With wins already under his belt this year in the Lionheart Challenge Series and the Lionheart Retro Series, Mikes proved that he was equally capable of visiting victory lane in the Dallara DW-12 with an impressive strategic win under the lights in the Kentucky 200 presented by Dragonfly Racing.
After a modest nineteenth-place qualifying effort, Mikes consistently worked his way forward while championship favourites Dan Geren, Jake Wright, Andrew Kinsella and Brian Yaczik battled at the front of the field in the early laps. By the midway point in the race, Mikes had positioned his Von Hanson's Dallara inside the top ten.
The key moment in the race came on Lap 66. With a caution flag slowing the field right in the middle of the second pit window, a group of leaders remained on track while the majority of the field – including Mikes – pitted for fuel and tires. He emerged from the pit stop in twelfth position, but unlike many ahead of him, Mikes had enough fuel to complete the race on a single stop.
With no cautions in sight, those who'd rolled the dice and remained on track were forced to pit early. Among the leaders who were short on fuel were pole-sitter Dan Geren and teammate Ian Adams, along with the AGR duo of Jason Galvin and Jason Robarge. Chris Stofer was also short but his race ended abruptly when he spun entering the pits and hit the wall.
Among those using the more conservative strategy were points leader Andrew Kinsella, second-place Brian Yaczik and Mikes, who became the leader of the pack when both Kinsella and Yaczik found trouble on pit lane during their final stops. It was the conservative strategy that proved correct and Mikes eventually cycled back to the lead shortly before a late caution ended the race with 3 laps to go.
“It was a heck of a race out there! Everyone was racing so close!,” said Mikes in victory lane. “I didn't even know that I was going to be leading. I was just running my race hoping for a top five.”
“It was a struggle last year; I had the rookie luck. To come in and finish with a half-gallon of fuel left, it felt great!” added Mikes, who finished thirty-third last season at Kentucky.
Not only was the victory Mikes' first in the Lionheart Indycar Series presented by First Medical Equipment but it was also the first win in the series for his Controlled Chaos Racing team. In addition to Mikes' win, his teammate Dave Barber finished eighth – a career-best for the Wisconsin-based sim racer.
Rookie of the Year contender Ryan Otis finished second, matching his earlier podium result at Phoenix. The strong finish moves him to second overall in the rookie battle, 42 points back of Andrew Kinsella. Overall, Otis now sits in eighth position heading into Watkins Glen.
“I'm really thrilled to come in second. I took a gamble on strategy and it definitely worked out in my favour,” said Otis. “I've definitely got a good feel for the car. I'm not quite as at home as I am in the Lotus 79,” added the Oregon-based sim racer, who already has two wins in the Lionheart Retro Series this season.
Joe Branch enjoyed his first podium of the season with a third-place result. Michael Goodman, Jake Wright, defending winner James Krahula, Brian Yaczik, Dave Barber and Pierre Daigle rounded out the top ten. Pole-sitter Dan Geren would finish seventeenth, the best result among those who chose the alternate fuel strategy.
The race was stopped by four cautions for just 14 laps. The only major incident of the night involved contact between Scott Bolster and Tyler Turnbull in Turn 4 that ultimately collected Rory Collins, Vincent Bluthenthal and Joe Hassert in a spectacular wreck.
Through five races, the series has seen five different winners from four different teams. That parity is reflected in the standings where Andrew Kinsella remains in front by just 10 points over Brain Yaczik. Defending series champion Jake Wright is now up to third, just 28 points out of the lead. From there, most positions are separated by less than 5 points.
The series takes a week off before returning to action at Watkins Glen on April 26th for the Lionheart Grand Prix at the Glen.
The league will not be quiet next week as the Lionheart Retro Series will be back in action. The classic Lotus 79 will head to Loudon, New Hampshire for the Indy Elite Grand Prix Of Loudon. The 150-mile sim race will be broadcast live on the Global Sim Racing Channel (GSRC) and iRacing Live on April 20th beginning at 10:35PM ET.