Newsome makes history, survives madness at Chicagoland
By Justin Prince
Alexis Newsome has become the first female driver to take the checkered flag in the history of the Lionheart IndyCar Series Presented by ButtKicker.
The Factory Backed driver won the Fisch Motors Chicagoland 200 on Oct. 20 in one of the closest finishes ever in Lionheart competition. Newsome beat Ascari Autosport’s Barrett Rolph by 0.011 seconds. It was the second-smallest margin of victory in LIS history.
Adam Blocker, Robert Maleczka III and Philip Kraus rounded out the top five at iRacing’s virtual Chicagoland Speedway.
“I’m really thrilled,” said Newsome from HyperX Victory Lane. “I got really lucky there. I got underneath Rolph on the restart (on Lap 109). If I had not done that, I would not have had a chance.”
Newsome took the lead with under 30 laps to go after Rolph left the bottom lane open down the backstretch. She quickly drove past Rolph entering Turn 3. Moments later, the caution came out after a big crash happened involving Aaron Morgan, Jay Brant, Ken Hacker and several others.
Rolph said post-race that he intentionally left the bottom line open.
“I actually wanted to be in the middle,” said Rolph. “I kind of just put myself in the middle of the track and let Alexis choose whether or not she wanted to go high or low because I wasn’t 100 per cent sure if the bottom was exactly where you were going to want to be in.”
The race came down to a 21-lap shootout to determine a winner. Throughout the run, Rolph attempted to pinch Newsome down through the corners. Blocker, who had charged through the pack from the 24th starting position, attempted to make it three-wide into the corners as well. The hard battling allowed others such as Maleczka III and Luis Gonzalez Nuñez to join the battle as well. However, Blocker was able to hold off any challengers for third place on track entering the final laps.
On the final lap, Newsome and Rolph nearly touched tires down the backstretch. The two fought hard side-by-side through Turns 3 and 4 while Blocker tried to use the banking as a ramp. Newsome then had to play defense with both Rolph and Blocker down the frontstretch.
Drivers were told prior to the race they could only use the apron on the final lap.
Off Turn 4, Newsome tried to keep Rolph higher up the track for the straightaway. She then had to quickly cut back down to the apron in front of Blocker to take the victory.
“With how many laps were left, I figured if I could pinch her down there long enough, the tires would burn off to where I could make that middle lane work at the end,” said Rolph. “I almost made it happen, but I just fell short.”
The race featured a lot of different strategy calls as a result of the race’s six caution flags.
PRIVATE LABEL Team Hype’s Connor Harrington led the field to the green flag after scoring the best time in qualifying. His teammate, Jason Brophy, was quickly put under pressure by Newsome and Andrew Kinsella coming out of Turn 2. The two drivers passed Brophy along the bottom of the racetrack by the next corner.
The first caution quickly came out on Lap 4 after Chris Fowler got stuck together with Ryan Otis down the back straightaway. Both drivers immediately snapped right into the outside wall, collecting Matt Taylor in the process.
All three drivers went on to finish the race more than 10 laps down.
While under caution, the back half of the field decided to pit for fuel in an attempt to cut out a potential green flag stop. Some of those drivers included Chris Lanini, Henry Bennett and Blocker.
Harrington continued to lead the field around Chicagoland until Lap 26. Lionel Calisto, who had been running in the 23rd position, snapped loose at the top of the track entering Turn 3. The Sector 5 driver then slowly drifted through the corner before snapping around on the apron at the start of the frontstretch. Calisto was able to hold his brakes and avoid any damage.
Harrington brought a majority of the field to the pit lane with him during the caution. Several others, such as Matt Huston, Stephen Laarkamp and Paul Jenkins, stayed out.
While Jenkins immediately went to the back of the field in the span of four laps after the restart, Laarkamp and Huston ran well on their older tires. Even though Harrington passed by them on Lap 33, the two cars stayed inside the top half of the field for much of the next run.
Neither of them got to keep their track position though. Laarkamp had to pit on Lap 47 for fuel. Two laps later, Huston had attempted to come in for his green flag stop when he clipped the apron. Huston’s car spun up the track into the path of oncoming traffic. Lanini sheared Huston’s front wing and tires off his car, ending Huston’s race.
The entire field pit during the yellow flag.
As the race went on, Blocker was trying to make up lost ground and track position. After clipping the grass and spinning out during qualifying, Blocker had been passing cars along both the bottom and top lanes of the track. He was inside of the Top 10 prior to the caution.
“A lot of people were running high, so I had to learn how to work the bottom of the track and I did. That’s how I passed most people,” said Blocker.
Harrington remained in control of the field again until the next caution on Lap 70. Mike Rigney hit the left rear tire of Adam Frazier entering Turn 1, sending Frazier spinning. Frazier was quickly sent into the outside SAFER barrier, damaging both wings on his Dallara IR18.
This time, Harrington, Brophy, Kinsella, Showen and Graaf all stayed out on the track. Rolph was the first driver to exit pit road with fresh tires for the restart with Newsome, Blocker, Joshua Chin and Kraus right behind him.
Very quickly, the speed of the fresh tires showed.
Rolph quickly made his way back inside the top four positions. On Lap 84, he passed Kinsella along the top of the track. Newsome and Blocker also quickly joined the battle. However, all of them struggled to find clean air to build up a run to pass by the PRIVATE LABEL Team Hype cars.
Soon, Harrington, Brophy and Kinsella had to pit from the front of the pack. All of them had finished their final scheduled stops prior to a massive, race-changing crash on Lap 104.
Taylor, who had been running with a heavily-damaged car all night, had attempted to pull off the track entering Turn 3. He bottomed out his car along the edge of the banking, causing him to spin out. Taylor then slid up the banking, directly into the path of Mike Rasimas. With no time to respond, Rasimas crashed head-on into Taylor’s car. Both cars slowly rolled down the track through Turn 4, triggering the yellow flag.
The caution flag had been out for several seconds when a second incident collected Brophy. As Brophy checked up in Turn 3, he was ran over from behind by Scott Holmes. Holmes had been running more than 190 MPH through the corner seconds before the contact. Lanini also received heavy damage during the crash.
The incident forced Harrington to have to take a wave around the pace car, costing him all of his track position. Harrington had led 90 of the 104 laps completed up to that point.
“I did the exact same call as those guys did last year and the exact same thing happened and I finished in 19th place,” said Blocker. “I kind of learned from that and decided not to do that this year. It went the other way and I got a good result out of it.”
Overall, 18 cars finished the race on the lead lap.
Next round, the Lionheart IndyCar Series Presented by ButtKicker goes road course racing at iRacing’s virtual Road America for the HyperX Grand Prix of Road America. Coverage starts at 10:35 p.m. ET on RaceSpot TV and ESTV on Nov. 3.