laps on a single stop.
The unexpected twist left Joe Hassert out in the cold as he was short on fuel. Once Hassert pitted, the AGR Motorsports duo of Jason Galvin and Jason Robarge took control of the stint and remained in front of the field until they made their own green-flag stops on lap 98. Unfortunately, Galvin’s hopes were dashed by a speeding penalty entering the pits.
When the dust settled on all of the stops, Robarge had returned to the lead, followed by Dan Geren, Adam Blocker and Jake Wright. With 43 laps to go at that point, it remained unclear if any of the leaders would have enough fuel to finish.
“I didn’t know what the car was capable of doing,” admitted Geren after the race. “I actually ran half to three-quarter throttle that whole last stint. I had to save the whole time!”
While Robarge, Geren, Blocker and Wright would all make it to the end, their fuel-saving attempts did not get in the way of a thrilling battle for the win. Wright positioned himself the best, passing Blocker for third place with 19 laps remaining and then going around Geren for second just four laps later.
The defending series champion then waited patiently behind Robarge for several laps before turning-up the pressure as the race leader worked his way through traffic. With five laps remaining, Wright used the slower car of Bob Mikes as a pick and swooped to the inside. Robarge, unable to defend, fell in line behind Wright, who pulled away before taking the checkered flag.
“I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen there so I just kinda hoped we all made it through clean,” said Wright of the race-deciding move.
The victory was the ultimate vindication for Wright who’d finished thirty-third at Dover last season – one of the worst finishes of his Lionheart career.
“I was not looking forward to going into this race. I just figured I was going to put myself into a wall or something! It’s like the first time in forever I’ve been scared of wrecking myself out of a race!” he said after climbing from his No Name Racing Dallara DW-12. “I honestly have no idea how I ended up in victory lane tonight!”
Robarge went on to finish second, earning his first podium since April. Geren came home in third, although his final lap was not without some excitement.
“That last lap, I tried to get around the high side of (Robarge) and I smoked the wall off four,” said Geren, who improved upon a sixth-place result at Dover last season.
Rookies Adam Blocker and Michael Goodman finished fourth and fifth respectively. James Krahula, Chris Stofer, Scott Bolster, Woodrow Mahan and Robert Blouin rounded-out the top ten.
Wright’s win and Geren’s podium kept the championship battle close with Wright now holding a 27-point advantage over Geren. Andrew Kinsella’s early exit leaves him 50 points back in third overall.
The six total cautions for 25 laps were down noticeably from last season where 10 yellow flags slowed the action at the “Monster Mile” for 38 laps in total. Despite the thrilling event, it remains uncertain if Dover will return to the 2018 sim racing schedule.
The Lionheart Indycar Series presented by First Medical Equipment returns to action next week with a visit to the Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Utility Equipment Company 200. The 133-lap sim race will be broadcast live on the Global Sim Racing Channel and iRacing Live on August 2nd beginning at 10:35PM ET.
For more information about the Lionheart Indycar Series presented by First Medical Equipment, please visit www.lionheartracingseries.com.