By Justin Prince
After seeing an opportunity to take the lead on strategy, Aaron Morgan was able to win the HyperX Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Morgan pulled away from Michael O’Brien by eight-tenths of a second by the checkered flag.
The Avatar Sim Racing teammates led a combined 59 of 64 laps at iRacing’s virtual Long Beach Circuit on Nov. 12.
From the drop of the green flag, the two drivers had the quickest cars in the field. On average, both drivers were running at least a tenth quicker than third-place finisher Richie Hearn.
David Sirois, Alex Guyon and David Rodriguez were the only other cars to finish on the lead lap.
It was Morgan’s second victory of the 2021 season and his first since the SimXperience Grand Prix of Mosport Presented by Clipping That Apex in April. With the win, Morgan is now 42 points behind teammate Matt Taylor for the drivers standings lead.
“I was nervous (in the final stages), but it’s weird. I normally have butterflies coming into these races every single time, but for some reason, tonight I just didn’t,” said Morgan from HyperX Victory Lane. “I just held it together.”
Morgan, who was on an alternative strategy compared to O’Brien, said he saw a big opportunity to take the lead with the help of traffic prior to his first pit stop.
“I knew I wanted to do something similar to Mosport where I needed to take less fuel on the first stop, then obviously I’d have to take more on the second. However, the lower fuel could just help me with the pace,” said Morgan. “I also noticed how Jorge (Anzaldo) was in front of us. When Michael told me he was pitting that lap, I thought immediately, ‘oh man, this is going to be good for me because he could get held up.’
“He got held up entering the pits and it worked perfectly.”
Prior to those pit stops, O’Brien had led the first 24 laps after setting the top time in qualifying.
Behind them, some of the other strong road course racers quickly got into trouble.
Mike Rasimas, who started in third position, was also hit from behind while driving through the fountain section on the opening lap of the race, taking one of the more successful road course racers in the series this season out of contention early with a broken rear wing.
Moments later, Chris Ragan slid his back tires while turning onto West Shoreline Drive. The Elite West Motorsports driver then corrected his car back into a straight line in the racing line. Taylor then drove into the left rear tire of Ragan, smashing Taylor’s front wing. Robert Mikes and Ricky Hardin also collided in the process. A couple corners later, Taylor flipped into the tire wall in Turn 9, ending his race before the end of the first lap.
By Lap 13, O’Brien, Morgan and Sirois had broken away from the pack.
“I thought I would pull a bigger gap at the start,” said O’Brien. “Aaron (Morgan) was right on me the whole way.”
Then, on Lap 25, Morgan set his sights on the lead.
O’Brien had nearly caught Anzaldo when he decided to pit for the first time. With O’Brien committed to coming for service that lap, he followed Anazldo to the commitment cone. Anzaldo then had to switch lanes in the pit lane, from the left side to the right side, forcing O’Brien to check up. By the time the pit window closed a lap later, Morgan was five car lengths in front of O’Brien.
According to RaceSpot TV broadcaster Andrew Kinsella, O’Brien lost more than two seconds to Morgan as a result.
“I caught a little bit of traffic going into the pits and took a bit too much fuel,” said O’Brien. “After that, I just tried to put the pressure on Aaron and hoped he would make a mistake.”
Meanwhile, Morgan went on to lead almost the rest of the way. He said his pace throughout the night was better than what he was able to do previously.
“I was just trying not to hit the wall everywhere,” said Morgan. “I think holding back just a little made me not overdrive the car like I was in the practice sessions and races. My pace was just better than any night previously.”
The next race for the Lionheart Retro Series Presented by SimXperience will see the series visit iRacing’s virtual Road America for the penultimate of the season, the SimXperience Grand Prix of Road America Presented by KARNOX. Coverage will begin at 10:35 p.m. ET on RaceSpot TV on Nov. 18. It can also be watched on tape delay on ESTV.