Any sim racer who wins a race in the Lionheart Indycar Series presented by First Medical Equipment can usually recall the details of their first victory for years after. For Chris Stofer, his first career win at Wednesday night's Lehmann's Landing 200 will be particularly memorable because it was also one of the closest finishes in league history.
Stofer took the checkered flag by just 0.011 over “Big Joe” Hassert in a finish so tight that even the league's veteran broadcast team was initially unsure who had won the race. The two sim racers battled side-by-side for four laps following a late-race restart. Hassert initially got the jump on Stofer and defended the bottom line throughout the final run. However, it was after Hassert dove down to the apron with the finish line in sight that Stofer pulled ahead by a nose.
“It was definitely a tough race, that's for sure,” said Stofer in victory lane. “It could have went either way at the line. I had no idea how close it was. That was a lot of fun!” The Adrenaline Motorsports driver expressed surprise that he was able to secure the win while running in the higher line. “I wanted to follow him down there as much as I could so he didn't have as much of an advantage,” said Stofer of Hassert's last-lap dive to the apron.
The final battle between Stofer and Hassert was reminiscent of the league's season-opener at Homestead, where Hassert ultimately took the win. Neither driver had been as close to victory lane since the Miami opener – a fact that was not lost on a dejected Hassert after the race.
“I don't know why he passed me,” said Hassert. “I wasn't sliding at all; I didn't scrub any speed. He just got a hell of a run, I guess.” For Hassert, the tight finish was equally frustrating after he lost the pole position by an even-smaller margin to teammate Jake Wright. “I tied for pole, and I lose the race by a hundredth. What else can you say about the night?” Hassert still managed to find something positive about his evening. “Hopefully I gave everybody a good show!” he added. “We're just getting ready for Auto Club. I want to win that race by ten seconds!”
The late-race caution was ironically caused by an incident at the front of the field. After light contact with between Stofer and then-leader Hassert, a major check-up occurred that ultimately collected Dave Barber and defending race winner James Krahula, both of whom had been solid front-runners all evening. Barber and Krahula finished a disappointing 17th and 19th respectively.
Dan Geren rounded out the podium, moving himself into second place in the overall championship standings with the solid result. Unfortunately for Geren, points leader Jake Wright finished right behind him in fourth, which officially eliminated Geren from the championship hunt and crowned Wright as the two-time series champion.
“Congratulations to Jake,” said Geren after the race. “He's pretty much wrapped this thing up now; there's no way I can catch him.” Geren promised an even closer battle for the league championship in 2017. “You deserve this win, but next year I'm coming after you!”
Chris Stofer's teammate Tony Showen came home fifth, tying his season-best finish. Race sponsor Trevor Bissett guided his Lehmann's Landing car to a sixth-place finish after dedicating the race to his mother who had fallen ill earlier in the week. Rounding out the top ten were Brian Yaczik, Kansas-native Chris Gutierrez, Ron Hacker and Jorge Anzaldo.
The race was slowed by 5 cautions for 20 laps. Only 8 of the 34 starters failed to finish. Nine different sim racers led laps with 30 lead changes taking place during the race. The 0.011 margin of victory for Chris Stofer was the second-closest finish in league history, behind only a Season One race at Indianapolis.
The series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway next week for the American Cancer Society Race for the Cure 200. Jason Robarge is the defending race winner, and Pete Edwins is the race sponsor. The event will be broadcast live on the Global Sim Racing Channel (GSRC) and Iracing Live on Wednesday, October 26th, beginning at 10:35PM ET. For more information about the Lionheart Indycar Series presented by First Medical Equipment, please visit www.lionheartracingseries.com.