The New Hampshire Motor Speedway has a long history with open-wheel racing that includes some very memorable moments. There was Nigel Mansell's duel with Paul Tracy in 1993, Andre Ribeiro's first-ever Indycar win for Honda in 1995 and the 2011 race that saw a controversial re-start in wet conditions and the five-car pileup that followed.
On Thursday night, the Lionheart Retro Series visited iRacing's virtual replica of the track for the 143-lap Indy Elite Grand Prix of Loudon. When the checkered flag flew, Jake Wright emerged as the winner of a sim race that was easily as memorable and surprising as some of its real-life counterparts.
Wright, who qualified fourteenth, found himself in the lead with 24 laps to go thanks to a risky pit strategy that left him several laps short on fuel. During the final run, Wright was saving fuel and surrendered the lead briefly to Matthew Mercer, who was also short on fuel. Mercer pitted two laps later, putting Wright back in the lead just before a race-ending caution flag flew with three laps remaining.
Even under the final caution laps it remained unclear if Wright had enough fuel to follow the pace car to the checkered flag. Luckily, he managed to nurse the car to the finish line and claim his first win in the Retro Series. The victory pushed him ahead of Ryan Otis and into the overall points lead.
“I'm still in shock; I have no idea how that happened!” said Wright in victory lane. “I didn't have the speed; all I could hope for tonight was strategy.”
“That was an extremely lucky race for me,” he added. “That wasn't the first time I almost ran out of fuel. That first pit stop I was distracted and almost didn't come down pit road when I needed to; I ended up getting lucky with the caution coming out right then.”
Scott Bolster finished second thanks to the same risky fuel strategy.
“One hundred percent there was a ten percent chance that I was going to make it,” joked Bolster after the race. “It's so much fun racing with these guys. You know the guy you're going side-by-side, wheel-to-wheel with is going to be able to race you clean and hard. That's what makes this series a lot of fun!”
Pete Edwins brought his Lotus 79 home in third place. Unlike Wright and Bolster, Edwins remained confident that he had enough fuel to finish without the late yellow.
“My Z1 dashboard said I had enough to make it,” said Edwins, who started twenty-ninth after some qualifying issues. “I started laying off a little bit. I was taking it easier through the corners just to give myself a bit of extra fuel.”
The late-race caution was not good news for some of the sim racers who were quickly chasing down Wright, Bolster and Edwins. Chris Lanini, who chose a safer fuel strategy, finished fourth after leading a race-high 60 laps. Jason Galvin, who also believed he was good on fuel, came fifth.
Robert Mikes, Patrick Taylor, Travis Jegerlehner, Joe Hassert and Matthew Mercer rounded out the top ten. Overall, the race was slowed by 4 cautions for 14 laps, with the only major incident taking place on the second lap and collecting six cars.
Wright now holds a 44-point lead on Ryan Otis for the series championship. Robert Mikes sits third, just 53 points back. Jason Galvin and Travis Jegerlehner round out the top five.
The sim race was presented by Joe Branch and the Indy Oval Elite Series. The open-setup DW-12 Indycar league will feature its crown jewel event on May 7th with the Indianapolis 500 presented by Apex InfoTech. The 200-lap sim race will be broadcast live on RaceSpot at 7:00PM ET.
The Lionheart Retro Series also has a lot to look forward to in the weeks to come. On May 11th, the series will visit the streets of Long Beach for the Lionheart Grand Prix of Long Beach. The event will not be broadcast but the series will return to the Global Sim Racing Channel (GSRC) and iRacing Live on June 1st for a 250-mile battle at Indianapolis – the second leg of the 2017 Triple Crown. Coverage will begin at 10:35PM ET.