This Sunday's I Race for Gage Indianapolis 500 is easily the biggest event on the 2017 calendar for the Lionheart Indycar Series presented by First Medical Equipment. The full-length sim race will see over 30 virtual Dallara DW-12s take to the track, each of them hoping to emulate Takuma Sato and be the first to cross the Yard of Bricks after what will certainly be 200 laps of intense action.
Numerous prizes including a custom-made winner's plaque, a hardcover book, numerous prints, a trading card set, a custom poster and $75 in cash will be awarded to the winner. Additionally, as the second leg in the 2017 Lionheart Triple Crown, all entrants will receive double points that could make or break their season depending on where they finish.
For race sponsor Jack Bogan, the I Race for Gage Indianapolis 500 holds special significance that goes far beyond the on-track action and prizes. For the third consecutive season, the sim racing event will be named in honour of his grandson Gage.
“I sponsor the Lionheart Indy 500 each year to bring awareness to congenital heart defects in children. Gage, now 10 years old, has had 4 open heart surgeries to replace two valves that do not grow with him. Gage, for the most part, is a normal 10-year-old kid doing what normal kids do! Gage loves animals, insects, dinosaurs, fishing, playing online games, and watching Pappy (me) race!”
When Jack and the rest of the field take the green flag on Sunday afternoon, the simulated race could easily end up resembling the real-life event in terms of unpredictability. There are numerous favourites to win, but the first virtual Dallara DW-12 to cross the finish line could be a surprise – not unlike Takuma Sato just two weeks ago.
When it comes to favourites at Indy, defending champion Jonathan Goke should never be counted out – especially at a Triple Crown event. Goke dominated at the Brickyard last season, leading 124 laps on his way to victory lane. Goke also won at Pocono last season and missed a chance to sweep the Triple Crown due to his deployment.
Goke already has a win in 2017 and finished a strong fourth at Pocono. However, aside from that, it's been an up-and-down season for the sim racer who sits third on the league's all-time wins list. Goke is returning from a chat-related suspension at Mosport and suffered a DNF at Texas a few weeks earlier. One has to assume that last season's Rookie of the Year will break out at some point this season and there would be no better place to do it than Indy!
While Goke is looking for a turn-around, his Team #NailedIt stablemate Dan Geren is simply looking for any break he can get in the championship battle. Geren currently sits second overall, but finds himself 75 points behind the league's most consistent driver Andrew Kinsella. A win at Indy would certainly help to close that gap even if Kinsella finishes strong. After breaking through for the win at Fontana last season, Geren proved he could win a Triple Crown event. Undoubtedly, a win in the Indianapolis 500 would be the highlight of what he hopes will be a championship season.
Unfortunately for Geren, the man he is chasing has yet to put a wheel wrong all season. Andrew Kinsella began his Lionheart career with a win at Homestead and he has completed every lap since, finishing out of the top ten only once. Additionally, Kinsella earned a victory in the recent Indy Elite Series Indianapolis 500 after starting eighth. The Canadian sim racer's trademark consistency will be needed to find victory lane at Indy and if things go his way again on Sunday, it could be very bad news for anyone hoping to catch him in the standings.
If consistency is key then last year's runner-up, Jason Robarge, should be counted among the underdogs in Sunday's sim race. Robarge has had a quiet season thus far and currently sits twentieth overall. However, he has finished no lower than sixth in the previous two Lionheart 500's. Additionally, Robarge missed Pocono earlier this season, which certainly explains his lower-than-usual position in the standings. The AGR sim racer has already proven his ability to finish strong at the Speedway. Now, he just needs to take one step further up the podium!
Another sim racer to watch is Pocono winner Chris Stofer. Stofer started seventh last season and was collected in the biggest wreck of the event, ending his day prematurely. Also not to be ignored is two-time league champion Jake Wright, who was also collected in the “big one” last season. Wright has many accomplishments on his Lionheart resume but “Indy 500 Champion” is not among them and it's likely Wright would love to change that. Finally, Dustin Wardlow earned his first league victory last week in the Lionheart Retro Series event at Indianapolis after surviving a chaotic finish. Wardlow would likely consider himself a long-shot but he's already proven that luck is on his side this season at the Brickyard.
Jack Bogan's grandson Gage will serve as the grand marshal of the event and will give the most famous command in sim racing. For more information about congenital heart defects (CHD) and the CHD support groups, please visit https://twibbon.com/support/chd-warriors. More information about CHD is also available at http://mendedlittleheartguide.org/
The I Race for Gage Indianapolis 500 will be broadcast live on the Global Sim Racing Channel (GSRC) and iRacing Live at a special day and time: Sunday, June 11th at 4:00PM ET.