The Firestone Indy Lights drivers at Indianapolis Motor Speedway put on a show Friday that won’t soon be forgotten. Not only did the Freedom 100 Race come down to the final corner on the final lap with four drivers driving side by side for a photo finish, they did it with respect and sportsmanship. No rough driving, no crashing, just clean, side-by-side racing, with the closest-ever oval Margin of Victory in the history of The Brickyard…0.0026 seconds.
PETER DEMPSEY/Belardi Auto Racing Honda eased into the already three-wide lineup and held off Rookies GABBY CHAVES and pole sitter SAGE KARAM/Schmidt Peterson Racing c/w Curb-Agajanian, and points leader, CARLOS MUNOZ/Andretti Autosport, who fell from first to fourth on the last lap.
Afterwards, Karom voiced what many thought and said about the young lions and their exciting finish. “The IndyCar drivers know now we race each other with respect. We’re supposed to be the up and coming. We showed some really good sportsmanship out there and raced each other really clean. So hopefully when we get there, we’ll race them with respect. JOSEF NEWGARDEN came down to commend us on our driving.”
Newgarden, a sophomore IndyCar driver with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, had been in the TV broadcast booth doing color commentary, along with DAVY HAMILTON and MICHAEL KING. At the finish Newgarden jumped up with both hands in the air yelling with excitement.
Dempsey, hot off his first-ever Lights victory, said “Hats off to the other three guys. We all raced each other so fair, and that’s what racing is about for me. They could have put me into the wall there coming to the line, but fortunately they left me just enough room to squeeze by. That’s exactly what this series needed. You’re not going to get it better than four-wide across the line. I can’t complain about an Irishman coming across there first.”
STEFAN WILSON, brother of IndyCar driver, JUSTIN WILSON/Dale Coyne Racing, was spotting for Dempsey. Wilson told Dempsey “they’re all going to spread out coming to the line. Once we went three wide, my bloody car just soaked up like a dream and Gabby Chaves left me enough room along the wall, and — happy days — I crossed the line first by two thousandths. This is the one race we wanted to try to win and we pulled it off. For me to win in front of so many spectators and to give them such a great show as well is what’s needed for the junior formula. So hopefully this helps and roll on to the next race.”
Chaves’s take post-race: “I thought it was going to be three-wide at the finish, and all of a sudden here comes Peter and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, how can I make my car wider.’ He got me by a hair or two. I’m definitely going to have nightmares over this.
“It was really close and I knew if the line was three feet further back, it would have been my race. I’m going to have a talk with the track engineer. But what a race. I can’t complain. If not this time, next time.”
Polesitter Karom led the first 27 laps, before being passed by Munoz, who led the next 12 laps of the 40-lap race. Karom finished third.
“I said I wanted to stay in second the whole race and last lap, Turn Three, make a move. Carlos blocked well low, which I expected, and I went high. Gabby got a good draft and he made it three-wide. Gosh, I didn’t breathe, I think, that whole lap. It just was, just being so precise in the middle of two cars. I’m like feeling the wind off his tires and Carlos’ tires, and it’s just like swaying my car just like very little, and I’m just like trying to keep it as right in the middle as possible. I got to feel like those little string things that come off the Firestone tires, the sidewalls, I swear I think they were like rubbing each other. It was insane. So then I looked in my mirrors and saw Dempsey coming up high, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to get third.’ And that’s what we got. It’s a heartbreaker. Me and Gabby live in the same apartment complex, so I’m pretty sure all the neighbors are going to hear us crying each other to sleep.”
Karom later said he watched the replay about thirty times. “It never gets old and the results never change.”
The one caution was for Rookie KYLE O’GARA/SFHRD/RW/SPM-Moynahan Williams, who spun out on the second lap and hit the Turn Four wall. He was unhurt, but retired.
Dempsey turned the race’s fastest time of 191.770 mph on Lap 33.
Munoz continues to lead the standings, with 167 points, with Dempsey now second with 140, Chaves is third with 139 and Karom fourth with 138. Fifth in points is Rookie JACK HAWKSWORTH/Schmidt Peterson Racing c/w Curb Agajanian with 132 points. He finished tenth after an accident.
The race was well-received on the live NBCSN telecast and with the many fans in the grandstands, who were on their feet cheering the last lap. Many estimated the 2013 Carb Day crowd larger than 2012.
The next Firestone Indy Lights race is 14-15 June, 2013 at The Milwaukee Mile.