Last week after the Firestone Indy Lights race at Barber Motorsports Park, I went on a bit of a rant regarding the need for these young aspiring drivers to learn a modicum of control. Apparently, many of their team managers went on similar rants as this week’s race on the Streets of Long Beach was far less chaotic. To be sure there were incidents and accidents, but just your normal racing incident type of things, not the mass carnage and mayhem we saw at Barber.
For a circuit that has a reputation of being the “Monaco of the US” as much for its scenic location as for its lack of passing, there was a great deal of racing action in both the Firestone Indy Lights race and the IZOD IndyCar Series race. While the IndyCar race took a while to get the action heated up, the battle for the lead was joined early, with O2 Racing Technology’s Peter Dempsey and pole-sitter Esteban Guerrieri Sam Schmidt Motorsport struggling for the lead right from the drop of the green flag. Peter would take that lead in Turn 9 of the opening lap and proceed to build a bit of a gap between himself and the rest of the field. Behind him, Guerrieri’s teammate, Josef Newgarden would also make it around Esteban where he would then focus on chasing down Dempsey. Dempsey’s lead continued to grow and was up to a second and a half by Lap 10 when things went sour. Peter was caught out by the bumpy approach to Turn 9 and ended up overshooting the turn, stuffing his race car into the tire barrier. The impact was enough to end his race taking him from first to worst.
“First off, I’d like to thank my team, O2 Racing Technology for doing an absolutely outstanding job all weekend. We proved we are here on a mission to fight for the championship, and it’s very exciting that we can give the Sam Schmidt Motorsports cars a run for their money this season.
“Going into the race, I had a great first lap and got around the leader pretty easily. We both started on used tires, but mine came in a little faster than his, so I made the move pretty cleanly to take the lead. After that, I just focused on trying to establish a comfortable gap over the car in second place. I was feeling good in the car, and it was handling the way we expected. Unfortunately, coming down into turn nine, I just made a slight mistake on the downshift and got the gearbox caught in between two gears. I then got too wide, clipped the tire barrier, and put the No. 36 O2RT/Pulse/Microbiology International/Motorsport Ireland/Irish Sports Council car out of race.
“I’d like to thank all of my sponsors, Pulse, Microbiology International, Motorsport Ireland, and the Irish Sports Council, for their continued support so far this season. I cannot wait to take them all to victory lane very soon.” — Peter Dempsey, #36 O2 Racing Technology
Dempsey’s error opened the door for Newgarden who assumed the lead over Guerrieri. It was a Sam Schmidt Motorsports 1-2-3 as 2010 Star Mazda Championship winner and fellow Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver Conor Daly was in third behind Esteban. Conor would soon pass one teammate, Esteban, to gain P2 and then poured on the aggression to keep up with Newgarden. Keeping up turned out to be the best that he could manage. Josef would stretch out a bit of a lead, but he never could break cleanly away from Conor, either. In the end, the pressure Daly applied perhaps pushed Newgarden into a mistake. Like Dempsey before him, Newgarden would enter the Turn 9 braking zone slightly off line and was caught off-guard by one of the bumps on Lap 41 of 45. Locking the brakes and overshooting the turn, he hit the tire barrier in nearly the exact same place as Dempsey did 31 laps earlier.
