By Justin Prince
In what could potentially be the drive of the season, Sage Karam went from the back of the field to the front in the span of 22 laps to win at iRacing’s virtual Phillip Island Circuit.
Karam, who entered the round with three victories this season, had to start in 29th position after having to serve an end of longest line penalty for the HyperX Grand Prix of Phillip Island.
The NTT IndyCar Series driver set a blistering pace, running lap times 0.7 seconds quicker than the leader, Richie Hearn, had been in the process of closing the gap.
Karam went on to win the Lionheart Retro Series Presented by SimXperience race by more than 22 seconds.
Aaron Morgan, Mike Rasimas, Chris Ragan and Richie Hearn completed the rest of the top five.
“It was hard to get up there,” said Karam from HyperX Victory Lane. “Once we were able to break the draft, we were able to just do our own thing and put our head down and run quick laps. I am really happy about that.”
Karam immediately had to dodge several cars who had checked up while rolling from the grid. Chris Staples was hit from behind by Trevor Malone as the cars began to roll. As Covy Moore stopped for the first collision, Cody Wenzen also made contact with the cars. The collision launched Moore into the grass.
A major crash then struck on the first lap in Honda Corner. Both David Sirois and Matt Taylor, who started second and third respectively, were sent flying into the grass after Chris Fowler locked up his brakes. Fowler also collected Rasimas in the incident.
Both Fowler and Taylor were knocked out of the race because of the crash.
The incident gave Hearn a lead of more than two seconds.
Karam dodged the carnage to get to 12th position by Lap 3.
“That’s what kept me in this thing,” said Karam. “Originally, my plan was to pit on Lap 12 and try and get clean air and try and run fast laps and hopefully jump guys just having clean air. But, once I got top ten pretty quickly, I was able to just go on the strategy as them.”
On Lap 11, Karam reached the battle for second. He passed Michael O’Brien heading into Honda. However, in Turn 10, Karam slid off the grass, sliding for several seconds before driving back in line. The incident damaged the right front wing of Karam’s car.
Karam then set his focus on Ragan and Morgan, completing a double-overtake down the Gardner Straight to get into second.
On Lap 22, Karam went for the lead. Karam picked up the draft down the Gardner Straight and passed Hearn quickly.
The Elite West Motorsports driver kept within Karam’s draft until Lap 26. Hearn clipped the grass coming into Siberia, sending him sliding towards the tire barrier. Hearn then cut back to the right, quickly getting back on track.
He lost one position as a result of the mistake.
The slide damaged the front wing on Hearn’s car.
Hearn eventually spun a second time on Lap 43, costing him several more positions.
“I didn't have Sage's pace and then just got on the gas too hard trying to stay with Aaron,” said Hearn on the series discord after the race. “It was fun though.”
One of the bigger incidents of the day came on Lap 30 after O’Brien missed a shift in the Southern Loop while running fourth.
The miscue sent O’Brien sliding sideways into the grass. O’Brien was carried by the momentum straight into the grass and the sandtrap, sending him slamming into the tire barrier. The crash demolished the front suspension and wing on the Avatar Auto Racing car.
Then, on Lap 41, the battle for 12th position led to contact after Danny Roberts attempted to go side-by-side with Sirois in Lukey Heights.
Roberts overran the corner exit heading into Turn 10, sliding fully into the grass. As Roberts attempted to lock up his tires, he slid into the right side of Sirois’s car, launching him off the ground. The hard contact sent Sirois into the grass and end his race.
Overall, 12 drivers did not take the checkered flag.
Next race, the Lionheart Retro Series Presented by SimXperience will be going left and right for a second straight round for the Minus 273 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Presented by ButtKicker. It can be seen live on RaceSpot TV and ESTV on June 3rd at 10:35 p.m. EST.
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