Sage Karam was off his game.
Ryan Otis pounced.
The defending Lionheart Retro Series presented by DMLC Racing Channel champion, Otis captured his first pole of the season and led every lap of the FISCH Motors Grand Prix of Phillip Island Thursday night, winning for the first time in 2020.
“I put in a lot of time just trying to make sure I brought my A game,” Otis said. “I was expecting it to be a knife fight this week. I feel like I’m spent. It probably looked boring, but I was doing my best to drive the wheels off that thing.”
The win catapulted Otis into the point lead after Karam’s second-consecutive DNF.
The NTT IndyCar Series driver started second, but finished 19th after a series of incidents.
The trouble started before the green flag, when Karam slid off track in turn 10 on the pace lap.
Once the action got under way, Otis checked out quickly while Karam attempted to fend off teammates Chris Ragan former IndyCar winner Richie Hearn.
On Lap 8, it was Hearn who tried a tricky pass in turn 9, but after slight contact with the rumble strip, Hearn bounced off Karam and spun off track. Karam, still battling a slide from the contact, nearly lost control in turn 10, leading to contact with Ragan and Jason Bosse.
All three held on, while Hearn spent the remainder of the race battling back to finish sixth.
Karam’s adventures were still just getting started.
On lap 17, Ragan appeared to get on the binders too hard, and slid into Karam in the sharp hairpin known as Honda Corner.
Ragan was penalized by race control, taking a drive thru penalty and finishing 15th, a lap down.
Karam recovered once again, although with front wing damage, while David Clymer took advantage and moved into second place.
It appeared Karam had finally settled in, closing to within two seconds of Clymer before the final pit stop, when the glass slipper finally broke.
Karam appeared to miss the entrance to pit road, dropping the left side tires into the grass. The Pennsylvania native then chased the car across the access road, sliding off on the right side. Karam’s attempts to save the car became futile when he slammed into the tire barrier at pit entrance, ending his race.
Karam was quick to apologize, telling leaguemates he simply did not practice enough after suffering simulator burnout over the previous week.
Karam’s loss was Clymer’s gain, as the Avatar Auto Racing leader ran a clean race to comfortably finish in second.
“I had some decent pace tonight but I definitely didn’t see a podium finish,” Clymer said. “It was cool. It felt like a little bit of redemption (after crashing from the lead at Homestead). It seems like every year I start a little slow, so maybe we’re turning it around.”
The strong finish came at a great time for Clymer, as the series heads to Indianapolis for the month of June. Clymer is the defending winner of the IMS oval race in the Retro series.
George Sandman had a remarkable drive after being caught up in a lap one crash in Honda Corner, as Pat Dotson was shoved into the Homestead winner. Sandman leap frogged Dustin Wardlow on the final pit stop to grab the final podium spot.
“I don’t know what really happened on the first lap,” Sandman said. “There was some other stuff that happened and I just had to start picking guys off one at a time. It was almost more fun that way.”
Aaron Morgan continued his consistent season, finishing fifth, just behind Wardlow.
Otis leads Karam by 28 points at the one-third mark of the season. Sandman sits three points behind Karam, and Morgan is just one point further back, setting up what appears to be a four car battle for the championship, although the season is still young.
The Lionheart Retro Series presented by DMLC Racing Channel kicks off an exciting month of June for the Lionheart Racing Series powered by HyperX, with the Minus 273 Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
The 48 lap inaugural event at the IMS road course for the Retro series can be seen live on Thursday, June 11, at 10:35 p.m. EST on the iRacing eSports Network, with Global SimRacing Channel presenting the action.
The Retro series then heads to the big oval on June 25 with the ButtKicker Indy 250, while the Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment also tackles the Indy GP circuit before the first ever HyperX Race for the Pole. The month of June ends with the HyperX Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, June 28.