By Justin Prince
In the third-closest finish in the history of the Lionheart Retro Series Presented by SimXperience, Marc Cohn has held off Chris Ragan to win The Watchman 250.
Cohn had to defend the race lead on a one-lap shootout at iRacing’s virtual Pocono Raceway to secure the victory.
Ragan attempted to charge to the outside of Cohn in Turn 3 on the final lap. Cohn attempted to hug the bottom of the racetrack and started losing ground on corner exit.
The two would even out on speed coming to the finish line, with Cohn taking the checkered flag by the edge of a front wing.
Mike Rigney, Matt Taylor and Mike Taylor completed the top five.
“Two years ago, I lost this race battling for the lead trying to make a pass that just didn’t work,” said Cohn from HyperX Victory Lane. “It’s almost been two years since my last Lionheart win and we did it. I’m so, so happy. I can’t believe it.”
The one-lap shootout occurred after Michael O’Brien and Paul Slavonik collided with five laps to go.
Ragan said he was staring at Cohn’s car the entire final straightaway. He said he was originally more focused on allowing the drivers behind him to battle for position.
“In my eyes, I was probably in the best spot I could be in there,” said Ragan. “I was talking with my teammate Richie (Hearn) and I wasn’t really going to attack Marc. I was really happy with the result up to that point. I wanted to pull away and let those guys battle. Then we got that run and it was so close.”
Cohn added he would have been happy to see either him or Ragan win.
“Ragan drove me so clean all race and if he would have won, I would have been happy for him too,” said Cohn. “I got almost the perfect restart, but out of Turn 3 it was just so close. I was just hoping I could hold on. I was on pins and needles thinking ‘Oh no, don’t lose it again, we can do this’ and we didn’t.”
The 250-mile race had many different drivers battle for the race lead.
At the start of the race, O’Brien and Adam Young swapped for the race lead several times. The two traded runs to the bottom of the track in Turn 1 and Turn 3 each of the first five laps. O’Brien eventually built a gap of half a second by Lap 7.
As that was going on, Raven Motorsports Black’s Sage Karam charged his way through the field. The NTT IndyCar Series driver, who started in 10th place, gained seven spots in eight laps. By Lap 11, he was three-tenths quicker than anyone else in the field. Karam took the lead from O’Brien that lap.
Moments later, the first caution of the race came out after Craig Forsythe hit the outside wall coming out of Turn 3.
The Independent driver slid out of the main racing groove and into the edge of the SAFER barrier off the corner. Forsythe then bounced off the wall into D.J. Clark, sending the two spinning quickly down the track towards the pit entry. Both drivers then slammed hard into the ARMCO barrier at the inside of the track, destroying both cars in the process.
By Lap 22, Karam, Taylor and Aaron Morgan, the top three championship contenders heading into the race, were all inside the top three.
The event also featured several incidents with drivers either hitting the outside wall or snapping loose on corner apex.
Caleb Benci of Team RaceVerse was a main example of that on Lap 30 after attempting to pass Ken Hacker to the inside of Turn 3.
Benci’s car immediately stepped out across the bumps and the seam in the corner. He then overcorrected to the right, sending the car quickly spinning into the outside wall to bring out the second caution of the race.
Isaac Snider decided to stay out on track with that caution flag, giving him the lead. Taylor passed Karam coming off pit road.
The cautions and destroyed cars started to build up from that point forward.
Defending race winner Lionel Calisto attempted to pass Alex Guyon to the outside of Turn 3’s exit on Lap 38 when he scrubbed the wall. As he slid off the wall, he was clipped by Robert Mikes and launched into the inside wall. He flew back across the track at a rapid rate, being hit by Jean-Francois Matte and Gary Corley before coming to rest next to the flag stand.
Then on Lap 62, shortly after Snider had to pit for fuel, the first massive crash of the day occurred in Turn 1.
Jorge Anzaldo was battling with Ron Hacker for eighth position when he got loose at the bottom of Turn 1. Anzaldo’s blue and black car spun around and went up across the track, collecting Ricky Hardin and Chris Lanini.
The incident then sent Hardin airborne and into the trees in the corner. He rode the top of the SAFER barrier for several feet while Adam Young and Danny Roberts collided in the check-up effect.
Young and Roberts then bounced off one another into the incident at more than 100 MPH, sending Roberts flying above several cars.
“I apologize for my spin that wound up collecting several cars,” said Anzaldo on the series’ Discord server after the incident. I didn’t want to throw away a possible top 10.”
The crash gave Snider back the lead after the rest of the field came into the pit lane.
Disaster hit for several of the championship contenders the following restart.
As Taylor took the lead back from Snider in Turn 2, Karam tapped his right front tire into the wall. Karam could be seen having to use more wheel input than his fellow competitors the following corner to turn the car.
As Karam got passed by Morgan, Snider hit the outside wall coming out of the corner. Snider then slid into Morgan and sent both cars spinning to the inside part of the frontstretch. Snider and Morgan finished 22nd and 18th respectively.
As both drivers stopped out of the racing grove, Guyon was hit from behind by Trevor Malone. Guyon rode the top of the wall and on Malone’s car for much of the straightaway before being sent airborne. Guyon flipped over more than 15 times before coming to rest in the pit lane.
“I feel so embarrassed about that,” said Snider. “I had a perfect plan in place and I just threw it all away.”
Then, under yellow, Karam spent more than a minute in the pits getting his car repaired from tagging the wall. The incident put Karam back to 18th place with under 30 laps to go.
Cohn and Ragan entered the lead conversation shortly after the incident with Cohn battling Taylor for several laps on the ensuing restart. Cohn led all of his 25 laps during the final stages of the race.
As for Karam, he crashed again on Lap 90 to set up what was a wild finish.
Just 13 cars finished on the lead lap in the eight-caution race.
Next race, the Lionheart Retro Series Presented by SimXperience will be going road course racing once more, this time at the virtual Phillip Island Circuit for the HyperX Grand Prix of Phillip Island. It can be seen live on RaceSpot TV and ESTV on April 13th at 10:35 p.m. EST.