is familiar territory for the sim racing series.
Last season Lionheart visited Japan on what would have been Dan Wheldon's 38th birthday. The 37 sim racers who took the green flag did not disappoint; they put on one of the most exciting sim races of the 2016 season. Jason Galvin emerged as the winner after a frantic run to the finish that saw numerous fuel strategies come into play. Appropriately enough, it was Galvin's first career Lionheart win, earned at the same track where Wheldon himself won his first Indycar race in 2004.
It remains to be seen how this year's event will unfold but there certainly are no shortage of stories heading into the series' fourth round. The main area of focus continues to be the top of the standings where many familiar names are still missing – replaced by new and unexpected championship contenders.
Surprise points leader Andrew Kinsella already has a win under his belt heading into his fourth career Lionheart start. Thus far he's showed the same kind of consistency that has earned Jake Wright so much success over the past few seasons. Last week he made a major statement with a solid third-place finish on the Imola road course proving that he can be as consistent on the road as he has been on the ovals. There is every reason to believe Kinsella can run up front again this week especially since his Adrenaline Motorsports team placed three cars in the top ten at Motegi last season and is likely a stronger team this year.
Michael Gray of Team #NailedIt has always been a threat on the road and it was no surprise to see him in the top five last week at Imola. However, Gray has also finished in the top ten at all three events thus far in 2017 never finishing lower than seventh in a schedule that included two diverse ovals. The consistency has left him just 16 points out of the championship lead and another solid finish in Japan could move him closer to the top. Gray finished a respectable twelfth last year and the Australian gained 13 positions during the 100-lap event.
Brian Yaczik currently sits third overall in the standings – a position he's achieved without much fanfare. However, the HPP-sponsored sim racer has followed a modest start at Homestead with two top-five finishes at Imola and Phoenix earning a podium in the Arizona desert. More impressively he's been the strongest and most consistent entry from talent-rich No Name Racing. Yaczik made his Lionheart debut last season at Motegi where he finished 21st. He was the highest-finisher on the team despite falling victim to a rare team-wide strategy misfire. No Name Racing is expected to be back in top form for their return to Motegi and it's entirely possible Brain Yaczik will once again lead the charge. Scoring his first career win in Japan would certainly earn him some much-needed fanfare!
Although it's refreshing to see some new names at the top of the standings, familiar contenders Jonathan Goke and Jake Wright are quickly finding their form. Both sim racers have rebounded from poor starts with Goke earning a repeat win at Phoenix and Wright winning last week at Imola. Both sim racers are also seeking redemption at Motegi. Goke won the pole last year and dominated the early part of the event, leading 59 laps before being shuffled back to seventh. Jake, meanwhile, finished 23rd as part of the failed No Name Racing fuel gamble. With both sim racers motivated to climb their way back to the top, Goke and Wright could find themselves battling each other for much-needed points.
The sim race could prove to be historic if Jake Wright does find his way to victory lane. Wright is currently tied with fellow two-time league champion Jesse Vincent for the most wins in league history. Wright's next win will be the twelfth of his career.
Beyond the obvious contenders, the list of potential threats is impressive. Brandon Limkemann currently sits fifth overall in the standings and has been strong thus far on ovals in 2017. Limkemann is also in search of his first career win and would love to follow in Jason Galvin's footsteps by winning in Japan. Tony Showen, Michael Goodman, Ryan Otis and Bob Mikes are also potential first-time winners. Those who are superstitious should consider putting their money on Mikes, who will be making career start number twenty-six at Motegi. (Jason Galvin won last season in what was his twenty-sixth Lionheart start.)
Finally, Galvin shouldn't be ruled out as a potential repeat winner. While his victory came in the midst of strategic chaos, Galvin started sixth overall last season and showed strong pace throughout the race; the Bakersfield native could easily do so again in 2017. His AGR Motorsports teammate Jason Robarge has been quietly consistent thus far in 2017 and could also be poised for a breakout in Japan after finishing just behind Galvin last year. Robarge is searching for his first win since Season 3 at Atlanta.
The We're There When You Need Us 150 will be broadcast live on the Global Sim Racing Channel (GSRC) and iRacing Live on April 5th beginning at 10:35PM ET. The race is presented by Lori Perez, a veteran paramedic and Ambulance Commander with the Chicago Fire Department.
For more information about the Lionheart Indycar Series presented by First Medical Equipment, please visit www.lionheartracingseries.com.