Joe Branch used strategy and good timing to get to the front of the pack. He used his right foot to stay there. Branch took the lead with 39 laps to go during green flag pit stops, maintained it after a caution flew during the stop, and drove away from points leader Jake Wright on his way to victory in the Milwaukee Mile 150 on Wednesday night.
The win was the first for Branch in the Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment.
“Clean air is king, if Jake was in front of me he would have outpaced me,” Branch said after the race. “This is a tough track to pass, so clean air goes a long way.”
The race appeared to be Canadian Pierre Daigle’s to lose, until the caution flew on lap 111. Branch and Chris Lanini, the final two cars to pit, both completed stops when the yellow flew for a multi-car crash in turn one. Both cars were able to get off pit road before Daigle and Wright could cycle back to the pace car.
“I’m very proud of how I ran tonight, everything felt great,” Daigle said. “I started third and tried to stay up front...unfortunately in the end, took third, but I’ll take third any day.”
For Wright, the defending series champion, the finish was a surprise after struggling through qualifying and the early parts of the race.
“The cautions came out when we needed them to for the most part, and it was just a race of attrition and we were able to survive until the end,” Wright said. “From what I saw, Branch was just getting a way better exit than I was. I struggled with that all week, and he definitely had something figured out.”
Wright opened up his points lead to 109 over Jonathan Goke. Goke led a race high 53 laps from the pole, but suffered contact on pit lane with Ian Adams before being caught up in the crash on lap 111. James Krahula stayed third in points, but was also involved in an accident that ended his night early.
Eight drivers led laps, with Daigle leading 40 and Jason Galvin leading nine. Krahula, Wright, Dylan Lee and Chris Gutierrez also led laps. In total, nine cautions slowed the field for 37 laps. Four of those cautions came in the opening 19 laps of the race, but once the field settled down, two long green flag runs filled with side-by-side racing highlighted an action-packed race.
Behind the top three, the rest of the top ten finishers came from 17th or deeper in the field. Christian Steele (18th) and Michael Gray (21st) rounded out the top five, with Lanini (19), Galvin (17), Jorge Anzaldo (26), Chris Stofer (32) and Joe Hassert (34) also making impressive charges to the front.
The Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment heads to another tricky oval, this time overseas for the Cart Retro Series 150 at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on Wednesday, June 22nd. That race can be seen live on the Global SimRacing Channel at 10:40 p.m. EST.
For more information on the Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment, visit www.LionheartRacingSeries.com.