IndyLights – 2012 Firestone Freedom 100 Recap

As usual, the Firestone Freedom 100, held on Carburetion “Carb” Day, featured some of the closest and most exciting racing you’re ever going to see! The cars have enough downforce that the drivers can put them nearly anywhere on the 2.5-mile oval of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that they like. The result is crazy, insane, four-wide racing down the front stretch and two- or even three-wide racing around the turns! …ok, usually the three-wide in the turns stuff doesn’t always work out so well.

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This year’s race went a little differently than I had expected beginning with qualifying on Thursday. I fully expected Sebastian Saavedra to be on the front row if not on pole. Turns out he has a disastrous qualifying run, only being fast enough to start mid-pack in P10. His teammate, Carlos Munoz, seemed to have the track and the car sorted out and qualified very well in P3. Sebastian’s two championship contenders, Tristan Vautier and Esteban Guerrieri, also performed poorly in qualifying slotting up in P11 and P18, respectively. Victor Carbone, after not having the results he’d hoped for earlier in the year, came back in strong fashion with his very smooth driving style securing him a place on the front row in P2. The feel-good story, however, was Gustavo Yacaman’s fantastic effort to win pole. Gustavo absolutely must have a strong year if he hopes to move beyond the Firestone Indy Lights series. He was very competitive last year, but has struggled to find pace in his #2 Team Moore Racing machine this year.

Something that has plagued the IZOD IndyCar Series in past seasons has been sloppy starts and restarts. Apparently, it’s also affecting the Firestone Indy Lights series as well. The first start attempt was waved off as the cars were immediately out of formation coming out of Turn 4.

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The second attempt wasn’t much better and should also have been waived, but the start showed the green and away they went. Immediately, within one lap, Sebastian Saavedra had climbed six spots and was P4 at the start of Lap 2. Gustavo didn’t get the start he really needed and quickly slipped within the grasp of the Andretti Autosport duo of Saavedra and Munoz, which resulted in a VERY sketchy four-wide into Turn 1. Fortunately, patience prevailed and Carbone, Saavedra, Munoz, and Yacaman made it through safely, with Munoz emerging with the lead. His lead was short-lived as Carbone would reclaim the lead in Turn 3.

This type of back-and-forth racing continued all race long! The close confines made for some dicey situations and small errors at 180+ mph can have disastrous consequences. On Lap 5, Brandon Wagoner touched wheels with Oliver Webb in Turn 2, sending both drivers into the wall collecting David Ostella on their way. While trying to avoid the carnage, Emerson Newton-John spun and took out Peter Dempsey. Five cars, a quarter of the field, lay in ruin on the backstretch and Race Control red-flagged the race so that clean-up could be expedited and repairs could be made to the SAFER Barrier where Wagoner, Webb, and Ostella made contact. Fortunately, all five drivers escaped without injury.

When the race returned to green, Tristan Vautier and Esteban Guerrieri, both starting well back in the grid, has worked their way to the front and were fighting with the leaders. Saavedra slipped back into the mid-pack once again, and although he’d move up to finish in the top-5, he would not contend for the race lead again. Guerrieri, Yacaman, Vautier, Munoz, and Carbone would continue to fight and swap positions for nearly the remainder of the 40-lap event. As we saw happen last year, a great final two laps were denied by a late-race caution. With two laps to go, Jorge Goncalvez destroyed his #4 Belardi Auto Racing machine as he impacted the outside wall at the exit of Turn 2. Until then, Goncalvez was having the best race of his season.

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The yellow flag emerged while Esteban was in the lead, and so he and the field would circulate twice more under the yellow before taking the checkers in the order they were at the moment of Goncalvez’s incident. Esteban’s victory gives Sam Schmidt Motorsport their fourth win in a row at Indianapolis and their third win of the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights Season.

“I’m really, really happy. It was one of those weekends that I trusted I was going to finish well even though I qualified bad. I’m overjoyed. From last to first, I’m really happy.” (About pass for lead): “That was a tough one. Halfway through the race, I was fighting with oversteer. My engineer, Tim Neff, told me to be patient, that everything would happen in the last five laps.” — Esteban Guerrieri – #11, Sam Schmidt Motosports with Curb-Agajanian Racing

Tristan Vautier finished in P3, keeping touch with Esteban in the championship. Saavedra finished in P5 losing significant ground to the Sam Schmidt duo. Still, he’s only 18 points back, and that can easily be made up in a single race.

“I think the experience I brought from racing here in 2009 helped today. I started 10th, and in the first corner, I was already fourth. It was a bit risky, but I wanted to get points here. From then on, we tried to save tires. I was just counting the laps until five to go, when I started pushing to get to the front. Unfortunately with four laps to go, there was an incident bringing out the yellow flag, and that killed everything. Congratulations to my teammate, Carlos. It was a very solid run, but I’m looking forward to Detroit to regain the points lead.” — Sebastian Saavedra – #27, Andretti Autosport with AFS Racing

The next round is at Belle Isle in Detroit, MI. With as tight as the confines are at Belle Isle, we could see anything happen. Victor Carbone isn’t too far behind the leaders, and with some smooth driving and a bit of bad fortune for the championship leaders, he could easily find himself in the hunt going into Milwaukee in the middle of June.

Photos from Firestone Indy Lights Qualifying and the Firestone Freedom 100

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