Photo Credit: Chris Fowler
The Lionheart Retro Series Presented by SimXperience will be heading to the virtual Tricky Triangle for the first race of the 2021 Triple Crown, The Watchman 250.
Pocono Raceway is known for its close finishes in the series with the margin of victory being no more than 0.117 seconds the previous four seasons.
Last year, Lionel Calisto took the checkered flag on a one-lap shootout ahead of Aaron Morgan by 0.071 seconds, the 15th closest finish in series history.
“I was very surprised,” said Calisto. “I was thinking I was going to finish around the top 10 that race. I didn't think I was going to pull off the win on the final restart with one lap to go.”
Morgan said thinking back to last year’s race brought pure disappointment and stayed with him until winning the SimXperience Grand Prix of Mosport last round.
“The race was handed to me on a silver platter, and I just threw it away,” said Morgan. “I played out the last lap restart in my head five times. I knew exactly what to do. The time came I cleared him out of turn 2, and was clear to take the clearly dominant outside line, and I just didn't. I don't know why. That race haunted me all the way until my first win two weeks ago.”
The races have been known for their close racing and attrition. Pocono has had no less than six cautions in a race and nine each of the past two seasons. Morgan expects the field to be grouped together in a pack much of the race.
“Racing at Pocono in these cars, based on last year's event, is close quarters,” said Ricky Hardin, who enters the race second in the points standings. “The car pulls up well around most of the track, and is really only sketchy in turn 3, where the track is flatter. It makes it easy to set up passes and can be a chess match to put your car in the right place at the right time.”
Drivers expect to go 35-37 laps on fuel for the race depending on if they are in the pack or in clean air.
“There's really two big strategies which will be a factor. Will the final stop be early or late,” said Morgan. “Pitting doesn't lose you a lap here, and since tires aren't a factor that means a late caution could promote any early stoppers to the front for free. However, if there isn't a caution in the last stint, the pack that stays out longer will have a huge pace advantage that can't be overcome. They'll open up a sizable gap that won't be broken without a caution flag.”
Hardin said last season, he was one touch or hit away from being disqualified due to the incident limit. That impacted how aggressive he could run the closing stages of the race. He expects to be in the conversation for the win this season. He also wants to win the series’ Triple Crown title for 2021.
“To be in position to win, you have to make some aggressive moves to make sure you position yourself right,” said Hardin. “Late in the race, I anticipate the car being very loose coming through the final turn, so you have to be willing to risk it all in the closing laps.”
Morgan said his preparation has been limited due to a planned move on Friday. Morgan plans to pack up his equipment the moment the race is over. He said his goal is to finish inside the top five.
“It's going to be a race of survival like most pack races,” said Morgan. “I'm not a fan of pack racing at all, but I've always loved this track so I'm entering with a lot of emotions from a lot of different things. The missed win last year, the first win last race, my sponsor's big race with another watch up for grabs, I'm about to move into my first house literally five minutes after the race. I might even have my friends here in person too to help move boxes which is a huge factor to my state of mind as well.
“Then there's just the anxiousness over pack racing when in real life just hasn't let me have the practice. It's going to be a wild race for me. I'm hoping I can just survive and hit my goal.”
Race coverage for The Watchman 250 and the first race of the Lionheart Retro Series Presented by SimXperience Triple Crown begins at 10:35 p.m. ET on April 29 on RaceSpot TV and ESTV.