The Lionheart Indycar Series presented by First Medical Equipment heads to Michigan International Speedway this Wednesday night for the HPP Simulation 200. The timing couldn't be better as the league recently celebrated its third anniversary of operation. Appropriately enough, the inaugural Lionheart race was held at Michigan on July 3rd, 2014.
League founder Jorge Anzaldo, as well as long-time veterans Joe Hassert, Vincent Bluthenthal, Robert Blouin and Michael Gray were all on track for that inaugural sim race and all are expected to be amongst the field of 35-plus Dallara DW-12s to take the green flag this week. (Hassert, who has missed only two starts in five seasons, will be making his 85th career start.)
The 100-lap event will also kick off the second half of the league's 2017 season. The remaining dozen sim races on the 24-race schedule include a diverse assortment of tracks. Indycar favourites like Mid-Ohio, Iowa and Road America will all appear along with former open-wheel tracks such as New Hampshire, Atlanta, Dover and Chicagoland.
Each of those remaining sim races could have major implications on what has become one of the tightest championship battles in league history. Jake Wright begins the second half in first overall but his familiar position atop the standings is far from secure. With drop weeks factored in, he leads Dan Geren by only 28 points. Andrew Kinsella is third overall, a single point behind Geren. For comparison, Wright began the second half of 2016 with a 180-point lead over second-place Geren. (This season, fifteenth-place Brian Yaczik is only 175 points behind the leader!)
What does Wright need to do in order to hold his position atop the standings and wrap up his third-consecutive league title? The most obvious answer is that he needs to continue to dominate on road courses. So far he's been unbeatable with four wins in four attempts. With four road courses remaining it's entirely possible he could sweep those as well. However, that alone may not be enough. Wright won two oval races last season and in order to ensure another title it seems likely he'll have to do that again. Luckily for Jake, he won his first oval race of the season a few weeks ago at Milwaukee and he is the defending winner at Michigan. A repeat victory at the legendary 2-mile oval would serve notice to all of his competitors that he is not going to surrender the #1 on his car without a fight.
After finishing second overall last season, Dan Geren was considered to be Wright's toughest competition in 2017. He embraced that challenge and came out of the gate with three pole positions and one victory in his first five races. He's endured a couple of disappointments along the way, but also posted a surprisingly strong sixth-place finish at Sonoma, a track he's struggled with in the past.
Going forward, Geren will need to take advantage of every opportunity presented to him. With three consecutive ovals kicking off the second half along with Geren's favourite road course – Phillip Island – the Team #NailedIt sim racer could find himself in the points lead if all goes well during that stretch. Geren missed out on a victory last season at Michigan thanks to an untimely caution that handed Wright the win. Undoubtedly, he's hoping luck will be on his side during this year's visit to the Irish Hills!
Sitting third overall, Lionheart rookie Andrew Kinsella has been something of a surprise contender this season. However, at this point, nobody should be surprised that the Canadian sim racer is near the top of the standings. Kinsella kicked off the season with a win at Homestead and then followed that up with eight additional top tens. Impressively, before a disappointing DNF in his last start, Kinsella's worst finish was thirteenth.
Heading into the second half, Kinsella really doesn't need to change anything in order to stay in contention; consistency alone could be enough to win the championship. However, with Wright almost certain to earn more road course wins, he may have to find his way to victory lane on an oval again to have a legitimate shot.
Beyond the top three, there are numerous other sim racers who still remain in contention for the 2017 championship: Michael Gray is having a career season and sits only 67 points out of the lead. The same can be said for Pierre Daigle, who has come close to victory lane several times this season and earned his first career pole at Milwaukee. Ryan Otis is always tough on the road and has put together a fairly solid oval resume this season while giving Andrew Kinsella a fight for the Rookie of the Year award.
Meanwhile, James Krahula is often underrated on the road and could easily find his way to victory lane on any oval. Add in the AGR Motorsports duo of Jason Galvin and Michael Goodman, both of whom could easily earn wins this season, and the final twelve races of the season should make for the most intense championship battle in league history.
The league champion will earn over $1500.00 in cash and prizes at the season finale at Auto Club Speedway on December 13th – including a set of HPP http://www.hppsimulation.com/hpp-3-pedal/26-phtv2p.html3P-PRX-SE pedals valued at $1247.00.
The HPP Simulation 200 will be broadcast live on the Global Sim Racing Channel (GSRC) and iRacing Live on July 19th beginning at 10:35PM ET.