As the sun sets over the Phoenix hills this Thursday night, it will be setting on the first night race of the season for the Lionheart Retro Series competitors. Some say that when it does, the hills glow with an almost god-like fire. By the end of the night, however, the only fire will be in the Cosworth DFS engines, as they scream towards the checkered flag at the Sam Maxwell Customs 175 from ISM Raceway.
Last time out at Sebring International Raceway, it was Sage Karam dusting the field for a second race in a row. Karam has quickly established himself as the man to beat on the road courses this season. The fight for best of the rest, however was very close till the end, as 2nd through 5th were separated by a scant 3 seconds. Debutant Dave Walsh started his Retro career well with a 2nd place finish over George Sandman, Alex Saunders and Ryan Otis.
After 3 races, we have come to 2 conclusions. One, Sage Karam will be extremely hard to beat on road courses this year. Two, this might be the tightest, most balanced field the Lionheart series has ever seen. While Karam is out in the points lead by 39 points over Ryan Otis, on the back of 2 road course wins, the gap between 2nd place Otis and 12th place Chris Lanini is separated by only 40 further points. With a series of ovals coming, it will be interesting to see if Karam can manage to hold back all the would-be title challengers until the next road course, 4 rounds from now.
A mix of rookies and veterans alike are hoping they will be the one to break away from the pack and mount a serious challenge to Karam, starting with round 1 winner, Alex Saunders. Saunders lies 3rd in the championship, and rebounded nicely in Sebring after crashing out at Watkins Glen. Saunders is looking to get his title run on track and can’t afford to let Karam get to big a lead too early in the season.
Veteran Ryan Otis and rookie George Sandman are 2 drivers who will be sorry to see the road courses go. Both managed to finish in the top 5 at the previous 2 road events, and will now be hoping that their disappointing round 1 results are the exception rather then the rule.
The back half of the top 10 in points is populated with drivers who have found success in consistency rather then outright speed. Paul Jenkins, followed by the Raven Motorsports teammates of James Paulson, and league founder Jorge Anzaldo, and Travis Jegerlehner have all used consistency over outright speed to cement their early stake on the top 10 in points. But now we travel to phoenix, where drafting and speed are the order of the day. Will these drivers be able to translate their quiet consistent performance onto the frantic mile oval?
Finally, we need to look at some of the hard-luck stories so far. Richie Hearn and Lionel Calisto have both shown the speed to be at the front, but have been hard pressed to put it all together on race day. Sometimes the chaotic nature of oval racing, where instinct often overtakes logic, is just enough to turn a driver’s luck from bad to good. These two drivers could sure use a good finish to get their campaigns back on track.
This year, after two seasons at the old configuration, the Retro Series will run at the new version of ISM Speedway, as for the first time ever, this race becomes a night race. The shifting light as the track transitions into the darkness will add a new layer to what is already promising to be a spectacular race.
To witness all the action first hand, tune in Thursday May 2nd at 10:35pm Eastern, only on the iRacing eSports Network presented by GSRC.
Sage Karam continued his early season stranglehold on the Lionheart Retro Series presented by ButtKicker, leading all 34 laps in an easy win during the Plasma-Tracks Grand Prix of Sebring Thursday night.
It was the second win and third top five in as many races for the NTT IndyCar Series driver preparing for his sixth Indianapolis 500.
“This is always a tough track to handle, especially in these cars,” Karam said. “I was lucky enough to break the draft early, that’s kind of the name of the game in theses cars.”
Karam sat on the pole and jumped out in front right away following a restart on lap four, finishing 22 seconds ahead of second place Dave Walsh.
“I had a really good race start and then we had that yellow,” Karam said. “But I had just as good of a restart, so I just put my head down and ran clean laps.”
Walsh was stuck in a hornets nest on the final laps, edging George Sandman by 0.42 seconds for second.
“I was very inconsistent,” Walsh said. “I finally got past Ryan Otis. On the last lap, I got run off the track by a lapped car and George pushed me the rest of the lap. It was closer than it needed to be.”
