By Justin Prince
David Rodriguez has done it again.
After working with Chris Staples to reel in Craig Forsythe from half a straightaway back, Rodriguez was able to draft past Forsythe on the final lap to win the Karnox Michigan 200 on Sept. 30.
It is the RSR Esport driver’s second career Lionheart Retro Series Presented by SimXperience victory in four starts.
The finish is also one of the closest in the history of the series. Rodriguez beat Forsythe by 0.015 seconds, the sixth-closest margin of victory ever recorded.
Alex Guyon, David Sirois and Jorge Anzaldo rounded out the top five.
Rodriguez had qualified in third place for the 100-lap event at iRacing’s virtual Michigan International Speedway. However, he did have to avoid trouble around him early.
The only two cautions of the race were caused by drivers battling for the race lead within the first 20 laps.
“I really wanted to qualify up front and I thought that was my strategy (to stay up front), but I thought all the wrecks would happen behind me, but they actually happened next to me. I was so lucky to avoid them,” said Rodriguez from HyperX Victory Lane.
The first of the incidents Rodriguez had to dodge was on Lap 6, when Danny Roberts and Dustin Wardlow were fighting side-by-side for the lead coming out of Turn 4. When coming off the corner, Roberts slid up into the left side tires of Wardlow, linking them together. Wardlow then slid down behind Roberts, turning him across his front wing. Roberts and his Uncontrolled Chaos car was then sent slamming into the outside wall down the front stretch, narrowly avoiding Rodriguez’s car. He then pinballed back into the right side tires of Isaac Snider. Roberts then spun around in front of Staples, who rammed into his sidepod. The impact launched Roberts several feet into the air, all while other cars collided below him.
The accident cycled Rodriguez to the lead.
Soon after, the carnage continued.
After the field had spread out off the restart, Wardlow and Rodriguez ran side-by-side with Sirois close behind for several laps, allowing the rest of the pack to regain ground. Staples, who had restarted at the edge of the top 10, quickly drove his way back through the field, utilizing the high line to draft off other cars. Guyon also showed he was not afraid to make moves by taking Forsythe and Trevor Malone three-wide for fourth place. Once he caught the back of Rodriguez, Wardlow and Sirois on Lap 14, Guyon immediately attempted to run three-wide beside them for the lead. His momentum kept stalling out by the end of the straightaways, meaning he could never fully pass Rodriguez or Wardlow.
As a result, Staples saw his chance to go three-wide himself for the lead on Lap 17. As Guyon was building his momentum back up down the backstretch, Staples drafted off the back wing of Wardlow, allowing him to pull up in front of Guyon by mere inches entering Turn 3. The top line then checked up through the corner, shuffling Guyon back.
The next corner was when disaster struck.
After regaining ground down the frontstretch, Staples started pinching Wardlow down a half a lane. When the entered the corner, Wardlow’s car bobbled slightly up the track. That bobble was enough to hit Staples’s left side tires, sending Wardlow spinning in front of the entire field. Ricky Hardin immediately hit his left sidepod, sending him back up the track into Robert Mikes. Mikes was then launched off Wardlow’s car into the catchfence, shredding his front wing. He then flipped over several times before landing in the infield grass.
Several cars elected to use the yellow flag to refuel, including Forsythe, Guyon and Sirois. Rodriguez was the only lead-lap car who decided not to come down for service during the caution.
After the restart, small packs started to form. Rodriguez, Forsythe, Sirois, Guyon and Malone quickly ran single-file, allowing them to gain several tenths of a second per lap over the rest of the field. On Lap 34, Forsythe decided to pass both Rodriguez and Guyon, giving him control of the lead group.
However, Rodriguez still had a good strategy window for the rest of the race.
After pitting alone on Lap 37, he was able to match the lead pack’s lap times despite having no draft around him. When he did reach other cars, he was able to quickly slingshot past them.
When his fellow competitors pitted with under 50 laps to go, Rodriguez was able to pass them on track to retake the lead. It took Forsythe until Lap 63 to reel in and pass Rodriguez back.
“I think just running in clean air and running fast laps in front of everyone staying on the lead lap just really helped me with my strategy,” said Rodriguez.
Then, after taking his final pit stop on Lap 71, Rodriguez started gaining valuable ground. Like the last window, he used the lapped traffic around him to go up to half a second quicker than Forsythe on the track. Once Forsythe completed his stop on Lap 87, Rodriguez was able to use Staples to draft back to Forysthe.
After trying to pass Forsythe around the outside twice, Rodriguez decided to line up behind him.
He stayed behind Forsythe until the white flag lap.
Coming out of Turn 4, Rodriguez built up a run. He was running three MPH quicker than Forsythe when he decided to jump to the outside line. Forsythe was not able to defend him in time, allowing Rodriguez to pull past his front wing by the time they reached the checkered flag.
“I knew that if I just timed it up and stayed behind him waiting patiently, I would get him at the end,” said Rodriguez. “I think I timed it up just right.”
After the race, Forsythe admitted he was disappointed. However, he still saw the finish as a victory for him. The Michigan race was just his third top five of the season.
“That was a great race. I love this track. It’s such fun racing,” said Forsythe.
The next race for the Lionheart Retro Series Presented by SimXperience will be the GRAAFix Grand Prix of Silverstone Presented by SimSnap Photography on Oct. 28. Coverage will begin at 10:35 p.m. ET on RaceSpot TV and can be watched on tape delay on ESTV.