By Justin Prince
In one of the wildest races in Lionheart Retro Series history, Sage Karam has won the opening race of Season 5.
The NTT IndyCar Series driver celebrated his 26th birthday a bit early by beating Ricky Hardin by 0.022 seconds to win the Espo Designs Miami 200 after an intense for the win featuring more than five different contenders.
The finish is the sixth-closest in the history of the series, topping Season 4’s 0.021-second victory differential at the track.
D.J. Clark, Mike Rasimas and Danny Roberts rounded out the top five.
“That got pretty wild for sure,” said Karam after the race.
Hardin and Karam would trade runs throughout the closing stages of the race. Hardin would run the bottom of the track while Karam would run the middle.
“I knew the middle lane was probably the preferred lane,” said Karam. “It seemed guys on the bottom kind of had to lift. When I was running side-by-side in the middle of the race with a lot of cars, I was able to notice I was getting to the stripe before they were.”
The side-by-side squabble would eventually set up Trevor Malone for a three-wide move at the end of the straightaways.
Then, with under 10 laps to go, Hardin would scrub the left rear tire of Karem, losing momentum as a result. Hardin would eventually be shuffled as far back as fourth before becoming the lead car on the bottom with under five laps to go.
Chaos then struck at the white flag.
Malone and Karam would make tire-to-tire contact at the start and finish line, sending Malone into the left side of Rasimas.
Malone would then bounce off Rasimas and launch into Chris Ragan at the bottom of the race track. The two would then crash into the infield at the entrance to Turn 1. Malone and Ragan would go on to finish 13th and 14th respectively.
“I was like ‘I needed to keep this middle lane with what I got,’” said Karam in regards to the incident. “(Malone) really wanted the middle. He really wanted me to go low, but I wasn’t going to give it up. I think we bounced off each other six times. Then he unfortunately spun, but it was a great fight.”
The Raven Motorsports Silver driver said he was getting tight on the bottom line coming to the final stages. Hardin would move into a side-by-side battle with Karam after the contact. The two would finish side-by-side at the stripe.
“I knew I needed to push (Karam) up the track in turns three and four to beat him because he was going to have a big run off and I wasn’t really willing to wreck both of us to do it,” said Hardin. “I hoped maybe I got just enough and when I saw him coming back it was too late.”
The 134-lap race would also feature several other major thrilling and pivotal moments.
Karam and Jason Galvin would have a fierce, side-by-side battle for the lead for several dozen laps in the middle portions of the race.
The battle ended however when David Clymer made contact with the left rear tire of Karam coming out of Turn 2 on Lap 82.
Clymer would then spin in front of the field, colliding with Matt Taylor. Taylor would then slide up the track and collect Chris Lanini and Marc Cohn. All three would slide into the outside safer barrier and ricochet into the air. Several other drivers would then collide into the three cars as they landed across the track, including Joe Hassert and Paul Slavonik.
“I should have waited,” said Clymer after the incident to fellow competitors on Discord. “I just worked my way from the back and I was just happy to be up front. I should have just chilled out.”
Bad luck would eventually strike for Galvin on Lap 99.
As the pit stop window opened for several drivers, Galvin made contact with Paul Jenkins on the exit of Turn 4. The contact would force Galvin to get loose, snapping right into the outside safer barrier at the start of the frontstretch. Galvin would then spin in the air several times, shearing off the front wing and destroying his car.
The caution would hurt Alex Guyon the most.
After losing track position due to the caution flag, the Lavoie Motorsport driver would make contact with the right front tire of Chris Staples on Lap 107. The incident would then send Guyon sideways. He would save the car before being hit again by Gary Corley, sending him into the outside wall.
That would eventually set up the tense finish between Hardin and Karam.
The Lionheart Retro Series now turns its attention to its first road course race of the season, the ButtKicker Grand Prix at the Glen. The race can be seen live on RaceSpot TV and ESTV on March 18th at 10:35 p.m. EST.