The more things change...
Despite a record number of rookies in the field, it was 2 wily veterans of the Lionheart Retro series who were battling wheel to wheel for the win last week at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Alex Saunders and Ryan Otis, the two most decorated Retro Series presented by ButtKicker drivers in the field, found themselves at the pointy end of the field in the closing stages. Wheel to wheel they raced for laps on end, until, with just 5 laps to go, they touched wheels and Otis was spinning down into the apron. For a minute it looked like the race would stay green, however the caution did fly, and Alex Saunders started the 2019 season exactly where he ended the 2018 season; in victory lane. 2nd went to rookie Nathan Lewis, a very strong debut for the 10-50 Barbanera Racing driver, while Lionheart founder Jorge Anzaldo go his season off to the right start with his first ever Retro podium in 3rd. Ken Hacker and Sage Karam rounded out the top 5.
It’s a short turn around for the Retro drivers, as round 2 comes just one week later. From last weeks high speed oval, the Retro series now travel to one of the fastest road courses on the schedule; Watkins Glen. The SimXperience Grand Prix at the Glen sees Alex Saunders return to the scene of his maiden Retro victory one year ago.
This year might be tougher sledding for the road course ace, however. True, arch nemesis Adam Blocker is no longer in the series, however there are no shortage of strong road course drivers waiting to take his place.
We have already witnessed what Sage Karam can do on a road courses as he beat both Blocker and Saunders on the streets of Montreal. The glen is much different beast, however, as the tight chicanes are replaced by fast sweeping corners. Similarly, the Charlotte roval, site of Karam’s all-star domination is a tight slow course. Will Sage be able to build on his top 5 in Round 1 and his All-Star race victory, or will the nature of the course play into the hands of others?
Some of the drivers looking to hit the reset button early in the season are Justin Kirby, Josh Gayman and George Sandman. All 3 finished outside the top 20 in Homestead, however all 3 also know that they can do much better, particularly as the series shift to the first road course race of the season. Noted road racers all, they know that one race won’t define their season, however an improvement this round is vital to keep the championship in arms reach.
Veterens Ryan Otis, Travis Jegerlehner and Dustin Wardlow will also be looking to the Glen to re-affirm that just because the Retro series has a lot of talented rookies doesn’t mean that the old guard will be going anywhere. Look for these 3 to be fighting for the top 5, and possibly even the win.
Then there is Marc Cohn. Cohn fell victim to a poor pit strategy call at Homestead after spending the majority of the race at or near the front. The 2019 Challenge Series winner, Cohn has demonstrated himself a steady road course driver, who is able to hit his marks when it counts. With calamity on the first lap a definite possibility, look for the NLR Sim Racing driver to be at the sharp end of the finishing order this week.
The real question coming into week 2 for the Retro Series is, with all the rookies, will we have another veterne winner, or will one of these rookies break through and notify the established drivers that this season belongs to the rookies?
Tune in on Thursday March 21st to find out. The SimXperience Grand Prix at the Glen will go live at 10:35pm eastern, only on the iRacing eSports Network presented by GSRC.
Alex Saunders began his pursuit of a championship in the best way possible, winning the Sam Maxwell Customs Miami 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway Thursday night.
“This is a great start to the season,” Saunders said. “It sucks that Adam (Blocker) isn’t around to defend his title, but this field is pretty stacked still. It won’t be easy. This was fun.”
Saunders dominated the event, leading a race-high 57 laps, and helping put to bed some of the bad memories from the season finale in 2018. Saunders lost the championship by a single point to Adam Blocker, who did not return for the 2019 season.
“It got really hectic there, and I hate it for Ryan (Otis) that the race ended that way,” Saunders said.
The race finished under caution after Ryan Otis - the championship runner-up in 2017 - pushed up into Saunders as the cars exited turn four with six laps to go. Otis spun low, and avoided the wall. But the caution flew as he rejoined the field, with another pack charging forward.
By that point, only five laps remained, and the race never restarted.
Rookie Nathan Lewis was just ahead of Jorge Anzaldo in a great battle for second and third.
The podium was a strong statement from Anzaldo, who spent much of the evening in the lead pack.
“This is my first Retro podium,” Anzaldo said. “What a race, that was awesome. I just didn’t have enough to get up there at the end.”
Ken Hacker and pole winner Sage Karam rounded out the top five.
The race was slowed six times for cautions, but none had a bigger impact than the final.
In 2017, Ryan Otis gave Jake Wright all he could handle in the inaugural season of the Lionheart Retro Series presented by ButtKicker.
After a season off, all of the preseason talk has centered on Otis and Saunders, and they didn’t disappoint Thursday night.
Otis was able to get going and salvage a 12th place finish after the spin.
Attention will no doubt once again be on these two as the Lionheart Retro Series presented by ButtKicker heads to the winding roads of Watkins Glen and the Classic Boot layout for round two.
The SimXperiance Grand Prix at the Glen can be seen live on the iRacing eSports Network with coverage from Global SimRacing Channel at 10:35 p.m. EST on Thursday, March 21.
What’s old is new again for the Retro Series this year. New rules, new drivers, same sweet classic car. The Lotus 79’s of the Lionheart Retro Series kicks off their season at the Sam Maxwell Customs Miami 200 form Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The first change to over this year is the team structure. In years past, each team scored points with up to 5 drivers. This year, it is down to 3 drivers per team maximum. Never fear for some of the powerhouse teams though, a new “organization” championship allows 2 teams to team up and earn points towards a separate prize.
