Fans won’t look at Thursday’s Thumbs Up, Cancer Down 150 at the virtual Iowa Speedway and think of vintage Sage Karam.
But the NTT IndyCar Series driver won’t care.
Karam charged to second place following the final caution, and inherited the lead for the first time with four laps remaining when rookie Mike Rasiumus ran out of fuel, capturing his sixth win of the season in the Lionheart Retro Series presented by DMLC Racing Channel.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Karam said. “The race was hard. Dirty air was really bad. I got stuck in the back for a while, but was able to benefit from good pit stops and a couple of restarts. Really interesting race.”
Karam started 19th in the 29 car field following a qualifying mistake, and patiently worked his way into the top five. But the career series wins leader (12) seemed stuck in third until a restart following the sixth and final caution of the race on lap 134.
Karam had tried time and again to get around Tommy Rhyne, with the two even touching wheels on lap 133, but Rhyne continued to look like the stronger car until lap 142, when Karam made a sweeping move into turn one and was able to pull away from Rhyne.
Still, one of the hottest drivers in the league led the way, and despite having not pitted since lap 72, Rasimas continued to stay out well past the projected 75 lap fuel window, albeit with plenty of caution laps mixed in.
“I knew I was kinda racing Tommy Rhyne,” Karam said. “But then we kept getting yellows and I started to think ‘maybe Mike can make it now.’ I thought he was a lot worse on fuel than he actually was. When we got to five to go, I thought he was going to make it. I didn’t know until I saw him pull over, and it was a sigh of relief. I couldn’t get around him.”
Alas, it was not to be, as Rasimas continued to wait for one final yellow flag that never came. His Lotus 79 sputtered on the back stretch with four laps remaining, turning the lead - and the win - over to Karam.
“It just kept getting closer and closer and closer,” Rasimas said. “I just kept trying to save fuel when I could, trying to stretch it out. I needed one more yellow. I was actually pretty happy I got as far as I did. I had to try. It was the only way I was going to beat those super fast guys.”
Rhyne held on for second, even closing on Karam in the final two laps, but ran out of time. The finish was a career best for Rhyne.
“I was just going off the information my teammates could give me,” Rhyne said of being the first car to make the trip to pit road and make it to the end. “I thought if it went green, we would’ve won. It was just so hard to pass the leader, almost impossible.”
Bobby Mikes put on the show of the night, blowing past pole winner and early race favorite Dustin Wardlow (100 laps led) and points leader Ryan Otis in the final 20 laps. It was the best finish of the season for the two-time Retro Series race winner.
“It was an interesting race,” Mikes said after being involved in multiple cautions but surviving each. “I was just waiting for the tires to come in. It’s the age old 79 question, when will they come in? And they finally came in late and we were really good.”
Otis finished fourth, just ahead of a disappointed Wardlow.
18 drivers finished the race, with 15 on the lead lap.
Rasimas fell to 17th, three laps down, after coasting back into his pit stall to top off.
Karam closed the championship gap to 63 points back of Otis, the defending series champion. Lionel Calisto jumped to third in points, with Wardlow up two spots to fourth following Aaron Morgan’s late race crash. Morgan sits fifth, 161 points back of Otis.
The Lionheart Retro Series presented by DMLC Racing Channel takes three weeks off before returning on Thursday, September 17 at World Wide Technology Raceway, formerly Gateway Motorsports Park, outside St. Louis for the HyperX Gateway 150. The race can be seen live on the iRacing eSports Network and the Global SimRacing Channel at 10:35 p.m. EST.