The Firestone Indy Lights race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway can only be described as a beat down by Josef Newgarden (@RacerOfTomorrow) who was the ONLY driver to finish on the lead lap. That’s right. He lapped the entire freakin’ field! He might have done it twice if not for the yellows. The three primary Sam Schmidt Motorsports cars of #11 Newgarden, #7 Esteban Guerrieri, and #77 Bryan Clausen (@BryanClauson) were in a completely different class during qualifying. During practice, Josef, Bryan, and Esteban posted times of 147.457, 145.749, and 145.527 mph, respectively. Team Moore Racing’s Gustavo Yacaman (@GustavoYacaman) bested them all with a 147.580 mph. However, when it came time for qualifying, Gustavo had a BIG moment that put him at the back of the grid in P11. Stefan Wilson was in P12, but more on that later. Newgarden would throw down some stunner laps during qualifying bettering his fastest practice lap by ~1.5 mph! That’s about a quarter of a second gained on a 1-mile oval. No doubt that Newgarden is seriously talented, and that SSM’s engineers know these IndyLights Dallaras extremely well, but it does raise memories of Milwaukee and the specter of favouritism that was raised there.
The impressiveness of Newgarden’s victory was tempered significantly by the fact that only 11 cars took to the race track in serious anger. Andretti Autosport’s Stefan Wilson (@Stefan_Wilson) was a start-n-park this weekend as his funding is running low. Plans for Wilson were to appear at this race, run on old tires and save money for the road and street courses that are to come where he has a greater chance at a good result. They sat out Thursday practice and ran only a handful of laps during Saturday practice on the race tires they used at Iowa! Its a shame as Stefan had a chance to gain some ground in the championship standings against Esteban. Instead, Gustavo Yacaman made up some ground on Stefan and is a threat to take over P3 if Stefan has another DNF.
“We took it as far as we could on the tires that we had, which already had race laps on them unfortunately. We did what we had to do to make sure we can finish out the season on a better note. It’s a shame, but we’ll just come out strong in Baltimore.” — Stefan Wilson, #5 Andretti Autosport
Bryan Clausen, who had an outstanding qualifying run and started in P2, spun on the first lap in Turn 2 becoming the first victim of the day of cold tyres. After the restart, fellow SSM teammates Josef and Esteban would launch as if fired from a cannon and immediately begin to gap the rest of the field. Gustavo Yacaman would slice his way up through the grid and made his way up to P3 after starting in P11 by Lap 22. On Lap 70, Esteban would end up spinning coming out of Turn 2 trying to position himself to challenge his teammate for the lead. That would put Gustavo in P2, albeit 1 lap down. Gustavo would end up dropping two spots to Belardi Auto Racing’s Jorge Goncalvez (@JGoncalvez) and Bryan Herta Autosport’s Duarte Ferriera. Jorge would go on to finish P2, his best result of the season, and Duarte would finish P3, his first podium of the season and best result for Bryan Herta Autosport since Sebastian Saavedra’s win at the Iowa Speedway in 2010.
“This was a very good day because this is my first season in the Firestone Indy Lights and I was able to achieve my goal of getting a podium. I am only 18 years old and this is a very competitive series to race in. I have finished in the top 10 seven times, but the team has put a lot of work into the cars and it is better.” — Duarte Ferriera, #28 Bryan Herta Autosport
One last odd note of the race comes at the expense of Belardi Auto Racing’s Anders Krohn (@AndersKrohn) who suffered an engine failure. To be honest, I cannot remember the last time there was an engine failure induced DNF in the Firestone Indy Lights series. There’s been some gearbox issues, and Belardi suffered from a fuel pump failure at Milwaukee, but engine failures are almost unheard of.
With Esteban spinning out and finishing back in P5, the Firestone Indy Lights championship is all but locked up for Josef Newgarden who gave up an entry to the FIA Young Driver’s Academy to race here in the States. Josef now leads the championship with 449 points over Esteban who trails in P2 with 381. So long as Newgarden can avoid two DNFs in the remaining three events, he will be the 2011 Champion.