When history looks back at the 2018 season in the Lionheart Retro Series presented by HPP Simulation, Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois will likely be the race circled as most pivotal in the championship fight.
Adam Blocker held off intense challenges from some of the best open wheel drivers on the iRacing.com service, edging defending series champion Jake Wright by 0.016 seconds to win the Mental Health Awareness 200 Thursday night.
It was win number five for Blocker, and catapulted him to the top of the standings, 27 ahead of rival Alex Saunders, who crashed out of the event while leading on lap 142.
“That was a really hard fight all the way through,” Blocker said. “It’s really unfortunate that Saunders had some bad luck again, but it helped me out a lot. I came out of the pits and was looking around as the yellow came out, and that’s when I realized Saunders was out. It was a really fun race.”
Blocker and Saunders swapped the lead lap after lap, sometimes multiple times per lap, for the majority of the race. When Blocker hit pit road for fuel with 20 laps remaining, Saunders stayed out for one last circuit on light fuel and without any traffic.
The decision could cost him the championship.
As Saunders entered turn one, the back of his Nighthawk Motorsports Lotus 79 came around. Saunders clobbered the wall, and then appeared to run out of fuel on pit road, compounding the mistake.
The league leader in wins (7) retired in 17th, and was left to watch Blocker fend off challenges each lap, first by Jason Galvin and then by Wright.
“Galvin and Jake were both right there,” Blocker said. “They’re both pretty good in this car. It wasn’t easy to get the win.”
Wright came home second, the best run of the season for one of the all-time greats in the Lionheart Racing Series.
“There wasn’t really a move I could make in the final ten laps without spinning or losing third,” Wright said. “But then Galvin got loose and it opened the door, and I had a chance at the end. I love this track.”
James Brant was able to squeak past Galvin, who bobbled while trying to pass Blocker on the outside of turn three with three laps remaining.
“That was almost like Indy,” said Galvin, referring to his spin on the penultimate lap at Indianapolis Motor Speedway while trying to pass Alex Saunders for the win. “Adam did the right thing. He kept leaving the bottom open, and I would get loose, but I could drive through it. When I had to go up top, there was far less grip, and the car snapped hard. I was lucky to catch it. But Adam was definitely the best car tonight.”
Brant was elated to find the podium.
“It was a fun race, the car really changed throughout the stint,” Brant said. “I was just trying to keep up with the guys up front. I didn’t have a lot for them, they were going at it so hard.”
A highlight of the event was the Lionheart debut of part-time Verizon IndyCar Series star Sage Karam. The five time Indianapolis 500 starter qualified eleventh, but quickly drove to the front, leading three laps before being taken out by a spinning Brian Yaczik on lap 67.
Similarly to the Saunders spin, Yaczik lost control entering turn one and slid up the track into Karam. Michael Goodman had a nearly identical spin on lap three that eliminated five cars, including contender Justin Weaver.
The team championship is tight, with debutants Raven Motorsports and 8 Ball Motorsports exchanging big swings in momentum. After 8 Ball closed the gap to seven, Raven pulled back away following Gateway and the lead now sits at 70.
Just three races remain in the Lionheart Retro Series presented by HPP Simulation season.
The series heads to Montreal and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on October 18, followed by a return to the states and Road America on November 1. Blocker is the defending winner of that event.
Saunders has been slightly better than Blocker on road courses this season, but the duo have been untouchable by other drivers in the league, leaving what appears to be minimal opportunity for Saunders to close the gap before the double points season finale at Auto club Speedway November 29.
The Skid Mark Motorsports Grand Prix of Canada can be seen live on the iRacing eSports Network, presented by the Global SimRacing Channel, at 10:35 p.m. EST on Thursday, October 18.