Homestead: RLR/Andersen Racing race notes

RLR/Andersen's Romancini Wins Thriller In Firestone Indy Lights Season Finale HOMESTEAD, Fla., Oct. 9 - RLR/Andersen Racing's Mario Romancini led about the last nine inches to beat Firestone Indy Lights champion J.R. Hildebrand at the...

RLR/Andersen's Romancini Wins Thriller In Firestone Indy Lights Season Finale

HOMESTEAD, Fla., Oct. 9 - RLR/Andersen Racing's Mario Romancini led about the last nine inches to beat Firestone Indy Lights champion J.R. Hildebrand at the start/finish line on the last lap of the series' 2009 finale Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Romancini, who lives in Miami and Sao Paulo, Brazil and drives for a Palmetto, Fla.-based team, had a 0.0057 of a second margin of victory for his second triumph of the season in what he called "my best race ever." It was the second-closest finish in series history.

The 21-year-old star used the high side throughout the 67-lap event to power to the victory with his black, silver and red No. 5, which is sponsored by Andersen Racing, Revita Recycling, Win Brazil Marketing, Allied Interior Products and Lafarge North America.

It was a thriller for the live VERSUS audience, the crowd on hand at the track and anyone following along on indycar.com. Romancini started tenth but he was already fifth after his first trip around the 1.485-mile oval. He was third by the end of lap two, but then slipped to fourth behind polesitter James Davison, Hildebrand and Wade Cunningham as the lead pack diced for position in a battle as hot as the 90-degree Fahrenheit temperatures this week in Southern Florida.

Romancini was fourth and on the outside of Brandon Wagner when Wagner lost control of his car and crashed in Turn 4 to bring out the first of three full-course cautions on lap five. He remained in fourth until lap 18 when he passed Cunningham for third.

Davison, Hildebrand and Romancini then quickly assembled a three-car train in that order, with Romancini on the outside, constantly looking for a way around the other two. He got second for a couple laps, trailing only Davison, until Davison faded and Hildebrand got by them both. But Romancini was right on Hildebrand's rear wing by lap 39, and he hounded him the rest of the way.

Gustavo Yacaman spun on the backstretch on lap 47 to bring out the second yellow. Only two laps were run under green after that clean-up before the caution waved again when Rodrigo Barbosa hit the wall in Turn 4 with 54 laps down.

Romancini was the meat in an Andretti Green/AFS sandwich for both of those restarts, since Sebastian Saavedra had moved into third by that point. Despite the pressure Romancini remained strong, and he and Hildebrand had some padding over Saavedra with four laps to go.

Romancini tried one move by Hildebrand in Turn 1 with 65 laps down, but he didn't have quite enough to get the pass completed that time. He tried again in Turn 4 on the last lap and that time it worked, out-dragging Hildebrand at the start/finish line in an effort that would have even made John Force proud. Saavedra was third; Mike Potekhen finished fourth and Davison rounded out the top five.

There were 11 lead changes among four different drivers: Cunningham (four laps), Davison (30 laps), Hildebrand (32 laps) and Romancini (one lap, but the one that counted).

Romancini's teammate for this race, Sean Guthrie of Albuquerque, N.M., struggled with a loose car throughout the race but kept it off the wall and almost finished in the top 10 in his first event with RLR/Andersen Racing. He started 12th and ended up 11th in the No. 9, which was sponsored by Car Crafters, IZOD, Andersen Racing and Andersen RacePark.

With the victory Romancini advanced from seventh to sixth in the final point standings and ended the year on the best note possible. His car, the No. 5, also ended up sixth in the entrant standings.

The team's No. 9 car, which was driven by Jonathan Summerton, Ali Jackson, Pablo Donoso and Guthrie this year, was unofficially 12th in the entrant standings. RLR/Andersen Racing continued its reputation as a star-making team, as Friday's race winner carried the team's colors and the race runner-up and 2009 champion, Hildebrand, was one of its drivers last year.

Mario Romancini: "I lost my voice screaming on the radio! I tried J.R. one lap before and I couldn't get him in Turn 1. I knew my last chance would be coming out of Turn 4 and at the start-finish line on the last lap, and I got him by a couple of inches. It was an amazing race!

"I have to thank everyone on our team and our sponsors. It was my best race ever.

"We had a bad qualifying; I don't really know why, but we just didn't have a good set-up for qualifying. But it doesn't matter where you qualify on an oval if you have a good car for the race, and my car was really good.

"I got a really good start. I was up with the leaders by the second or third lap I think. We were running very close but I didn't have any contact with anybody. My car was very good on the high line. But J.R. and I had very similar cars. I tried and I tried but I couldn't pass him. I was hoping that we would push each other and pull away from the other cars, and that's what happened near the end of the race.

"We just pulled it off at the end. It is really good to end the season in a good way, especially since the problems we had off and on this year. I really want to thank everyone on the team; they did an awesome job. I also want to thank my sponsors and my mom; she came here for this race. I'm so glad that everything went so well!"

Sean Guthrie: "Our car was really loose. I had to chase it all the way up the track. It was a handful, so I just tried to save the car and the tires and finish the race.

"I just worked with the car all day. But it was good to get back in a car, I had fun, and I'm glad we were able to finish."

-credit: rlr/ar

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Series INDYLIGHTS