It's no secret that Pocono is Jonathan Goke's favourite track – and there's a good reason for that. Goke's resume at the three-turn oval is impressive. He's the defending race winner in the Lionheart Indycar Series and he can now say the same about the Lionheart Retro Series after taking the checkered flag in Thursday night's Remember the Fallen 250.
Goke earned the pole position in the first Retro Series Triple Crown event of 2017 and led 77 laps on his way to victory lane.
“Pocono is by far my favourite track; it's probably the track I'm best at! It's good to get a win in the retro car,” said Goke in victory lane. “I'm tired! The force-feedback that car gives back jars your hands pretty good.”
Despite the solid performance, the win was anything but routine on a night where almost all of the early-race favourites were involved in major incidents – including the race winner.
Goke lost control of the car on Lap 23 while battling Bob Mikes for the lead into Turn 1. His Lotus 79 did a three-sixty and emerged back onto the track in front of a swarm of other cars.
“I was a little bit too low on entry,” said Goke after the race. “I thought it was over when I spun in front of the pack. I cannot believe I didn't hit anything! I got my good graces there and decided to go back up there and lead as much as I can!”
Amazingly, Goke survived the incident unscathed, although the resulting chaos collected Pierre Daigle, Bradley Walters, David Altman and Dustin Wardlow. Altman was the only sim racer in the group who was able to continue.
The incident was not unique as almost all of the major accidents during the night were triggered by single-car spins that collected numerous other virtual cars. The resulting carnage ended the night for many championship contenders, including Jake Wright, Jason Galvin, Bob Mikes, Joe Branch and Chris Stofer, all of whom were in the top ten headed into the double-points event.
All-told, there were seven cautions for 20 laps. Just 11 of 31 starters finished the race – a rarity for the Retro Series that has thus far seen fairly moderate attrition. Only six cars finished on the lead lap.
While many of the contenders did not survive the evening, one of the lucky few who did was Ryan Otis who followed-up his dominant win at Watkins Glen with a solid second-place finish at the Tricky Triangle. Otis never let Goke get away and battled the eventual winner for the lead right up until the checkered-flag.
“It was great fun! I was fighting for the lead and I liked the way the car drove better in clean air,” explained Otis. “As soon as I'd get ahead of (Goke) he'd just pass me right back.”
Tony Showen was the only other top ten driver to survive the evening. Showen edged Brian Greenlee on a last-lap restart to claim the final podium position after starting twenty-seventh.
“I was starting in the back so I decided to chill out back there; I had a good view of some wrecks,” said Showen after the race. “I just made sure I was steady in the turns all the way through.”
It was race sponsor Brian Greenlee who may have had the most adventurous evening. Greenlee found himself with a front-row seat for two of the evening's major wrecks but the rookie managed to steer (and slide) his Lotus 79 through the carnage unscathed. He also skillfully kept his car off the wall after a self-spin later in the race could have ended his night. His fourth-place finish was a career-best and vaulted him up 19 positions in the standings.
The solid finish was a bonus for Greenlee who used his sponsorship of the race to raise awareness for the Officer Down Memorial Page, a website dedicated to keeping a record of all law enforcement men and women who have given their lives in the line of duty.
“I urge anyone who can, to please donate to this; it's a wonderful cause,” said Greenlee, who is a police officer.
Chris Lanini, Stephen Pauley, Travis Jegerlehner, Rory Collins, Joe Hassert and David Altman rounded out the top ten.
The Retro Series will take a few weeks off before heading north to Montreal for the series' fifth round on April 6th. The sim race will be broadcast live on the Global Sim Racing Channel (GSRC) and iRacing Live beginning at 10:35PM ET.