By Justin Prince
After a pass for the race win with five laps to go, Sage Karam has won his third straight race in the Lionheart Retro Series Presented by SimXperience.
The KARNOX 175 at Phoenix came down to a six-lap shootout after two late-race cautions.
Taylor, who had cycled to the lead after undercutting Karam during green flag pit stops, fought hard off the restart. Karam however was able to get a good launch, diving below Taylor into the dogleg for the lead. The two would nearly make contact, forcing Karam below the yellow line heading to the entry to Turn 3.
Karam would get the advantage through the corner before the two ran side-by-side for a full lap.
The two would then tap tires in with four laps to go, shuffling Taylor back to third position, allowing Karam to build a gap.
It is Karam’s 16th career victory in the series.
Morgan, Taylor, Lionel Calisto and Craig Forsythe rounded out the top five in the 175-lap event.
“I was happy with that last yellow,” said Karam from HyperX Victory Lane. “I didn’t get a good jump on the first restart. I don’t think I would have been able to make a move, so when the yellow came out, I knew I just had to go for it. I stayed flat in Turn 1 where the other restart I didn’t do that. I think that was the difference.”
The second chance came after D.J. Clark crashed with 10 laps to go.
Taylor said he did not want that opportunity for Karam to close.
“I was right where I wanted to be there,” said Taylor in regards to the first of the two late-race restarts. “I felt I could keep the draft broken enough to hold him back. That reset gave him just enough gap to get a run.”
Morgan, who capitalized on the contact from the leaders to finish second, said he wanted to see his Avatar Auto Racing teammate win.
“I wasn’t really in contention. It was his race,” said Morgan. “I’m a little disappointed for him ... I was just happy to get the podium. I wasn’t really expecting to do so well in this race because I struggled so hard in the practice races and qualifying.”
Series rookie Danny Roberts started strong at Phoenix, leading by as much as 1.3 seconds in the opening stages of the race.
Attrition and cautions however played a factor in both the strategy and the battles for drivers and their teams for much of the race.
Much of the field would be offset on strategy after a Lap 22 crash when Mike Rasimas and Ron Hacker appeared to make contact exiting Turn 2.
Hacker slid hard into the outside SAFER barrier, bouncing into Mike Rigney. He would then be launched into the air off the front wing of Paul Jenkins, launching more than 15 feet into the air.
The red and blue car of Hacker would then bounce off the pavement several times, twirling around several times before coming to a rest at the entrance of the dogleg.
That incident would be beneficial to Karam, who had started the race in 22nd position. He would move to seventh after staying out under the yellow flag.
Then, after a Lap 42 caution from a Michael O’Brien crash, Roberts and Karam would elect to pit for fuel, matching their strategies. Karam would then pass by both Roberts and Chris Fowler for what would eventually become the net race lead.
“I had a lot of work to do,” said Karam. “I played some good strategy and was able to make up my track position going off strategy a bit.”
That would change on Lap 92 when Chris Staples would go upside down.
After checking up for Alex Guyon down the frontstretch, Staples would be hit from behind by Paul Slavonik. The independent driver then spun into the outside wall and launched off the nose cone of Richie Hearn into the air. Staples would fly over the track for half a straightaway before landing upside down.
Karam, Fowler and several others elected to come down the pit lane while more than half the field would stay out, including Taylor.
The late-race yellows would equalize the strategies.
“It was really kind of a roulette wheel with when the cautions were going to fall and if they were going to work out in our favour or at worst wouldn’t trap you,” said Taylor. “Everything worked out even in the end.”
Karam said he did not expect to have three wins early in a row to start the year. He has the chance to become the first driver to win four races in a row in the next race.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season,” said Karam.
Next up, the Lionheart Retro Series Presented by SimXperience will head to Canada for the SimXperience Grand Prix of Mosport Presented by Clipping That Apex. The action from the virtual Canadian Tire Motorsport Park can be seen live on RaceSpot TV and ESTV on April 15th at 10:35 p.m. ET.