WADE CUNNINGHAM/No.11 Sam Schmidt Motorsports played a waiting game Friday afternoon and it paid off with a victory in the Firestone Freedom 100 Indy Lights Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Although he had the pole position, he relinquished the lead on Lap Two to Rookie SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA/27 AFS Racing. Cunningham retook the lead four more times, the last time on the white flag lap to run for the win. His first words in the media press conference: “I had the car to win the pole” and he won the race. “But it was not easy. It was like I was in a bar fight and had too many glasses.”
Cunningham, who led five times for 14 laps, said he knew early on that his gear ratio wasn’t the right one for running up front. So his strategy was to give up position in the beginning, maintain an up-front position, and then go for it at the end. “The last lap was nerve wracking. It was such a relief and joy when I got the checkered flag.”
J.R. HILDEBRAND/No.26 AFS Racing came in second after leading twice for 23 laps – the most of any leader. He finished .1046 seconds behind Cunningham, the closest ever margin of victory in the history of the Firestone Freedom 100. Hildebrand turned the fastest race lap of 0:47.1775/190.769 mph on Lap Three. He now is the Indy Lights points leader, with a third at St. Petersburg and Long Beach.
Charging from eighteenth position in a 22-car field to finish third was Rookie MARIO ROMANCINI/No.5 RLD/Andersen Racing. He was the top Rookie of 12 in the field. He also finished third at Kansas Speedway, his first oval race.
JAY HOWARD/No.37 Team PBIR was fourth, followed by Saavedra, who led once for three laps.
There were nine lead changes among the three drivers, the most lead changes in series history.
Cunningham won the Freedom 100 race in 2006 and this was his sixth series victory.
It was the third Freedom 100 win for his Sam Schmidt Motorsports team.
Three drivers were involved in crashes, and all have been checked and released to drive by DR. MICHAEL OLINGER, medical director for the Indy Racing League.. Rookies MARTIN PLOWMAN/No.15 Panther Racing and GUSTAVO YACAMAN/No.44 Sam Schmidt Motorsports were unhurt. ANA BEATRIZ/No.20 Sam Schmidt Motorsports was treated for a small chin laceration. X-rays of her left knee and right elbow proved negative.
Plowman spun and had a hard rear end hit into the Turn One SAFER Barrier. He clipped Rookie PIPPA MANN/No.16 Panther Racing, which flattened her right side tires. Plowman retired. Mann pitted and retired.
Beatriz and Yacaman touched wheels, spinning her nose hard into the Turn One wall. He lightly rear ended the SAFER Barrier and spun across track. Both retired.
CHARLIE KIMBALL/No.35 Team PBIR rear ended MIKE POTEKHEN/No.24 Alliance Motorsports, spinning him around. Both pitted and retired.
Four cautions took 17 of the 40 laps
The Firestone Indy Lights Series next race is Sunday 31 May 2009 at The Milwaukee Mile.