IndyLights – That’s a Wrap!

The season finale for the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights series took place this morning at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and there was no lack of excitement! Although Sam Schmidt Motorsports had long since wrapped up the team championship, and the team’s primary driver, Josef Newgarden, had secured the drivers’ championship at Kentucky,

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there was still a fierce battle to be had for second spot in the drivers’ championship and there were some new drivers looking to make a mark as they work on plans for 2012.

Andretti Autosport’s Stefan Wilson and Sam Schmidt Motorsports’ Esteban Gurerrieri were fighting for that P2 position, and the advantage entering race day went to Stefan who started today’s race from the front row and let the first two laps. Unfortunately for the young Brit, the race started to turn sour very quickly. Wilson would lose the lead to pole sitter Victor Carbone on Lap 3 and would continue to fall through the order settling in the P4-P6 positions for most of the remainder of the race.

“It was quite crazy out there; really close racing, which is great. We had a quick enough car but unfortunately didn’t have the race planned out. There was just one line of traffic and anyone who tried to overtake just lost places. We were running fourth and tried to make some moves, but there was just no help out there. We were running fifth and should have finished fifth. With ten laps to go we had a misfire and just started losing power, then started losing places as well. It was a frustrating end to a really good weekend. I want to thank Citizenre for coming on board. It was a shame we couldn’t give them a win like we did at Kentucky.” — Stefan Wilson, #5 Andretti Autosport

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That struggle for grip off the primary racing line would continue to cause drivers to struggle for overtaking opportunities. The primary method through out the race for improving one’s position was to wait for mistakes and misfortunes to happen to those in front of you. Unfortunately for three drivers, misfortune bit them hard on Lap 9. Bryan Herta Autosport’s Duarte Ferreira, struggling with a crippled race car, spun in Turn 2 and collected Team E Racing’s Rusty Mitchell. Bryan Clausen would also end up in the wall as he lost control trying to avoid the spinning cars of Ferreira and Mitchell. The debris field was so extensive that the race had to be red-flagged to allow the safety crews clear the track. Mitchell was EXTREMELY upset with Ferreira and according to Trackside Online (which you should subscribe to if you haven’t already!) used the term “mornon” repeatedly to describe Duarte’s driving today and at Kentucky where he was black-flagged for erratic driving.

The rest of the race would run caution-free, but not incident free. Newgarden would lead every single lap of the remainder of the race except for the final lap. The three remaining Sam Schmidt Motorsports drivers, Newgarden, Carbone, and Guerrieri, were running extremely close and Carbone got a little too close to Newgarden and cut his tire down.

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Victor would go on to take the victory with Esteban a half-car length behind in P2, while Josef would fade back to P9 before he finally crossed the Finish Line. Definitely a disappointing way to end the season for Josef, but taking possession of the Firestone Cup and the $1M scholarship for a 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series ride should ease the pain a bit.

So now the long dark off-season begins and drivers and teams start their quest for partnerships and deals for the 2012 season. The series itself is also searching for new business relationships, sponsorships, and manufacturers. Firestone will not be the title sponsor in 2012, nor will it shod the Indy Lights cars, so the league has been very busy searching for a new tire manufacturer. One of the top names running through the Internet Rumor Mill is Cooper. It makes sense since they already have a presence as the presenting sponsor for the Cooper Tires Presents the US F2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda. Speaking of Mazda, there’s been some talk about the company badging the Indy Lights engine. Just because the racing is over for 2011, that doesn’t mean the news and rumors are over! OpenPaddock will be working hard over the off-season to keep up with the latest scuttlebutt.

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