The Lionheart Indycar Series presented by First Medical Equipment staged its biggest event of the year less than two weeks ago and the 2017 I Race for Gage Indianapolis 500 did not disappoint. An all-time record number of viewers tuned in to see Jonathan Goke repeat as champion while Joe Hassert and Dan Geren both earned much-needed podium finishes.
Now the scene shifts west to Sonoma Raceway and the USMC Wounded Warrior Grand Prix. While the California-based track may not carry the same prestige as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it will certainly prove equally challenging to the more than thirty-five Dallara DW-12s that will take the green flag on Wednesday night.
Sonoma is the home track for two-time series champion Jake Wright and one of his favourite stops on the Lionheart calendar. He is the unanimous favourite to make a repeat visit to victory lane but it will likely be the league championship that is more on Wright's mind this week. Sonoma represents another key opportunity to further close the gap between himself and points leader Andrew Kinsella. He still sits 70 points back despite chipping away at the deficit in the last few races. No matter what Kinsella does this week, a victory by Wright would ensure that gap continues to close.
As for Kinsella, he made a rare mistake at Indianapolis by speeding on pit lane. The ensuing penalty destroyed any hope he had of winning the 500 but it was hardly a disaster for the Canadian. He recovered to finish seventh and remained on the lead lap, ensuring that he has still completed every single lap in 2017. Look for Kinsella to be near the top of the time charts again this week. Provided that he can display more of his trademark consistency, he should still leave Sonoma with a solid points lead over his increasingly-tough competition.
The double-points offered at Indianapolis still loom large over much of the field as numerous drivers were given a major boost by their strong results at the Brickyard. Unfortunately for others, bad luck – and bad internet connections – has left them trying to dig themselves out of a big hole.
On the positive side, Jonathan Goke gained seven spots in the standings after drinking the milk in victory lane. Goke has put himself back into the championship discussion, but he also created another challenge to overcome. Goke has been served an EOL penalty due to early-race contact with Jason Robarge and he will have to work his way up (safely) through the field. Goke finished second at Sonoma last season, so he could certainly still earn a solid points haul this week but he will have to be patient in order to move his way up.
Joe Hassert took a major step toward turning his disappointing season around with a runner-up finish at Indianapolis. The podium result vaulted him seven positions forward in the standings and he now finds himself back in the top twenty. “Big Joe” will now have to follow the good finish with another strong drive at Sonoma if he wants to keep the momentum going. Hassert finished tenth last season, gaining ten spots from his starting position.
Unfortunately, the news from Indy was not so good for a group of sim racers that included Jorge Anzaldo, Bob Mikes, Chris Stofer, Joe Branch, James Krahula, Brian Yaczik, James Paulson and Brian Greenlee. Each of them suffered one or more connection issues that either prevented them from entering the race or, in the case of Branch, Stofer and Krahula, dashed any hopes they had at victory.
Among that group, James Krahula was the highest-finisher at Sonoma last season after starting and finishing fifth. Krahula is usually always strong and consistent on road courses and another solid finish this week would help him rebound from the lost opportunity at Indy. Meanwhile, Stofer and Branch will be looking to get Adrenaline Motorsports back into second overall in the team championship after falling to third thanks to a solid run by Team #NailedIt at the Brickyard. Finally, Bob Mikes is fresh off a victory in the Lionheart Retro Series at Milwaukee so it would appear that his luck has already turned around. Mikes has been quietly consistent on the road this year, managing two consecutive top ten finishes. Look for the Von Hanson's Dallara DW-12 to have another solid run at Sonoma.
If there is one driver who put on a show last season at Sonoma it was Ryan Otis. His fourth-place result may not seem terribly special considering that he is usually strong on the road. However, he started last in the field due to an EOL penalty. While Jonathan Goke can take inspiration from Otis' run, it's likely that he will benefit greatly from being penalty-free this season. As is often the case, look for Otis to be Jake Wright's biggest challenger once again – although it remains to be seen if he will finally find a way to get ahead of Wright.
Finally, it will be a very special week for Michael Gray. The Australian sim racer will celebrate a major career milestone at Sonoma by making his seventy-fifth Lionheart start. Gray has been having a career-best season in 2017 and currently sits fifth overall in the championship. He will be looking to rebound from last season's disappointing run at Sonoma where he finished twenty-first after hitting the incident limit.
The USMC Wounded Warrior Grand Prix will be broadcast live on the Global Sim Racing Channel (GSRC) and iRacing Live on June 21st beginning at 10:35PM ET. For more information about the Lionheart Indycar Series presented by First Medical Equipment, please visit www.lionheartracingseries.com.