SAM SCHMIDT MOTORSPORTS CONCLUDES 2009 FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS SEASON WITH MIAMI RACE
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Homestead-Miami Speedway played host to the final round of the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season on Friday night, and after a difficult race, Sam Schmidt Motorsports cars found themselves in sixth (Wade Cunningham), ninth (Logan Gomez), 14th (James Hinchcliffe), and 16th (Gustavo Yacaman).
After a strong qualifying performance earlier in the afternoon, Cunningham, starting from second, jumped into the lead on Lap 1 of the race. He and James Davison fought for the lead for the next 15 laps before Cunningham fell back to third. With a bit of understeer in the car, and having to sit behind the wake of Davison, Cunningham found himself with handling characteristics that didn't allow him to maintain pace with the leaders. He'd slowly fall back a few spots before settling into sixth, where he'd finish.
Making his return to the team, Gomez, starting from eighth, found himself in battles around the top-ten throughout the race, including battles with his teammates Hinchcliffe, who started 11th, and Yacaman, who started 14th. At one point, those three cars were all battling nose-to-tail for 11th, 12th, and 13th. Like Cunningham, Gomez didn't find the handling of his car to his liking, but he managed to make some corrections in the cockpit and his driving line to off-set his handling a bit. He had a strong run and kept his nose clean, bringing the car home in ninth -- a dream considering he didn't have a drive for the race just two days prior.
Yacaman again was showing signs of raw speed, but like the others, found the car's handling difficult. He ran as high as ninth before losing control of his car exiting Turn 2 on Lap 48. He spun to the inside and made contact with the inside wall, putting him out of the race.
Hinchcliffe was able to battle with the cars around him early on in the race, but as the laps wound down, his car became more and more difficult to handle. Towards the end, his main challenge was just to keep the car off the fence. He managed to do so, although after the race, was disappointed in not being able to challenge the front-running cars.
With the final race in the books, Cunningham finishes the season fourth in points, with Hinchcliffe in fifth. Hinchcliffe also finished second in the rookie standings.
Though the team was disappointed in this final outing, it gives everyone all the more motivation to head into the off-season determined to make improvements where need be and to chase the championship crown in 2010.
No 7 HINCHTOWN.com/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver James Hinchcliffe
"Obviously, for us, it was a pretty tough day. It was a pretty tough day for the whole team, really. Conditions were incredibly difficult in Turns 2 and 4, and I think we rolled the dice a little bit and just went the wrong way. We actually started the race off pretty well. The car was pretty strong. We made up two or three spots in the first four or five laps. Just before the first caution in the race, I noticed the car starting to go a little bit loose, and I adjusted everything in the cockpit that I could, but it wasn't helping. After that restart, it just got worse, and worse, and worse. It was a pretty big surprise because we were fighting under-steer all weekend long. It ended up being the loosest race car I've ever had on an oval. So, not the most pleasant afternoon, and it's certainly not the way you want to end the season, but it was a good year. A big thanks to Sam Schmidt Motorsports and all the guys on the #7 car for all the hard work they've put in all season, and fifth in points, we managed to hold onto that, and that's not bad for a rookie year. We'll just hope for a good winter and see what next year brings."
No 11 LUCAS OIL/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver Wade Cunningham
"It was a challenging race. We led early on and battled James (Davison) for the lead. The conditions this weekend were tough. They caught a lot of people out. So, James and I had a gentlemens' agreement to race each other pretty clean and not deliberately do anything stupid to each other. I had one opportunity to take the lead, but it would have involved squeezing him pretty hard in the middle of the corner. That really changed the outcome of our race because the car developed a bit of under-steer in Turns 3 and 4, and riding behind other cars hurt our tires. Unfortunately, I didn't take that opportunity, and I just slowly slipped back with Davison slipping back with me. We ran each other hard in the beginning with him hugging the low line and me trying to run around him on the high side. Just a difficult race all around. It's unfortunate we couldn't move up in the standings. In the first few laps, I felt that we could have challenged for the win, and just to slowly slip back and see the potential slip away, it's just disappointing."
No 20 IZOD/Healthy Choice Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver Logan Gomez
"Conditions were definitely better in the race, which was good, but unfortunately, it called for a different setup than what we ran. After the IndyCars qualified, they put down some good rubber which really helped even out all the corners. Going into Turn 1 during the race, the sun was really brutal. There were different reflections coming off the cars, and sometimes, it'd look like there was more than one car in front of you. It's confusing, but I got through it, and everyone has the same track to race on. I felt it was a good event, especially being my first time back all year. Sam Schmidt Motorsports gave me a good chance. I just wish I'd been able to do some testing with them beforehand to have started quicker out of the box. We'll spend the off-season working on next season. Hopefully we can get some sponsors rolling in the off-season and get back in with Sam Schmidt. That was obviously what was holding me back this year, so it was nice to finish this race on a good note to build some momentum and my confidence heading into the off-season so hopefully somebody can step up for us. I have to thank the team again, Sam Schmidt Motorsports, IZOD, and Healthy Choice, who was on the car throughout the year, and my family. Without them, I wouldn't have been here this weekend."
No 44 CREPES & WAFFLES/TUVACOL/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver Gustavo Yacaman
"I was working together with Logan (Gomez) to catch Martin (Plowman). We were right there for about 10 laps, and we were catching him pretty good. Coming out of Turn 2, the car just stepped out, and I lost it. I couldn't do anything about it."
Team Owner, Sam Schmidt
"For sure, this was not the way that Sam Schmidt Motorsports wanted to end the season. It looked like we had something for them early on, but with the track changing so dramatically and everything else, we just missed it. We didn't miss it on all the cars, but we missed it as a whole, and that's all pretty disappointing. I'd say most teams would be pleased to score fourth and fifth in points, but that's not the bar we set as a team. We're going to spend the off-season figuring out how to get back on top."