It was a display of driving unlike any seen in the Lionheart IndyCar Series this season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Michele de Jonge stormed through the field after starting 21st to win the Make-A-Wish Drive for the Championship 300 at Auto Club Speedway Wednesday night.
“I can assure you it’s not as easy as it may look,” de Jonge said. “It’s harder than it looks.”
The season finale went caution free. The 150 lap race lasted just under 90 minutes. Joe Branch came home second, with series champion Jake Wright in third.
“It’s been a very fun season,” said Wright, who also finished the season as the cleanest driver, while winning Rookie of the Year. “I think just being able to not be involved in any wrecks and just being able to finish where I feel I should without pushing it too hard is the reason I’m here.”
de Jonge took the lead on lap 77 and, aside from pit stops, never looked back, capturing his fourth win of the season. de Jonge also won two of the Triple Crown events, having captured the Indianapolis 500 in September.
“As usual I messed up qualifying, so I started near the back, 21st,” de Jonge said. “The first part of the race I was just slowly picking people off for the first caution, that never came. Somehow I managed to work my way up the field, and I nailed my pit stops this time. I think that was the difference.
“I’ve had a great season. I haven’t done all the races, but the ones I’ve done I’ve had a blast racing with all of the drivers.”
Three top contenders were eliminated from the race after contact. Jesse Vincent dropped out after scraping the wall on lap 47. Dan Geren spun entering the pits on lap 74 and hit the wall, ending his race.
But the races most controversial moment came on lap 68, when race leader Joe Hassert made contact with Mark Nobert, who was a lap down and well off the pace. Hassert spun low off turn two, impacting the wall and ending his race. Hassert led 28 laps before the crash, which dropped him from second to fifth in the points.
James Krahula rebounded from a black flag for speeding in the pits to finish seventh, which bumped him up to second in points. de Jonge’s win moved him up six spots to third in the standings, while Branch’s podium propelled him four spots to fourth in points.
The top ten in the race was littered with cars who made strong moves through the field. Korey Connor finished fourth after starting 16th. Jason Galvin ran from 15th up to fifth. Sixth through tenth were all drivers who started tenth or worst: Chris Stofer, Krahula, Ricky Hardin, Jason Robarge and Tony Showen, respectively.
The 18th event of the season was the second caution-free affair, following the race at Auto Club’s sister track, Michigan International Speedway.
The top fixed-setup IndyCar league on iRacing, the Lionheart IndyCar series saw 54 drivers take the green flag over its 18-race third season. After the race, series founder Jorge Anzaldo announced season four, which will expand the schedule to 22 events. Like season three, the series will open at Homestead-Miami Speedway (March 16) and end with the third Triple Crown event at Auto Club Speedway (November 9).
Anzaldo also announced a new Mazda MX-5 series. The fixed-setup Lionheart MX-5 Challenge will run on Thursday nights and features a mix of road courses and ovals, and is broken up into three seasons of six events for 2016. Anzaldo described the series as more of a breather from the grind that can be the ultra-competitive IndyCar series.
Sign-ups are now open for both the IndyCar Series and MX-5 Challenge. For more information or to sign up, visit www.LionheartRacingSeries.com.