By Justin Prince
After gambling on fuel strategy, David Rodriguez has won his first career Lionheart Retro Series Presented by SimXperience race in just his second start.
The RSR Esport driver pulled off the upset in the Fisch Motors Iowa 150 Presented by Midwest Simulations on August 19.
Rodriguez had decided to pit for fuel during a mid-race caution with 82 laps to go. He, along with Paul Jenkins and DJ Clark eventually became the only drivers on their strategy to make it to the front of the field during the closing stages.
Rodriguez was able to use the draft of Jenkins and Clark to make it to the checkered flag on gas. Jenkins ran out of fuel coming to the white flag while Clark ran out moments later.
Matt Taylor, Chris Fowler, Craig Forsythe and Richie Hearn rounded out the top five.
“It feels awesome (to win),” said Rodriguez from HyperX Victory Lane. “I couldn’t believe it with how our race was going at the beginning.”
Rodriguez had started the race in fourth position, behind David Sirois, Mike Rigney and Fowler. He quickly made his way to third place off the start, nearly taking the race leaders three-wide into Turn 1.
It proved to be difficult to make passes for much of the race with drivers struggling to get alongside one another in the corners. Sirois led by as many as 15 car lengths during the opening green flag run of the race before reaching lapped traffic.
Strategy came into play in major fashion during the first pit stop window on Lap 72. Cody Wenzen got loose on the apron entering the pit lane in Turn 3, sending him into the inside wall. Wenzen then bounced off the wall and up the track, narrowly avoiding Chris Ragan. As he attempted to save the car, he slammed the SAFER barrier, sending it bouncing along the wall before coming to a stop at the top of the track.
The caution flipped the running order upside down. Only Craig Forsythe, Hearn and Ragan had not pit yet during the green flag cycle. Fowler had taken less fuel during his stop, allowing him to stay on the lead lap at the time of the caution and to take the lead. The rest of the field had to take a wave around to remain on the lead lap.
That put several championship contenders into the heart of the pack, including Taylor, Mike Rasimas and Aaron Morgan.
The next caution happened right in front of them on Lap 87. Ragan attempted to ride next to the wall in Turn 1 before getting loose on the bumps. That sent him drifting three lanes down the track sideways, triggering the yellow. During the incident, the Elite West Motorsports driver clipped Issac Snider, severely damaging his front wing.
During the caution, strategy came into play again. Rodriguez, Clark and Dustin Wardlow all topped off on fuel on Lap 89. Trevor Malone joined the strategy call by doing the same on Lap 90. Then, Clark came down a second time with Jenkins on Lap 91, putting them at the back of the pack for the upcoming restart.
Passing started to become more prominent in dirty air after the restart. Taylor, who restarted in 16th position, started making passes along the top of the racetrack, allowing him to build up runs down the straightaways.
He had driven up to 12th position before Ariel Alaniz was hit from behind by Rigney, sending the independent driver sideways. Alaniz was able to quickly save the car, but lost eight positions in the process.
As the run progressed, Fowler was in the lead. The Aero-X Racing competitor had pulled away by several seconds over the pack, leading by as much as a full straightaway at times.
That gap evaperated on Lap 122 when GRAAFix LC Motorsports driver Chris Lanini crashed. The former Iowa winner bobbled through Turns 1-2 for several moments before clipping the right rear tire of Alex Guyon. Both drivers hooked together into the outside wall before flying into the air. The incident also collected Malone and Wardlow.
The caution cycled Jenkins, Clark and Rodriguez into the top three positions.
Those three drivers had the chance to save more fuel moments later when Rigney once again hit the back of Alaniz. Rigney hit the wall in the process, sending him sliding down the track and across Alaniz’s front wing. The contact sent Rigney airborne, flipping him six times before coming to a rest in Turn 1.
After the restart, once again was able to slice his way through the pack. Once again using the top line, Taylor quickly made his way to seventh by Lap 150. By Lap 166, he closed a two-second gap to the lead pack and was inside the top five.
Then, the fuel concerns came into play for the top three.
On Lap 168, after saving fuel behind Jenkins and Clark for much of the run, Rodriguez made his move for second place, passing Clark on the outside.
He had gotten close to Jenkins’s back wing down the backstretch by Lap 171. Then, Jenkins ducked down to the apron heading into Turn 3, having to pit for fuel coming to the white flag.
Down the backstretch, Clark also ran out of gas. He quickly dropped to the apron and out of the way of the traffic. He went on to finish 12th.
The next race for the Lionheart Retro Series Presented by SimXperience will be the HyperX Gateway 150 on Sept. 2. Coverage will begin at 10:35 p.m. ET on RaceSpot TV and can be watched on tape delay on ESTV.