It might be easier to say who is coming back then go over all the new faces in the Retro Series this season. One thing is for sure, this is undoubtedly the deepest Retro field in Lionheart history, despite all the rookies.
Raven Motorsports is back, with Jorge Anzaldo, Dustin Wardlow, Travis Jegerlehner, Ron Hacker Ryan Otis and James Paulson. Anzaldo, Wardlow and Hacker will be Raven Silver, while Jegerlehner, Otis and Paulson will be on Raven Black.
NLR Sim Racing also returns with Tyler Graaf, Marc Cohn and rookie Finian Dcunha, and Cody Eldred, Dylan McKenna and Joe Hassert on the other.
The final organization is Dragonfly Motorsports with Robert Blouin and Ryan Cornes will be with Dragonfly Racing, while Frank Bieser, David Altman and Chris Lanini will be on Firefly Racing.
Skidmark Motorports returns with Paul Jenkins, Nighthawk is also back with Alex Saunders and Greg West. Finally, No Limit Racing is back with Kris Walker.
Now for the new teams and drivers; and boy there are a lot of them! Bombshell Motorsports will have Eric Micke driving. Ridin Shotgun will have a 3 car team of Lionel Calisto, Taft Baldwin and Adam Young. Fat Dog Racing will have Mike Rigney and Justin Kirby. iRacing Today Motorsports will have Dean Moll and Chad Dalton. Total Downforce Racing will have Steven Schlacher, 10-50 Barbanera will have Nathan Lewis and SimPit Racing will be represent by David Clymer. Mitchell Mohler, Eric Block, George Sandman, Joshua Gayman, and Hacker will start the season as independents.
Finally, Former real-world IndyCar driver Richie Hearn brings his Elite West Racing and teammate Michael B Thompson to the series, while current IndyCar driver Sage Karam returns to the Retro Series this time with Coanda Sim Sport.
Notably absent from this list is 2018 champion Adam Blocker, who has chosen to focus solely on the IndyCar series this season, as the competition has also picked up in that series.
Early drivers to watch for round 1 will include last years championship runner-up Alex Saunders, and multiple race Sage Karam. These two drivers clashed a number of times during the season, and will look to renew their rivalry this season as each try to take hold of the championship from the beginning.
Richie Hearn, George Sandman, Joshua Gayman and Justin Kirby all showed speed throughout the all-star festivities, and will be looking to spoil the party up to of the standings.
And let’s not forget the oval specialists. Big Joe Hassert, Dustin Wardlow and Chris Lanini all showed speed in 2018 and could very easily sneak up on the title contenders to be a part of the championship hunt 18 long races from now.
Lionel Calisto, Steven Schlacher, Taft Baldwin. The list of fast rookies in the Retro Series is almost endless, and there will doubtlessly shocks and surprises at every turn this season. So many that you can’t afford to miss a single round, starting with Round 1 this Thursday, March 14th, 2019 at 10:35pm Eastern only on the iRacing eSports Network brought to you by GSRC.
March 18th, 2019
The Lionheart Retro Series presented by ButtKicker kicked off its 2019 season with a celebratory feel and a true all-star in victory lane.
Sage Karam dominated the event, leading all 34 laps of the Lionheart Retro All-Star Race presented by ButtKicker, the new title sponsor for the Lotus L79 series.
“I got out to a comfortable lead, but for some reason I never told myself to slow down,” Karam said. “I’m a competitor, I just wanted to keep going faster.”
Karam - a five-time Indianapolis 500 starter - took the lead from pole winner Ryan Otis on the start, using a crossover move in the final chicane at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval course and outbreaking the former series runner-up into turn one.
By the end of lap one, Karam had opened up nearly a second advantage, breaking the draft of the other cars. He never looked back.
“On the start, I didn’t know that was going to happen,” Karam said. “I knew he’d get on it before the chicane, and he did. It looked like he might’ve clipped the chicane a bit and got loose, and I kinda over-under him and got on the inside.
Otis bobbled entering turn one, and dropped back to fifth before recovering to finish third.
“Talk about all-time worst starts,” Otis said. “I felt like I was lucky to keep it out of the wall. Sage got a great start on me. I got a little lose on the curb, and we got side-by-side and I got in the dust. That was pretty much it for me.”
Newcomer George Sandman earned a spot in the main event with a dominating win in the All-Star Open, a sprint race that saw 12 cars transfer to the main event. He then maneuvered his way into second early on and held the spot for the rest of the race.
“I think they need to check Sage’s car for rocket fuel or something,” Sandman said jokingly. “I just wanted to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes, kept my laps nice and clean.”
The event was marred by issue for some of the top Lionheart drivers.
Richie Hearn - himself a Indy Racing League race winner, and analyst for the Lionheart IndyCar Series race broadcast - was running in third when connection issues caused him to pull over and retire.
Lionheart winner Justin Weaver was in position to earn a podium when he lost control in the first part of the infield road course, collecting the wall and ending his race.
Dustin Wardlow, a winner in both IndyCar and Retro events last season, started sixth but crashed in the bus stop on the opening lap.
As a result, the field thinned out, with just five cars finishing on the lead lap, capped by Andrew Kinsella and rookie Stefan Schlacher..
The Lionheart Retro Series presented by ButtKicker now prepares for the races that count. The season kicks off at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the Homestead 200. The event, like all Lionheart Racing Series events, can be seen live on the iRacing eSports Network with presentation from Global SimRacing Channel, on Thursday, March 14 at 10:35 p.m. EST.