“This is probably the toughest moment I have had in my career. It is not something you can plan for. It is certainly the first time this has happened to me, and it isn’t a fun feeling to have. I think I just caught the drain ditch and it popped me up on the ground. I hadn’t hit it all weekend, so it caught me off-guard when it happened. It just caught the front end up and it was very difficult to save it. It is too bad for all the guys. I thought we were going to have a great weekend here, and it is unfortunate that it finished the way it did. There is a long season ahead of us and I am anxious to test on an oval this week” — Josef Newgarden, #11 Sam Schmidt Motorsport
Newgarden’s mistake would bring out a full-course caution and boost Conor Daly to P1. With only four laps remaining, the race would end under caution and Daly in his third race in Firestone Indy Lights not only won his first Indy Lights race, but also took over the championship points lead. All very interesting for a driver who will not be contesting the full season and will be sitting out the next few events as Bryan Clausen will step into the #77 car for the oval events, beginning with the Firestone Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It’s pretty unbelievable. You know, I got here late and didn’t get to practice Friday. I wish I could have run the first session but just missed it. The car was fantastic again. The Sam Schmidt Motorsports team does a great job doing what they do – preparing the cars – and that made it just a little bit easier to kind of jump in and find the limit. The whole race I was really just learning the track, still. I kind of saw a few things Josef was doing, and my car was really consistent through the whole race, so I was able to kind of find little bits here and there and just be able to start putting quicker and quicker laps together. And when I got up right behind him, I was kind of worried because, when I had the best run, my car skipped third gear and went to fourth. The next lap, it did the same thing. So, it was a bit of a stressful situation because I saw Esteban closing on me pretty quickly when that happened, and I just had to really concentrate on getting the car from third to fourth gear. Eventually, I caught back up to Josef and he unfortunately went off, and it was tough to see that when Sam Schmidt Motorsports was in that position for one-two-three. But, I’ll take it.” — Conor Daly, #11 Sam Schmidt Motorsports
Certainly for any one who’s followed the Firestone Indy Lights series in past years knows that its no surprise to see the Sam Schmidt Motorsports team consistently near the front. However, it was also pretty much a given that if a Sam Schmidt car wasn’t in the lead, it was likely to be an Andretti Autosport car. This season, though, the Andretti team has been slow out of the blocks. At St. Petersburg, James Winslow would finish in P10 and Stefan Wilson would end up in dead last in P16. Definitely not the start the team was hoping for 2011. Things started to turn around at Barber as Winslow would take another P10 finish, but Wilson would chase the eventual race winner, Victor Garcia, and score the teams first podium with a P2 finish. This weekend was even better for the team, as Wilson would once again find the podium scoring a P3 finish behind Daly and Guerrieri.
“We looked like we were in good shape before qualifying yesterday. The car was definitely good enough for the front row. Starting P6, we weren’t sure what to expect. We knew turn one would be crucial. I was actually surprised by the race pace today. We were doing almost qualifying times, even quicker, during the race. That just shows how the conditions affected us, compared to yesterday. Two podiums in two weeks is a good way to lead into May.” — Stephan Wilson, #5 Andretti Autosport
It was definitely an exciting race with some good action and even more startling mistakes from the lead that took out two drivers everyone was sure were going to run away with the race. Just goes to show that in racing, especially on city streets, things can go from epic win to epic fail in the blink of an eye!
Official Race Results
Firestone Indy Lights
Long Beach 100
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Results Sunday of the Grand Prix of Long Beach Firestone Indy Lights event on the 1.968-mile Streets of Long Beach, with order of finish,starting position in parentheses, driver, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (4) Conor Daly, 43, Running
2. (1) Esteban Guerrieri, 43, Running
3. (6) Stefan Wilson, 43, Running
4. (7) Gustavo Yacaman, 43, Running
5. (10) James Winslow, 43, Running
6. (11) Victor Carbone, 43, Running
7. (13) Mikael Grenier, 43, Running
8. (5) Anders Krohn, 43, Running
9. (14) David Ostella, 43, Running
10. (16) Jorge Goncalvez, 43, Running
11. (12) Rusty Mitchell, 43, Running
12. (8) Victor Garcia, 42, Running
13. (3) Josef Newgarden, 40, Contact
14. (15) Duarte Ferreira, 17, Mechanical
15. (9) Juan Pablo Garcia, 16, Mechanical
16. (17) Ryan Phinny, 10, Mechanical
17. (2) Peter Dempsey, 9, Contact
- Winners average speed: 83.802
- Time of Race: 1:00:35.2947
- Margin of victory: Under caution
- Cautions: 4 for 8 laps
- Lead changes: 3 among 4 drivers
- Lap Leaders: Guerrieri 1, Dempsey 2-9, Newgarden 10-40, Daly 41-43
- Point Standings: Daly 109, Newgarden 99, Wilson 89, V. Garcia 86, Guerrieri 85, Dempsey 83, Grenier 82, Krohn 76, Goncalvez 71, Ostella 71.