Connor Harrington made a statement Wednesday night.
The second year driver in the Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment captured his second-career victory after a thrilling battle with Chris Stofer and Joe Hassert over the final laps of the First Medical Equipment 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“What a great race,” said Harrington. “Chris really made me earn that one.”
Harrington is among a handful of championship favorites coming into the season, in a year in which the title is seemingly wide-open. Two-time defending series champion Adam Blocker missed the event due to his real-life IndyCar work commitments, while multi-time championship runner-up Dan Geren is taking a year off from competition.
“Chris and I, I think we read each other’s mind at the start of the race and we were able to build a lead,” said Harrington, who led 41 laps. “I think Chris was probably the better car tonight. But it was about timing as to who was out front, whoever got lucky. I ended up with the lead on the final restarts and that made the difference.”
The race ran caution-free for over 90 laps, allowing Harrington and Stofer to distance themselves from the field. But a pair of late-race cautions set up an intense battle over the closing laps between Harrington, Stofer and Hassert.
“I was happy to bring it home second,” said Stofer, who led a race-high 71 laps. “I was happy for (Harrington) to win. I have to thank him for working with me.”
The race saw incredible hype following the announcement that hardware manufacturer HyperX had joined as the presenting league sponsor and official gaming peripheral partner of the Lionheart Racing Series powered by HyperX.
Big Joe Hassert, always strong on ovals and at Homestead-Miami Speedway, finished third, a spot he ran in for much of the event.
”I just got stuck behind the swap-draft, I tried to get a few runs but my car got too tight,” Hassert said. “Chris and Connor really made it tough. I kinda got boxed in at the end there and pushed off four, I was trying to get second at least. We’re off to a good start.”
Brian Yaczik and series debutant Joshua Chin rounded out the top five.
Brian Beard captured his first-career pole and led eleven early laps before being involved in the first caution on lap 18. Beard recovered to finish eleventh, but eight of the 37 entrants saw their race come to an end, including former race winners Justin Weaver, James Krahula and Scotty Johnson.
The second caution flew on lap 120 when teammates Ken Hacker and Dustin Wardlow collided in turn three following a miscommunication.
George Sandman stayed out while the rest of the field hit pit road for fresh tires.
On the ensuing restart, Harrington and Stofer both got around Sandman.
One lap later, Brandon Limkemann and rookie Arjuna Kankipati made contact on the back straight, bringing out the final caution and setting up a 4 lap sprint to the finish.
Sandman’s gamble backfired when he was hung out on the top line with two laps to go, plummeting to 15th.
The back half of the top ten included rookie Richard Hollyday, championship contender Andrew Kinsella, Jason Galvin, Joe Branch and Stephen Laarkamp.
19 drivers finished on the lead lap.
It was an excellent debut week for the Lionheart Racing Series powered by HyperX, as the newly founded Lionheart Challenge Series ran caution-free in a non-televised event Thursday. Dylan McKenna led 60 laps en route to winning the inaugural race in the new development series, aimed at getting drivers laps with the same setups and tracks raced in the Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical equipment.
The Lionheart Retro Series presented by DMLC Racing Channel is next to kick off its season. The Lotus 79 series opens up at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the DMLC Racing Channel Grand Prix of Homestead. The race can be seen Thursday, March 19 at 10:35 p.m. EST live on the iRacing eSports Network with production from Global SimRacing Channel.
The next event in the Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment is set for Wednesday, March 25. The Ascher Racing Grand Prix at the Glen can be seen live on the iRacing eSports Network at 10:35 p.m. EST, with production again from Global SimRacing Channel.