Matt Taylor has put the Lionheart Retro Series presented by DMLC Racing Channel on notice.
The rookie scored his first career win in just his second start, navigating the draft and holding the lead through the final restart until a caution with five laps to go ended the SimXperience 175 at Twin Ring Motegi.
“I’m super excited,” Taylor said. “I really don’t have much oval experience at all. I tend to overdrive the car. I think that helped me tonight.”
The series newcomer furiously swapped the lead with Lionel Calisto over the final green flag run, after Sage Karam and Marc Cohn made contact battling for the lead.
Taylor was able to grab the inside line, which proved advantageous through turns one and two, when Dustin Wardlow was sent spinning into the wall following contact with Finian D’Cunha, assuring the race would end under caution.
Taylor impressed throughout the race, leading 14 laps and running inside the top five for a majority of the event.
“Once those guys wrecked in front of me, I had to focus on keeping my nose out front,” Taylor said. “At one point, we ended up four wide into three and I just sent it, and held my breath.”
Calisto mounted a hard charge through the pack, starting in 22nd and avoiding numerous crashes while scoring his second top five of the season. The near-miss stung, but the solid finish propelled Calisto comfortably into third in points.
“I’m happy with a second-place finish,” Calisto said. “I had a little damage and still managed to run in the top five. That’s solid.”
Jason Bosse had perhaps the most impressive performance of the race, being caught up in an early race incident that bent the rear wing of this Lotus 79. Despite the added drag and lack of top-end speed, Bosse was able to dodge other incidents and nearly spoil the party at the end of the race.
“It’s good to finally get a finish,” Bosse said. “That early spin, Scott Holmes came down and we just kind of touched. And I went to the back and had to battle back through the field.”
The race appeared to be coming down to a two-car battle between Cohn, the 2019 series driver of the year, and Karam, the championship contender and series wins leader.
But with 13 laps remaining, Cohn made a run around the outside of Karam heading into turn three. Karam’s car appeared to bobble as he neared the corner apex, and as the Pennsylvania native chased the car up the track, contact was made with Cohn’s left rear.
The man they call the watchman spun around and clobbered the wall, while Karam did a 360 and was able to continue, finishing 12th.
The wreck setup the mad dash to the finish, which saw numerous close calls with Ricky Hardin, championship leader Ryan Otis, Aaron Morgan and series founder Jorge Anzaldo as well.
But it was the Wardlow and D’Cunha contact that ultimately ended the race and allowed Taylor, and others, to let out a collective sigh.
Morgan was credited with being in fourth when the final caution flew, just ahead of Otis.
Otis extended his championship lead to 84 over Karam. Calisto sits 50 points back of Karam in third, with Morgan in fourth and Bosse capitalizing on the podium finish to jump up to fifth.
The race was slowed by seven cautions. Eight drivers exchanged the lead 28 times, with Karam leading a race-high 60 laps in the 113-lap contest.
The Lionheart Retro Series presented by DMLC Racing Channel returns stateside in two weeks for the Dewar’s 150 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The race can be seen live on the iRacing eSports Network with Global SimRacing Channel producing the broadcast on Thursday, August 20 at 10:35 p.m. EST.