It was a lovely day in the neighborhood at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Thursday for the Firestone Indy Lights practice and qualifying. The weather was in the eighties – warm and sunny with blue skies. The 13-mph brisk breeze cut the heat, and fluffy clouds were in and out during the session, making for perceived differing qualifying conditions.

The puffy, fluffy clouds should make for a beautiful sunset.

WADE CUNNINGHAM/No.11 Sam Schmidt Motorsports of New Zealand has the pole position with a time of 1:34.6485/190.177 mph. He was nineteenth to go out. “You just have to work hard and have the best car you can and take the conditions as they come. You never have a perfect car and when you do, you win.”

Beside Cunningham on the front row is the top Rookie of 12 this weekend – SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA/No.27 AFS Racing, Inc. of Colombia.

Points leader, Rookie JONATHAN SUMMERTON/No.9 RLR/Andersen Racing, starts nineteenth. There are 29 drivers in the standings.

Of the 22 cars in the field, only seven are from the United States. The remaining drivers come from Brazil – 3; England – 3; Canada – 2; Colombia – 2; and one each from Australia, Chile, Ireland, Netherlands and New Zealand.

Cunningham’s teammate, ANA BEATRIZ/No.20 of Brazil, is the top female in field, in fourth position. She was the first to qualify. “It’s so bad to qualify first because you have no test of what people are doing.” Beatriz, who hopes to run IndyCar next year, is in her second full season in Indy Lights, and is seventh in the standings, 29 points behind Summerton. The 24-year old finished third in the standings last season, was the first female to win an Indy Lights race-Nashville last July, and won the 2008 Firestone Indy Lights Rising Star Award. This season her best start was third at Kansas, where she also finished fourth. Her other two top five finishes were fourth at St. Petersburg and fifth at Long Beach.

The other female Indy Lights driver at Indy is PIPPA MANN/No.16 Panther Racing, who hails from England and will start eighth. “The wind and temperature were a little bit of a factor, but it was pretty much the same for everyone. It’s a random draw – somebody gets a little cloud and gets a little extra, and somebody gets the sunshine gets a little less.” Mann is a Rookie and this is only her fifth start. Her first three races were on street courses and IMS is only her second start on an oval. Kansas Speedway is 1.52 miles long, while The Brickyard is 2.5-miles. The best start for the 26-year old was fifth at Kansas and her best finish was fourteenth at Long Beach. Mann is currently nineteenth in the standings.

Friday’s 40-lap race starts at 12:30 PM EDT, with pre-race activities and live race telecast  shown on VERSUS.

While the young guns were having a go at setting the grid for the Firestone Freedom 100 race Friday afternoon, the IndyCar Indianapolis 500 drivers had more time off from driving. They  spent a relatively relaxing afternoon having media interviews in a controlled, round-robin bull pen setup. The teams in the garage were working but not feverishly and many knocked off mid-afternoon.

One quick anecdote: WILL POWER/No.12 Penske Racing has a brother, DAMIAN POWER, who does stand-up comedy. But Will does a good imitation of JERRY SEINFELD talking about oval track racing.