Sandman had his mirrors full as well, with Alex Saunders and Ryan Otis both finishing within 2.5 seconds.
“I didn’t do as good as I thought I could in qualifying,” Sandman said. “It was slippery out there, and the yellow took away the fuel savings and I think I could’ve done better with that.”
Eleven of the 34 starters finished on the lead lap, in a race that featured a rare full-course caution on a road course.
As the field exited turn one, J.P. Windschitl tagged the back of Justin Weaver. The duo were racing in the back half of the top ten.
As they spun across the field with 20 plus cars coming, race control threw the caution to avoid others wrecking to avoid.
After the restart, the race ran fairly clean.
Karam leads Otis by 39 points, with Saunders another six behind, after three rounds.
The fourth race on the 18 event calendar heads to the Valley of the Sun and ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona.
The Sam Maxwell Customs 175 is scheduled for Thursday, May 2 with a 10:35 p.m. EST start on the iRacing eSports Network with Global SimRacing Channel producing the action.
28 Days Later
It’s been 28 days since Sage Karam put on a dominating display at the SimXperience Grand Prix at the Glen. While the movie of the same name was a horror film, the 28 days the rest of the field had to practice their road course game was sorely needed as Karam dominated the Glen race. Ryan Otis, one of the strongest road drivers in Lionheart finished the 37 lap event 24 seconds back. George Sandman, a rookie with a large amount of road racing experience finished 36 seconds back. Overall only 10 cars finished on the lead lap. The Lionheart Retro field is hoping that the horror of the Glen will give rise to a new day at Round 3, the Plasma-Tracks Grand Prix of Sebring.
Based on last round’s display, it would be difficult to look at contenders beyond Karam, however 2 that can’t be overlooked are Alex Saunders and Ryan Otis. Word in the paddock is that Saunders has another commitment that may keep him from racing. He made an uncharacteristic mistake at the Glen, so if he can make the race look for it to be a very motivated Alex Saunders. Otis meanwhile had a solid display and ran with Karam for a little while. Where the Glen was smooth and flowing, Sebring will be tight and bumpy. Will this play into Otis’ hand?
Three rookies to look out for on Thursday night are J.P. Windschitl, Richie Hearn, and Lionel Calisto. Windschitl has been fast in practice, while Richie Hearn was fast at Watkins Glen before running into some issues and retiring. Calisto, meanwhile, was able to recover from his mistake, albeit 3 laps down due to a tow. Despite this fact, he was setting lap times that would have put him in the top 10. If these 3 can make it through the full event, look for them to be at or near the front.
Speaking of making it through events, so far only 2 drivers not named Sage Karam have managed to finish in the top 10 in both races so far. Dustin Wardlow and Chris Lanini are both names readers and viewers of the Lionheart series should recognize. Both well understand the value of finishing a race above all else, and find themselves 3rd and 8th respectively in the points because of this. As some of the rookies learn this lesson the hard way, Wardlow and Lanini are already off to excellent starts to the season.
In the team standings, Raven Motorsports Black is off to very strong start to the season thank to the efforts of Otis, Wardlow and James Paulson, who are 2nd, 3rd and 6th in the main championship with 2 races down. Already 74 points back is NLR Sim Racing, while Raven Motorports Silver is a further 28 points back. From there down, however, things get crowded, as 3rd through 16th are separated by less the 100 points. All it will take is a couple bad races for the Raven Black team, and this could easily turn into any teams championship.
This Lionheart Retro Series season is just a couple rounds old, and already plenty of intrigue is developing. So far the veterans are dominating, but with so many rookies in the field, that won’t last forever. Sebring will be a tough test for rookies and veteran alike, as this is the first time the Retro series has raced on the track. The long bumpy airport runways and the tight twisty road sections will both test these L79 drivers in equal measure.
Who will be triumphant at the end? Will it be Karam, Otis or Saunders? Or will it be a rookie, staking his claim on the Retro Series. Tune in Thursday April 18th at 10:35pm eastern to find out, only on the iRacing eSports Network presented by GSRC.