Cunningham records third Indianapolis victory

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Wade Cunningham racked up his third Firestone Freedom 100 victory by leading 38 of the 40 laps driving the Sam Schmidt Motorsports No. 77. Cunningham's third victory is the team's fifth Freedom 100 victory. "It's better with number three,"...

Wade Cunningham racked up his third Firestone Freedom 100 victory by leading 38 of the 40 laps driving the Sam Schmidt Motorsports No. 77. Cunningham's third victory is the team's fifth Freedom 100 victory.

"It's better with number three," said Cunningham. "It's hard to come seven months of not driving and win. Other drivers have been testing and racing. There's no substitute for driving."

To prepare for the race, Cunningham said he spent time with his engineers, working on his setup before turning in for a good night's sleep. "It's more than just driving that matters. I take pride in working on getting the car right."

Cunningham is the only driver to win the Freedom 100 more than once, visiting victory lane in 2006 and '09. Sam Schmidt Motorsports has also won the Freedom 100 with drivers Thiago Medeiros (2004), Jaime Camara (2005) and Alex Lloyd (2007).

Charlie Kimball led twice for a total of two laps in his Andretti Autosport No. 26 on his way to finishing second. Kimball started third but quickly moved into second place behind Cunningham while Pippa Mann, who started on the pole, slipped to fifth at the end of the first lap.

Kimball said his setup wasn't exactly to his liking. "I ran out of tools about midway through the race."

Series points leader JK Vernay experienced brake problems on the first lap that ultimately led to the car stopping on pit lane. Vernay's Sam Schmidt Motorsports crew retrieved the car and took it to the garage for repairs. Vernay returned to the track, tagging onto the rear of the field for the restart on lap nine.

Despite being several laps down, Vernay was the class of the field. He drove through the field, passed Kimball and circulated behind his teammate Cunningham.

"When Vernay came through and ran in front of us, it kind of chewed up the front tires. That didn't help," said Kimball.

Vernay was credited with 13th, retaining a slim five point lead over Kimball in the Firestone Indy Lights championship series.

James Hinchcliffe finished third driving for Team Moore Racing. Third in the series standings, Hinchcliffe started eighth and moved to the front early. "Bittersweet day," said Hinchcliffe. "The car was a rocket ship all day.

"We managed to get all the way to the leader's gearbox, but ultimately, it was a lapped car that came into play and assist me in losing the draft and second place," said Hinchcliffe, referring to Vernay. "That's bittersweet."

Dan Clarke finished fourth in his third race with Walker Racing and Kimball's Andretti Autosport teammate Martin Plowman rounded out the top five.

Clarke described the race as "hairy" while Plowman's take was "boring."

After the race, Clarke complained about Hinchcliffe blocking him. "You don't change your line when someone is right behind you," said Clarke. "Hinch just drove all the way down inside into (Turn) one. It stopped me from getting past him."

Plowman had his hands full with an ill-handling car. "The car just developed a severe push," he said. "I tried to dial it out as far as I could inside the car. I had to keep getting out of the throttle to avoid hitting the wall. I think the (hot) conditions got us out by surprise."

The race was stopped once for an incident on the third lap involving Jeff Simmons and Pippa Mann. Simmons was attempting a pass on Sebastian Saavedra in Turn one when he spun, collecting pole sitter Pippa Mann.

Mann, the first female to start from the pole position at the Indianapolis otor Speedway, was credited with finishing 16th in the 16-car field.

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Series INDYLIGHTS