Cunningham swoops to victory in Indy thriller

Wade Cunningham scored a thrilling victory Friday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he swooped to victory in the Firestone Freedom 100, the fifth race of the Firestone Indy Lights Series season. Driving the Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt...

Wade Cunningham scored a thrilling victory Friday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he swooped to victory in the Firestone Freedom 100, the fifth race of the Firestone Indy Lights Series season.

Driving the Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry, the former series champion was in contention throughout the 40-lap race, and he gained the lead for the fourth and final time on the 39th lap. Once in front, the New Zealand driver wasn't to be denied as he won the race for the second time and became the first repeat winner.

Cunningham's Sam Schmidt team won the Freedom 100 for the third time.

"Once I got a run on (leader) J. R. Hildebrand, I knew I was going to the front or into the wall," the victor said. "It definitely wasn't an easy race and I feel like I have been in a bar fight and have had a few glasses smashed over my head. Until the Kansas race, we had been struggling on restarts, but we have moved seriously forward since then. When I got to the front early-on, I knew I couldn't lead 40 laps, so I let the others go by, dropping to third place.

"At the end, it got pretty hectic and I got shuffled back to fourth. My first concern was to get back to second, so I leap-frogged Mario Romancini for second, and got the opportunity to do what I needed to do after that. My winning move was planned and when (leader) J. R. (Hildebrand) struggled on the second to last lap, I got under him. On the last lap, I was looking more behind me than ahead. Seeing the finish line was a relief and a joy."

Hildebrand, driving the AFS Racing entry, finished a scant .1046 seconds behind the winner, for the second closest Freedom 100 ever. "My car was set up to run in the lead, but it was tough to pull away as our cars reach terminal velocity at the end of the straight-aways. Toward the end, I knew if there was one guy that was going to be able to time the pass just right it would be Wade (Cunningham). When he got the run, I let him go, as I didn't want to get passed by anyone else."

Young Mario Romancini shocked the crowd by vaulting from18th to claim third place in the Revita/Win Brazil/Allied RLR/Andersen Racing car. According to the Brazilian, he passed seven cars on the first lap and then proceeded to pass the front- running contenders.

"I knew my car was good even though we didn't qualify well," he said after his second-ever oval-track race. "My car was really good in traffic, and I trusted the car. On the last lap, the guys in front of me were quicker and I couldn't pass J. R. (Hildebrand). It is a pleasure to be here (on the podium), and I am speechless with the outcome."

Jay Howard and Sebastian Saavedra finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

Sixth through 10th were James Davison (in a car owned by Lauren George, 18- year old daughter of Tony and Laura George), Daniel Herrington, Jesse Mason, Pablo Donoso and Junior Strous.

Separate two-car crashes knocked Ana Beatriz and Gustavo Yacaman from contention on lap 16, and on lap six, Pippa Mann and Martin Plowman came together. Beatriz sustained the only injury, a small laceration of the chin. She was treated and released from the medical facility.

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About this article
Series Indy Lights
Drivers Sam Schmidt , Jesse Mason , Pablo Donoso , Pippa Mann , Wade Cunningham , James Davison , Daniel Herrington , Junior Strous , Jay Howard , Sebastian Saavedra , Martin Plowman , Ana Beatriz , Mario Romancini , Gustavo Yacaman