A champion was crowned and a rookie finished the year the same way he started it, in victory lane, as the Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment wrapped up its fifth season Wednesday night with the Lionheart Championship 300 at Auto Club Speedway.
Jake Wright needed just to avoid trouble to clinch his third consecutive series championship, and did just that, coming home a comfortable seventh place to capture the title by 72 points over Dan Geren.
“This is amazing, I’m speechless,” Wright said. “I honestly at the start of this thing did not think I’d be where I am now. This was a ton of fun.”
Rookie of the Year Andrew Kinsella came home third in points, fueled by a last-lap pass and win in the season finale. It was the Canadian’s third win of the season, and came after a thrilling battle with teammate Chris Stofer.
“What a race with Stofer,” Kinsella said. “We were dominating the race for a while there and that last caution came out. We weren’t looking for that caution, but we held on.”
For Geren, the third place finish in the race felt like a victory after an early race spin with Dustin Wardlow. Geren needed Wright to fall on hard times to realistically steal the championship away.
“I’m proud of the comeback we made,” Geren said. “I didn’t get that spot that I wanted in the standings, but I’ll be back next season to give it another shot.”
The Lionheart Championship 300 was a thrilling race from the start, with lead changes and action throughout the pack. Three cautions slowed the race, twp involving drivers vying for the win.
On lap 15, George Adams went for a spin down the front straight after contact from Tony Showen. Adams spun through the grass but continued without damage.
Stofer’s race nearly ended, and his teammates did, after a crash on lap 19. On the restart, Stofer made a move on Adam Blocker on the back straight. Similar to the Showen incident, Stofer did not move over before he caught Blocker, causing contact and sending Blocker flipping through the air, ending his race.
No caution flew, but Geren and Wardlow had the most impactful crash of the night. While racing on lap 25, Wardlow caught air off the back of Brandon Limkemann exiting turn two. The California driver known as the ‘Candy Man’ clipped the wall, spinning across Geren’s nose. Both cars slid through the paved infield, where Geren straightened things out but Wardlow hammered the wall.
Jason Galvin was looking to secure a top five season finish and was comfortably running in fourth when he misjudged a pass on the lapped car of Mitchell Moehler. The lap 86 crash brought out the final caution, and ended the race for both.
The last caution setup a shootout at the finish, with Geren rallying through the field to third. But it was the lead-swapping duel between Kinsella and Stofer that kept fans on the edge of their seat.
Kinsella cleared Stofer one final time in turns one and two and the two drag-raced to the line, with Kinsella holding on to win by .029-seconds.
“Both of us wanted to win that thing,” Stofer said. “It was a chess match at the end.”
Kinsella led a race-high 94 laps. Stofer, Geren, Michael Goodman, Joe Branch, Wright, Wardlow, Justin Weaver and Limkemann also led laps.
Goodman came home fourth, followed by Branch to round out the top five.
The duo also finished fourth and fifth respectively in points.
Plenty of post-season awards were handed out, including Wright as the cleanest driver and Geren as the Iron Man, awarded to the driver who completed the most miles on the season.
Wright was awarded a set of HPP Simulation pedals as part of his championship haul, a new addition to the championship.
No Name Racing wrapped up another team championship, its third consecutive, spearheaded by Wright along with Pierre Daigle, Joe Hassert, James Krahula and Brian Yaczik.
The surprise of the night came when Limkemann, the series sponsor, presented the First Medical Equipment Driver of the Year.
The award is presented to the driver who best personifies the spirit of Lionheart and Dan Wheldon. Last year, the inaugural award was presented to Patrick Taylor. Taylor was an instrumental part of the league admin team and was responsible for most of the work in league’s first year book.
Taylor lost his life unexpectedly in August. The series dedicated the Driver of the Year award to him, and posthumously moved Taylor to the top of the points standings for the 2017 season.
Following the race, Limkemann made the surprise announcement for the 2017 Driver of the Year.
“Jorge (Anzaldo) takes his thanks and praise lightly, I’ve watched him time and again. People try to explain what this league and community mean to him. And while he will give a short ‘thank you’, I want him to know that with Patrick’s arm around my shoulder and in complete concurrence, he would want me to pass his award to Jorge,” Limkemann said. “First Medical would like to congratulate Jorge for being Drive of the Year and the heartbeat for Lionheart.”
Anzaldo founded Lionheart five years ago, and continues to be the driving force behind the series. Outside the sim world, Anzaldo helps organize the yearly meetup for the league at Iowa Speedway. He also regularly hosts league members at his house in the week leading up to the event. A paramedic for the city of Chicago, Anzaldo, along with his wife and two sons, dedicate countless hours and funds to the league to help make it thrive.
“You got me choked up here,” Anzaldo said. “It’s funny you kept this such a secret and I had some other people in mind. This league means the world to me, you’ve all become a second family. I appreciate everything that you’ve all given back to me.”
The 2018 season schedule was announced following the race. Season six kicks off with the annual all-star race, this time at the Track Too Tough To Tame, Darlington Raceway, on March 14, 2018.
The annual season-opening event at Homestead-Miami Speedway is set for March 28.
The first Triple Crown event, set for 300 miles at Pocono Raceway, will take place May 2.
The series runs back-to-back at Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi; the oval event will take place May 9, with a road course event following two weeks later on May 23.
The flagship Lionheart event, the Indianapolis 500, is set for Sunday, July 15.
The series heads to Circuit de Spa Francorchamps for the first time September 12, followed by a return to Richmond Raceway September 19 after a three year hiatus.
The final two races remain unchanged in 2018. Lionheart heads to Road America for the final road event on December 12, and the season finale at Auto Club Speedway is scheduled for December 19.
The Lionheart IndyCar Series and the Lionheart Retro Series, a throwback to the golden age of open-wheel racing with the Lotus 79, are both taking applications for new drivers for the 2018 season.
For more information on the Lionheart Racing Series, visit www.LionheartRacingSeries.com.