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.