There was plenty of drama and questions heading into the championship finale of the Lionheart Retro Series, but who would win it all never seemed to be in doubt.
Jake Wright, the two-time defending Lionheart IndyCar Series champion, played it safe and cruised to a fourth place finish to secure the inaugural Retro Series championship, while Joe Hassert held off Chris Stofer to take the win in a thrilling race at Auto Club Speedway.
“This season has been incredibly fun, bringing these cars over onto the ovals and with the road courses,” Wright said. “Thank you to the league for putting on an amazing season and I’m very thankful to hold the first championship.”
The race featured just two cautions, the second of which took out most of the impending fuel strategy; the top 15 cars all teetered on the verge of running out, but a caution with 20 laps to go appeared to assure everyone could make it to lap 125.
But on the last lap, Dustin Wardlow ran dry, sending cars scrambling on the back straightaway and leading to a sprint to the line between Hassert and Stofer.
“I just had tunnel vision. I didn’t care what was happening behind me,” Hassert said. “That last 15 laps I was just hoping there wouldn’t be a yellow during those two seconds on the front and back stretch where the outside car would edge ahead...It was definitely a lot of strategy, but we finally got some good luck. It was a long year, but we have some momentum now.”
Stofer came up .038-seconds short, a matter of inches on the virtual pavement.
“Passing was hard, just trying to complete a pass was difficult enough,” Stofer said. “I’m happy to get second place, we didn’t know where we’d end up.”
Adam Blocker, who won a league-high four races, came home third.
“I wasn’t really sure what to do in the final few laps,” Blocker said. “The only open lane for me was on the very top lane, three-wide and I didn’t think it was going to work...there was no way realistically that either of us were going to pass Joe.”
Ryan Otis, who entered the race with hopes of winning the title only if Wright encountered problems, finished 15th after being involved in the late-race yellow. Otis finished 116 points back of Wright, left to wonder what may have been had he been able to run a full schedule.
Jason Galvin also held slim odds of winning the title, and tried an alternate fuel strategy that backfired with the Otis caution. Galvin finished a lap down in 18th, and 47 points back of Otis in the standings.
Dustin Wardlow jumped to fourth in the standings, while Travis Jegerlehner - who missed the season finale - dropped to fifth.
The first caution of the Auto Club 250 came on lap 20, when Ian Adams and Bob Mikes made contact racing in the lead pack. Chris Lanini, David Altman and Mitchell Moehler were also swept up in the ensuing crash.
12 cars finished on the lead lap, while 33 took the green flag. Galvin led the most laps (26) using his alternate strategy.
It was a banner year for the Retro Series, a late edition to the Lionheart Racing Series dockett. 66 drivers started an event, with 27 drivers running at least 10 races.
The Lionheart Retro Series already announced its second season schedule. The season opens at Homestead-Miami Speedway March 15, 2018. Other highlights include Lionheart’s first trip to Autódromo José Carlos Pace and Circuit de Zolder, and a return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway September 6, 2018. The championship race will once again be at Auto Club Speedway November 29, 2017.
The 18-round season two will be broadcast live on the Global SimRacing Channel at 10:40 p.m. EST on Thursday’s throughout the year.