By Justin Prince
Sage Karam has dominated the streets of Long Beach, Calif., to win the first race at the virtual street circuit in Lionheart IndyCar Series history by more than 15 seconds.
The BDE Motorsports driver looked comfortable from the start in the HyperX Grand Prix of Long Beach, leading 60 of the 64 laps and lapped as high as seventh place on the way to winning his ninth career race in the series.
Adam Blocker, Connor Harrington, Bryan Carey and Aaron Morgan rounded out the top five.
“It definitely feels good. I’m glad it’s over with now. It was a tough race for sure,” said Karam in HyperX Victory Lane. “This place is definitely very difficult to drive. Every lap, depending on how big the lead was, was always on the edge. You always had some sort of moment. With this track being smaller and more technical, there was always lapped traffic to deal with. Putting that into account, it was hard to manage that. Thankfully those guys did a great job of making it not totally unpredictable. It was smooth sailing with no incident points and I was able to just do my own thing out there.”
Karam immediately broke the draft of his competitors after pulling away from Blocker and Joshua Chin by more than a second on the first lap. The NTT IndyCar Series driver pushed the limits of the car and the track, turning laps up to half a second quicker than some of his competitors.
Karam averaged a 1:09.348 lap time for the race. The only other competitor close to that total was Blocker, who averaged a 1:09.588.
“I didn’t quite have the pace for Sage,” said Blocker. “I just had to decide if I was going to push really hard to try and force him into a mistake or just kind of chill because I was confident I had the pace advantage on everybody behind me. I just took the chill route because it’s a long season and I need to finish and get points the whole season.”
It was also the first race in series history to have alternative tire compounds available for use. Drivers had to turn at least one green flag lap on both types of tires or risk penalization by race control. About half the field elected to start on the harder compound of tires.
“It’s really cool that we get to do that like we can in real life,” said Karam. “The reds are really, really fun to drive on. They have a lot of grip. I was really excited when I saw the two (PRIVATE LABEL Team Hype) cars starting behind us on blacks. I knew that pretty much put them out of the race. The way I looked at it was more of a mental thing. If you start on reds, you know you can stay with the pack and attack for position whereas you start on blacks, you’re just losing spots and you’re playing catch up the whole race.”
Harrington said he and his PLTH teammates had elected to try something different for the race.
One of their team drivers in Chin would have an early departure from the grand prix on the blacks after a crash in Turn 1 on Lap 8.
Chin was running in third place when his car snapped loose on entry. The purple and black car slid sideways for almost a second before Chin locked up the left side brakes to try and save the car. Chin then crashed hard into the right-side tire barrier at more than 60 MPH, destroying the front suspension and the right sidepod.
”The car just broke free,” said Chin on YouTube after his crash. “Connor had the same thing happen but he caught it early enough.”
Chin finished in 32nd place as a result of the crash.
The remaining PLTH drivers, Jason Brophy and Harrington, finished 14th and third respectively.
“I don’t think we really had the pace to try and hang with Sage or Adam, so we tried the alternate strategy with the hard tire,” said Harrington, who finished 17 seconds in front of the next closest car. “Thankfully we were able to survive the first stint on the hard tires there and go on the softs and open up the gap.”
The track saw many incidents throughout the event.
On the opening lap, several drivers would be collected in a crash in the fountain section of the track after Justin Weaver hit the back of Scott Holmes. The incident broke the left-side suspension of Holmes against the outside retaining wall as other cars scattered through the smoke. Weaver also destroyed his left sidepod and left front tire in the incident.
As those two came to a stop, Andrew Kinsella also spun at the exit of the section. Weaver would stop in front of Kinsella to avoid hitting him. Brian Greenlee and Dustin Wardlow then smashed into the back wing of Weaver, causing a sea of wings and car parts to scatter across the track.
Greenlee, Wardlow and Weaver all did not finish the race as a result of the Lap 1 incident.
Several others including Jason Galvin also struggled with loose moments in the race.
Galvin’s day ended early after he got loose coming off of Pine Avenue on Lap 5. The Thumbs Up Cancer Down LPM driver immediately locked the brakes, but still slid hard into the left-side tire wall. The ensuing crash immediately destroyed the suspension and front wing of the car.
In the end, 14 drivers did not finish the grand prix.
“The tough thing about the track is the bumps,” said Harrington. “The walls are obviously unforgiving, but the bumps really make it difficult to not lock the brakes or slide the tires under braking. You really had to pick a line that was smoother than others and kind of get lucky you don’t hit the bumps.”
Next up, the Lionheart IndyCar Series Presented by HyperX goes short track racing at the virtual Phoenix Raceway for the Thumbs Up Cancer Down Phoenix 200 Presented by Minus 273.. Live coverage can be seen live on RaceSpot TV and ESTV at 10:35 p.m. EST.