Josh Chin and Adam Blocker took their shots. But nobody could land a solid blow to Sage Karam.
The NTT IndyCar Series driver outlasted a teammate, a series champion and two fellow IndyCar stars, including a former champion and Indianapolis 500 winner, to take the win in the Battle at Barber presented by HPP Simulation.
“That was definitely a tough race,” Karam said. “Barber in itself is a really difficult track, it’s easy to make a mistake here...you can never really get into a groove with lappers or people spinning in front of you.”
The win was Karam’s third of the season in the Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment, and came in one of the most anticipated races in Lionheart Racing Series powered by HyperX history.
The 53 lap race at the virtual version of Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park featured the debut of 2004 IndyCar champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan, as well as 2017 Freedom 100 winner and Kanaan’s former teammate at A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Matheus Leist.
But all eyes were on Karam, who extended his points lead in the Lionheart IndyCar Series, while also leading the way in the Lionheart Retro Series presented by DMLC Racing Channel.
“I’m just happy that one is over with,” Karam said. “I think Josh had better race pace than me. I was able to get the pole and I think that’s what did it for me.”
Karam beat Chin, his SKM teammate, by 0.609 seconds.
“I tried going off strategy, and it didn’t work out, I ended up in traffic,” Chin said. “Hat’s off to those guys, they were racing hard and I was there, too. I had that half-spin at the end and I think that didn’t help.”
Chin and two-time defending series champion Adam Blocker - who works for Ilmor Engineering in the NTT IndyCar Series - hounded Karam all race. Blocker even led two laps during pit cycles.
But Blocker made a rare mistake, a spin coming out of the carousel with six laps remaining, and contact with the wall hobbled his car, leaving the Adrenaline Motorsports driver to fall all the way to eleventh.
Leist capitalized, running a clean race in his Lionheart debut to finish third and claim the final spot on the podium.
Early season championship contender Connor Harrington rebounded from his lap nine crash at Michigan to finish fourth, and was happy to be back in the championship conversation.
“I was a little disappointed not being able to get third there,” Harrington said. “I lost five or six seconds behind lapped traffic. This is a tough track though, and to get out of here with the nose clean is good.”
Rookie Arjuna Kankipati captured his first career Lionheart top five with a fifth place finish.
Kanaan finished one lap down in 19th, after mid-race contact with Michael Goodman in the final corner sent the 19-year IndyCar veteran around.
30 of the 40 starters took the checkered flag, with 14 cars finishing on the lead lap.
Karam leads Goodman by 55 points, with Andrew Kinsella third, 63 out of the lead.
The Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment heads back to the oval side of things before the month of June, the designated Indy month for the series, with the Global Electronic Technology 200 at Twin Ring Motegi.
The race can be viewed live on the iRacing eSports Network with Global SimRacing Channel producing the action on Wednesday, May 20 at 10:35 p.m. EST.