Alex Saunders began his pursuit of a championship in the best way possible, winning the Sam Maxwell Customs Miami 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway Thursday night.

“This is a great start to the season,” Saunders said. “It sucks that Adam (Blocker) isn’t around to defend his title, but this field is pretty stacked still. It won’t be easy. This was fun.”

Alex Saunders begins his championship pursuit with a win

Saunders dominated the event, leading a race-high 57 laps, and helping put to bed some of the bad memories from the season finale in 2018. Saunders lost the championship by a single point to Adam Blocker, who did not return for the 2019 season.

“It got really hectic there, and I hate it for Ryan (Otis) that the race ended that way,” Saunders said.

The race finished under caution after Ryan Otis – the championship runner-up in 2017 – pushed up into Saunders as the cars exited turn four with six laps to go. Otis spun low and avoided the wall. But the caution flew as he rejoined the field, with another pack charging forward.

Ryan Otis spins from second

By that point, only five laps remained, and the race never restarted.

Rookie Nathan Lewis was just ahead of Jorge Anzaldo in a great battle for second and third.

The podium was a strong statement from Anzaldo, who spent much of the evening in the lead pack.

“This is my first Retro podium,” Anzaldo said. “What a race, that was awesome. I just didn’t have enough to get up there at the end.”

Ken Hacker and pole winner Sage Karam rounded out the top five.

The race was slowed six times for cautions, but none had a bigger impact than the final.

In 2017, Ryan Otis gave Jake Wright all he could handle in the inaugural season of the Lionheart Retro Series presented by ButtKicker.

After a season off, all of the preseason talks have centred on Otis and Saunders, and they didn’t disappoint Thursday night.

Otis was able to get going and salvage a 12th place finish after the spin.

Attention will no doubt once again be on these two as the Lionheart Retro Series presented by ButtKicker heads to the winding roads of Watkins Glen and the Classic Boot layout for round two.

The SimXperiance Grand Prix at the Glen can be seen live on the iRacing eSports Network with coverage from Global SimRacing Channel at 10:35 p.m. EST on Thursday, March 21.

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