That’s right, earlier this summer, the Lionheart league members gathered at the real-world Iowa IndyCar race to cheer on series driver Sage Karam as he tried to tame the short, tricky oval. Now, several months later they return in virtual form to try to tame it themselves in the Birky Trucking 200 at Iowa Speedway.
Last time out at Gateway, it was Andrew Kinsella charging from 5th to first in the last 20 laps of the race to take the win at the Von Hanson’s 200. On his charge, Kinsella passed the Skid Mark Motorsports trio of Brian Beard, Bart Workman and James Brant, who finished 2nd through 4th, as well as Justin Weaver, who faded from the lead on the restart to 5th in the final standings. The win pushes Kinsella into 5th all-time in wins with 8, passing Jonathan Goke. An interesting statistic; all 8 of Kinsella’s wins have been by less than 1 second, and 7 of them have been by less than half a second. This week’s margin of victory? 0.119 seconds.
Just 16 of 29 cars were running at the end as the race produced tight drafting action and some impatient driving lead to a slew of early incidents. Early contenders Dustin Wardlow, Joe Flanagan, Chris Stofer, Big Joe Hassert and others all found themselves caught up in accidents, their nights over before they really got going. But after a caution on lap 60, suddenly it seemed like everyone remembered just how much time was left. Where before we saw multiple passes per lap, suddenly the leaders were more interested in clicking away the miles then with fighting for every inch. The only blemish from them to the end was a spin on pit exit for Connor Harrington, which brought out the final caution midway through a pit cycle, shuffling the order. Leaders Brian Yaczik, Adam Blocker, Harrington and Kinsella found themselves at the bottom half of the top 10 instead of the top half. Kinsella made it back up, but the other 3 did not.
In the points standings, Adam Blocker continues to hold a 263-point lead over Dan Geren, after they finished 11th and 12th respectively. With the win, Kinsella pulls to within 66 points of Dan Geren for 2nd place, while Weaver pulls ahead of Stephen Laarkamp for 4th position, 24 points back of Kinsella.
Looking ahead to this week’s race, the Lionheart Series is returning home to Iowa, site of the annual real-world league meet-up. In last year’s race, Adam Blocker, Michael Goodman, Scotty Johnson and Chris Lanini were the 4 drivers to be on the right pit strategy when a caution flew, trapping the rest of the drivers one lap down. Blocker would barely beat Michael Goodman to the line by a scant 0.034 seconds, the 8th closest finish in league history.
On a short fast oval like Iowa, pit strategy could once again come into play Pitting early will give drivers a distinct speed and tire advantage, but will also temporarily put them not just 1 but 2 laps down. Will the risk outweigh the reward? For some drivers, the answer will undoubtedly be yes, as short pitting could see them build healthy advantages. But for guys who are light on the loud pedal; guys like Joe Branch, Brian Beard, Chris Lanini, and Bark Workman, it could also present an opportunity to trap them, just as Blocker did one year ago.
Last week’s winner has also traditionally run strong at Iowa. Kinsella finished 2nd in his rookie season, and last year was the only driver to successfully un-lap himself on pace alone. 3 of Kinsella’s 8 wins have been on short ovals, while a further 3 have been at tracks with progressive banking similar to what we see in Iowa. It is safe to safe the Canadian will be looking to go back to back this week to turn up the heat on Dan Geren.
Speaking of Geren, the Lionheart King of qualifying is facing a bit of a conundrum this week. Geren knows how to extract one-lap qualifying speed better than any driver in the series, however, not one single winner in 6 previous seasons has come from the pole. If you’re Dan Geren, do you hang back a bit in Qualifying, knowing the history, or are you simply determined to break the trend, and become the first? Knowing what we know about Geren, he should be a lock for somewhere near the sharp end of the grid and the final standings.
The rookie standings received a big shake-up last week, with Mike Rigney moving back into 1st place, as Damon Martinez drops 6 points behind Rigney due to a 24th place DNF at Gateway. In fact, Rigney was the only rookie in the top 5 to be running at the end, with a solid 7th place finish. Rigney has been coming on strong in recent races, finishing 9th, at Charlotte and 3rd at Richmond in 2 of the previous 4 races. With 6 races remaining, staying consistent and getting those top 10’s will likely be the right recipe for leaving the Auto Club finale with the rookie title.
As always, the Lionheart Series can be watched live on the iRacing eSports Network, presented by GSRC. The Iowa 200 presented by Birky Trucking will fire off this Wednesday, October 23rd at 10:35 pm Eastern.