Alex Saunders did his job. The championship in the Lionheart Retro Series presented by HPP Simulation will come down to the final race, and likely the highest finishing car in the hunt.
The rookie led all 31 laps, from the pole, while running an incident-free race to score the maximum number of points while winning the LPM Grand Prix of Road America Thursday night.
Saunders trails race runner-up Adam Blocker by nine points heading into the double points season finale at Auto Club Speedway.
“It was a good race,” Saunders said. “We did a lot of fuel saving in the second stint. But it was a good race.”
Saunders got a jump on the start, while Justin Weaver pulled around Adam Blocker into turn one. The move was all Saunders needed, as Blocker moved back into second a lap later but never challenged for the lead.
“I think it’s kind of a coin flip at the last race,” Saunders said. “I think Adam said that a few races ago as well. I think back to Michigan where I got taken out in a wreck that I was a bystander in. It’s going to be one of those races of survival.”
Blocker was disappointed with his qualifying effort, saying the race was over before it started when Saunders got the jump at the green.
“I think I could’ve gotten pole,” Blocker said. “I was up by a few hundredths going into the final corner and I spun. Then I lost that spot to Justin at the start and that put me even more behind. Pace was pretty comparable but once you lose a little bit of time it’s all over.”
The nine point gap could be easily overcome in the finale at Auto Club Speedway, which figures to be a crapshoot given the pack racing tendencies of the Lionheart Retro Series Lotus L79 and the double points available.
120 points is available to the race winner, with 10 point drops back to second and third, and 10 more from third back to fifth (with a six point gap to fourth from third). Bonus points are also doubled, awarding 2 points for an incident-free race, 2 for leading a lap and 2 for leading the most laps, plus 2 for winning the pole.
With up to eight bonus points on the line, Saunders could put the pressure on Blocker to finish no more than one spot behind if both cars fall out of the top five.
Blocker holds the tiebreaker with 8 wins to Saunders 5.
Justin Weaver finished third at Road America. The second-year driver out of Tennessee had a clean race and was never challenged after settling in behind the two title contenders. The finish catapulted Weaver to fifth in points.
“I just tried to keep it on the track and have a clean race,” Weaver said. “Road America is probably one of my favorite tracks. I let Adam know I was there early, but then I just kinda had to ride.”
Jason Galvin rallied from a poor qualifying run finish fourth, charging from his 15th starting spot and picking off cars throughout the 31 lap event.
”What a fun race,” Galvin said. “I really messed up qualifying. I think I had the race pace to run with Justin, but when I started 15th I just wanted to get through the field and help our team as much as I could. I think I accomplished that.”
Michael Goodman rounded out the top five, and closed to four points back of Dustin Wardlow for third in the championship standings.
Wardlow was the first car out of the race, wrecking in the final corner of the opening lap after hopping the curb.
Andrew Kinsella found similar poor luck just after pit stops, crashing out of fourth as Galvin closed in, with a nearly identical crash to Wardlow’s.
12 cars finished on the lead lap, capped by series founder Jorge Anzaldo.
The Lionheart Retro Series takes Thanksgiving week off and turns its attention to the end of the season, with the Lionheart Championship 250 presented by Dewar’s Candy.
All 125 laps of the Triple Crown race can be seen live on the iRacing eSports Network presented by Global SimRacing Channel at 10:35 p.m. EST Thursday, November 29.