It’s often said that the Brickyard picks its winners. Jonathan Goke didn’t never gave the track that chance. The United States Air Force veteran dominated the I Race for Gage Indianapolis 500 for the second consecutive season, going back-to-back at the Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment’s biggest race.
“This is the race I needed,” an exhausted Goke said from the virtual victory lane. “Hopefully we can build on it and make a championship run out of it.”
Goke qualified fourth and quickly worked his way to the front, leading lap one. The multi-time iRacing official series champion swapped the lead with teammate Dan Geren and polesitter Jason Robarge early, before a slew of incidents slowed the action. But once the race returned to green for the final time on lap 68, the most prolific oval racer in Lionheart history checked out, leading a total of 119 laps.
“I must have nailed my first green flag pit stop after the yellow, because I came back out with (Andrew) Kinsella and that group,” Goke said. “I don’t know how I did that, we were on different strategies, so I just rode behind them and saved fuel.”
Joe Hassert finished second, just ahead of Dan Geren. The duo spent nearly 100 laps trying to close a gap that at one point was over 10 seconds. By the end of the race, the gap was just under two seconds, but the result was never in question.
“When we pit right around mid race there, I was about three seconds behind Dan,” Hassert said. “I came out of the pits and there was Dan and we hooked up the whole second half of the race. We had a heck of a run, we just couldn’t get it there.”
Geren wondered aloud after the race if a few more laps would have changed the outcome.
“I think we needed five more laps,” the Iowa native and teammate to Goke at Team #NailedIt said. “It was a good race, I’m happy with the finish and a big win for Goke.”
Much like the real Indy 500, the event was full of twists and turns that ended the race for several. In a strange twist mid-race, nearly half the top ten suffered simultaneous internet connection issues.
Teammates Chris Stofer and Joe Branch, who along with points leader Andrew Kinsella were running an alternate pit strategy that found their group leading short chunks of the race, both disappeared. Seconds later, James Krahula, safely in the top ten, also dropped. Earlier in the race, Krahula’s teammate Brian Yaczik was disconnected by a massive storm blowing through northern Michigan.
Brian Greenlee finished 12 laps down while battling connection problems all race, and series founder Jorge Anzaldo and race dark horse Bob Mikes both missed the start and never made the race with internet issues.
Wrecks and mistakes cost a pair of Anzaldo’s AGR Motorsports teammates who both looked strong early. Robarge, on the heels of his first Lionheart pole, swapped the lead with Goke and Geren early and often. The trio looked dominant.
But a restart on lap 20, in which five cars stayed out while the field pitted, put the faster cars in traffic for the first time. On lap 26, Goke used a tow from his teammate Geren down the back straightaway to pull alongside Robarge. Into turn three, Goke lost the nose of his car in the dirty air off Geren’s car. He slid up, into Robarge, who bounced off the north chute wall and violently tumbled to the grass, ending a promising day.
“I have to apologize to Jason Robarge,” Goke said. “I feel awful. Jason, Dan and I were just killing the field. I got Dan’s dirty air and just couldn’t get it turned. I owe him and his AGR team an apology for that.”
On the ensuing restart, Galvin replaced his wrecked teammate in the front trio. The three swapped the lead on nearly every straightaway.
Following the final caution on lap 64, when Vincent Bluthenthal tagged the wall and collected Jared Turnbull, the trio again settled in. The Adrenaline Motorsports crew of Stofer, Branch, Kinsella and Tony Showen also formed a group, and it appeared the prevailing, offsetting strategies would be what determined the race win.
But on the next round of green-flag pit stops, on lap 95, Galvin suffered a mechanical issue coming to the pits. While downshifting, his DW12 slipped into reverse, causing him to lockup the tires and spin. Geren narrowly avoided him.
“I felt awful,” Galvin said. “I’m glad Dan didn’t hit me, but it cost us both a chance to win. A frustrating moment for sure. The car has never done that before, usually it stops in first gear. For some reason, the transmission just kept going.”
The spin, combined with Geren checking up and losing his drafting partner, allowed Goke to open an insurmountable lead. Galvin rebounded and finished fifth, inches behind Jake Wright in a photo finish.
Four cautions slowed the race for 12 laps.
The first yellow flew on lap six, when Hassert and Mitchell Moehler touched in turn one. Moehler spun into the outside wall, ending his race. Patrick Taylor lifted for the wreck, but his teammate Dustin Wardlow did not react quick enough and launched over the back of his Dragonfly Racing partner and into the wall. Taylor continued, albeit damaged, to finish 21st. Moehler and Wardlow finished in the final two spots in the 33 car field.
On lap 15, Turnbull came up into Scott Bolster in the north chute. Bolster was turned around into the wall entering turn four, ending his race.
The tangle between Goke and Robarge brought out the third caution, while Bluthenthal’s self wreck brought out the final yellow.
Contact between Chris Stofer and Dave Barber on lap eleven ended the race for one of the league’s most popular racers. Stofer appeared to mistime a run out of turn four, turning Barber into the inside wall and down pit road.
A final wreck coming to the finish scrambled the back half of the top ten.
Tyler Turnbull and Brandon Limkemann exited turn four inches apart in a battle for tenth. As the two weaved back and forth, they made contact, sending them both flipping. Matthew Mercer and Michael Gray slipped under the airborne cars to steal tenth and eleventh, with Turnbull and Limkemann the final cars on the lead lap in 12th and 13th, both upside down.
Ryan Otis brought his damaged Streamline Motorsports entry home sixth, with Kinsella a disappointed seventh. Pierre Daigle and Ron Hacker had quiet, but productive runs to finish eighth and ninth.
22 of the 33 drivers finished the race. Eleven drivers swapped the lead 43 times, mostly during green flag pit stops. The race was surprisingly quick, just two hours and 31 minutes to run 500 miles.
The Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment settles into its summer stretch now. Kinsella remains the points leader over Geren by 57. Two-time defending champion Wright sits 70 points out of the lead in third, with Otis and Gray rounding out the top five. Goke jumped seven spots to sixth, Galvin moved up five positions to ninth and Hassert also picked up seven spots to break back into the top 20 in 17th.
Bolster was the biggest loser, down six spots to 18th. Bob Mikes and Michael Goodman, who both missed the event, fell four spots each to 10th and eleventh.
The series returns to the road, where Wright and Otis are expected to dazzle at the champion’s home track. The USMC Wounded Warrior Grand Prix of Sonoma is set for Wednesday, June 21 at 10:40 p.m. EST and can be seen live on Global SimRacing Channel.
For more information on the Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment visit www.LionheartRacingSeries.com.