The drought is over. Big Joe Hassert returned to victory lane for the first time since 2017, edging Dean Moll to the finish in the SimXperience 175 at Twin Ring Motegi.
It was the first win for Hassert since the Lionheart Retro Series presented by ButtKicker season finale at Auto Club Speedway in November of 2017.
“It’s been way too long,” Hassert said. “It was a tough one, holy cow. I was on the edge of my seat.”
Hassert led a race-high 26 laps and recaptured the lead for the final time on a restart with six laps to go.
“I hope I lived up to my name tonight,” said Hassert, whose self-appointed moniker ‘The Big Joe Show’ has long indicated moments of spectacular passing on oval tracks. “I was able to - I don’t know how, I was sideways a few times - I was able to get to the front in three and four. I made sure I had the lane I wanted in three. It was a tough one.”
Moll had a career night, leading 18 laps. But he was unable to hold off the determined and experience Hassert on the final restart.
“That was an intense race,” Moll said. “Congrats to Joe on the win. Hopefully we put on a good show. It was entertaining in the car. I had the situation I wanted. I wanted the inside in three and Joe just stuck it on the outside and made it work.”
Taft Baldwin continued his stellar rookie campaign with a third place finish. Baldwin led 19 laps and dominated a stretch along with teammate Lionel Calisto, who wrecked out late in the race.
“I was about half a car width from taking the lead and Joe took my line going into three,” Baldwin said. “Joe knew what I was doing and took the line from me. It was a lot of fun.”
Points leader Ryan Otis and Paul Jenkins rounded out the top five.
10 drivers officially exchanged the lead 27 times, with numerous more passes up front throughout the race, in what turned into an action-packed battle. The lead pack routinely raced three and four wide down the back straight.
Eight cautions slowed the race for 32 laps, and the calamity started early.
Points leader Sage Karam caught the wall on lap six as the pack exited the final turn. Miraculously, only four other cars were involved.
ISM Raceway winner Marc Cohn was unable to avoid Karam, ending the race for both drivers. Dustin Wardlow was turned around but somehow missed the wall. The spin, however, relegated a strong Wardlow to the back of the pack.
Wardlow was able to battle all the way back to second, behind Stefan Schlacher - who used fuel strategy to get out front - but with two laps left in the tank, the light L79 caught went around entering turn three.
Wardlow had nowhere to go, in a wreck mirroring one at ISM Raceway one week earlier. The multi-time Retro race winner was left to wonder what might have been for a second consecutive race.
Joshua Gayman, Chris Lanini, Pat Dotson and others were also involved.
The final caution came with eleven laps remaining, when David Altman drifted up into Calisto. Jorge Anzaldo was on the outside of a three-wide battle, and all three cars careened into the wall in turn three.
Otis catapulted over Karam into the points lead. The pair are separated by 14 points. George Sandman is third, 38 points out of the lead.
The Lionheart Retro Series presented by ButtKicker heads to Gateway Motorsports Park Thursday night for the Sinbad Vapors 200. The race can be seen live on the iRacing eSports Network with presentation by Global SimRacing Channel at 10:35 p.m. EST.