By Justin Prince
After staying out on a late-race caution on old tires for a 10-lap shootout, Dean Moll has won the HyperX Indy Japan 200.
Moll held on to win the first race of the Lionheart Speedway Series Presented by DMLC Channel season by 0.297 seconds over a hard-charging Tony Showen, who went from eighth to second in the span of nine laps.
It is Moll’s first career victory in Lionheart Racing Series competition. He had previously started in 32 Lionheart Retro Series races with a best finish of second.
Joe Branch, Charles Teed and Trevor Malone rounded out the top five.
“I was weaving all over the track, doing whatever I could to break the draft and trying to maintain a gap,” said Moll in HyperX Victory Lane after the race. “The only good thing was I was able to do a high entry into Turn 3 and then moved to the bottom of the track in Turns 3 and 4, which took the air off (Showen). I was trying to use everything I learned driving IndyCars to hang on there.”
The opportunity to stay out was set up after pole sitter Michael Goodman clipped the apron in Turn 4 coming to 15 laps to go.
Goodman then spun out in front of Branch and Moll, triggering the caution flag.
Several drivers had been trying to fuel-save prior to the caution. Others such as Moll said they were good on fuel before the yellow flag.
Luis Gonzalez Nuñez, Teed, Mike Rigney, Alexander van de Sandt and Alexis Newsome had joined Moll in staying out under caution.
“I think we were in good shape before the caution came out,” said Branch. “(Showen and I) were saving. We were going to make it and because we were saving for two stints, we had extra fuel. Everybody was trying to be racy. Then in the last stint, it was time to go with fresh tires. It was definitely fun.”
Strategy became a big factor in the race after a Lap 2 crash.
Dark Horse Motorsports driver Eric Schaus had been running in eighth position after the start when his car went straight into the outside safer barrier in Turn 1.
Schaus then bounced down the 10 degrees of banking into traffic, hitting the sidepod of Christopher Kresge.
As Schaus flew over the top of Paul Jenkins and Joe Branch, Brett Bennett and Emerson Santos collided while checking up for the incident. Santos would then crash at full speed into the outside wall, shearing the front nose and causing terminal damage.
The one of two cautions in the race would help set up a fuel mileage race for the closing half of the 130-lap event.
“I thought I was actually going to be up there when I saw a bunch of guys fuel-saving at the end there before that last caution,” said Showen. “It still worked out pretty good.”
The race featured many major moments prior to the closing stages.
Several drivers crashed into the pit lane after Joe Hassert got loose on the access road.
Big Joe bobbled to the left of the pit straight before swinging to the right. Marc Cohn then locked up his brakes and slid into Hassert’s right sidepod.
The two would come to a stop in the middle of the pit lane entry, leaving nowhere for Nuñez, Tyler Graaf or Trevor Malone to go as they slid into the wrecked cars.
Cohn and Hassert would both not finish the race as a result of the crash. The two had combined to lead 50 laps prior to the incident.
Moll said he was happy to win the race after a rocky 2020 Lionheart Retro Series campaign.
“Last year when I raced in the Retro Series, it was one of the most difficult seasons I have had in sim racing. Just a lot of mistakes on my part and a lot of bad luck,” said Moll. “The admin team is the main reason I stuck with it. Definitely excited for this year and glad to get an awesome result to start.”
The Lionheart Speedway Series Presented by DMLC Sim Racing Channel now heads to the virtual Texas Motor Speedway for its next race of the season, the DMLC Racing Channel 200 at Texas. It can be seen live on RaceSpot TV and ESTV on March 22nd at 10:35 p.m. EST.