By Justin Prince
Barrett Rolph has finally done it.
After coming close to victory several times this season in the Lionheart Speedway Series Presented by The DMLC Racing Channel, Rolph has won his first career race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The Ascari Autosport driver took the checkered flag for the Sim Racing Studio Indianapolis 500 Presented by Chris Fowler Racing under caution. He led a race-high 53 laps at the Brickyard.
Brian Yaczik, Brian Beard, Tony Showen and Joe Branch completed the top five.
“My hands are still kind of shaking a little bit,” said Rolph from HyperX Victory Lane. “It’s not quite the way I wanted to do it under yellow like that, but it didn’t stop me from hollering anyway. I’m just super stoked to pick up the win for Ascari Autosport … It’s incredible. I’m kind of at a loss for words. I felt like I was in control the whole race and thought I was going to lose it at the end, but to get it done in the Indy 500 in this series feels incredible.”
The race came down to a restart with four laps to go. Rolph got a large jump on the rest of the pack over Beard and Yaczik. Yaczik’s LPM Thumbs Up car ducked to the inside of Beard down the backstretch to take away second position. By Turn 4 exit, Yaczik was getting a run on Rolph.
That is when the caution came out for an incident in Turns 3 and 4. While battling for seventh position, Matt Huston and Matt Taylor were taken three-wide into the corner by Paul Jenkins, forcing Huston to back off on the corner exit. As Huston attempted to cut back into line from the middle of the track, he came across the front wing of Jeff Hysong, sending both cars into the wall. Huston immediately flipped upside down and rode the top of the SAFER barrier for several feet before the yellow flag was triggered.
Overall, the event had three cautions with two coming in the final 10 laps.
“I could see when the leader went and Beard couldn’t. My thought process was to time the restart to where the leader goes and I would be to the inside of Beard and dispose of him in Turn 1, set me up to pass the leader into Turn 3, then I was going to try to block to try and maintain the lead,” said Beard. “But, we didn’t get the restart we needed, which put Beard in front of us in Turns 1 and 2, then we finally disposed of him. We just sent it down into Turn 3 and made it stick and we were coming out of Turn 4 with a whole lot of momentum, then I heard Chris Lanini on the Discord yell ‘wrecking, wrecking.’ Then I went ‘no, no, no’ and the caution came out when we were up to the side pod there.
“I think we had it. It just stings to finish second on that one.”
Beard started the race from the pole and immediately got into a swap draft battle with Jason Galvin for the lead. The two traded first place for 11 straight laps to begin the 500-mile event. Beard eventually came out with the top spot once the swapping stopped.
As that went on, Rolph charged his way to the front. The blue and black Dallara DW12 quickly made passes on A.J. Musselman, Chris Fowler, Alexis Newsome and Jorge Anzaldo, utilizing the top line several times during the first seven laps. By the opening pit stops, Rolph was inside the top three.
After the opening pit stops, Beard, Chris Fowler, Chris Stofer and Rolph broke away from the main pack.
Galvin, Craig Forsythe, Joe Branch and Yaczik eventually closed up to the group later in the race.
The championship points leader, Newsome, had a disastrous moment during the second pit stop window.
After extending her second run to Lap 65, she disappeared from the track while her car was down pit road. The Factory Backed driver had dropped out of the iRacing server. Newsome lost two laps as a result of the issue. After rejoining the track, she was caught by the race leaders. She stayed with the main pack for much of the event.
The first caution did not strike until Lap 134, when Forsythe attempted to make a pass to the inside of Stofer for third. On the corner exit, Forsythe attempted to clear Stofer. Instead, he came across the front wing of the Adrenaline Motorsports driver, sending both into the outside wall in the short chute. Stofer was sent flipping upside down into the Turn 4 SAFER barrier. He then rode the top of the wall for several seconds before coming to a rest.
Because of the timing of the caution, it turned the event into a fuel-milage race. Ken Hacker, Anzaldo and Matt Wagner elected to stay out, gambling on another caution.
On the ensuing restart on Lap 138, several strategies came into play to save the amount of gas needed to make it on one pit stop. While the three drivers who stayed out pulled away, Rolph and the rest of the pack attempted to swap draft before reeling back in the pack. Some drivers, such as Tony Showen, decided to watch the two drivers battle and lift to save. Others, like Yaczik, backed their pace up by as much as three seconds by the end of the run to make it on gas.
However, with under 10 laps to go, that all changed.
Micael Hagstrom, who had just exited the pit lane, made contact with eighth-place driver Mike Rigney down the front straightaway, swerving both of them straight into the outside wall. Rigney flipped upside down seven times before landing upside down.
Then, seconds later, Hagstrom’s damaged car drifted into the grass in Turn 3 under the yellow flag. He then bounced back up into traffic, right in the path of Christopher Kresge and Alexander van de Sandt. Both Hagstrom and Kresge were launched upside down from the secondary crash.
“I wasn’t even positive I was going to be able to make it at the end before that last yellow,” said Rolph. “I was looking good. Then the lead group with a few lappers in it broke away and I kind of knew I needed to be back up there, so I had to burn a little bit extra fuel to make up that gap. I think I was actually going to be a lap short, if not just barely, but that yellow kind of helped, but it put me in a precarious position there on the restart.”
After the final yellow flag was brought out a few laps later, 19 cars were able to take the checkered flag.
“To have the luck kind of fall our way for once and the yellow to come out while I was in the lead there to get the win, it just feels incredible,” said Rolph. “I couldn’t be happier. I’m super stoked.”
Next race, the Lionheart Speedway Series Presented by The DMLC Racing Channel heads to The Magic Mile for the Espo Designs New Hampshire 175 on August 2. Coverage will begin at 10:35 p.m. ET on RaceSpot TV and can be watched on tape delay on ESTV.