Homestead: Series qualifying report

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Friday, Oct. 1, 2010) - Pippa Mann earned her third Sunoco Pole Award of the season, topping qualifying for the for the Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka 100. It was the second-straight pole for Mann, who recorded a two-lap...

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Friday, Oct. 1, 2010) - Pippa Mann earned her third Sunoco Pole Award of the season, topping qualifying for the for the Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka 100.

It was the second-straight pole for Mann, who recorded a two-lap average of 186.597 mph on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval. Her last pole was at Kentucky Speedway on Sept. 3, and she went on to her first Firestone Indy Lights victory.

Mann will be joined on the front row by Charlie Kimball, who had a qualifying effort of 186.343 mph in the No. 26 Levemir FlexPen car for AFS Racing Andretti Autosport. It's Kimball's fourth front-row start of the season.

Brandon Wagner, making his fifth start, qualified a season-high third (his previous best was eighth) in the No. 32 Davey Hamilton Racing car. Philip Major, driving the No. 49 Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry will join him on the second row.

DAY 1 NOTEBOOK:

J.K. Vernay tested a Sam Schmidt Motorsports car on the Homestead-Miami Speedway oval in February. He returns to the speedway this weekend to collect the Firestone Firehawk Cup.

For Vernay, 22, who clinches the Firestone Indy Lights championship when he takes the green flag Saturday afternoon, that test was his first time on an oval. He's since racked up five victories (nine podium finishes in 12 races) and three pole starts.

J.K. VERNAY: "It's been a fun year. It's been just perfect. In February, I had some offers in Europe and Japan when I got a call about testing from Serge Celebidachi, James Olivier and Charles Barrett at CJMotorsport.co.uk, who had been following my F3 career. They were really impressed with my rookie results in Macau last year. When they called, I knew it was my destiny to make the move to America, and I'm so happy I did. It's been great, but (the championship) is not finished. There is still one more race, and I really want to win on the oval."

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Sam Schmidt Motorsports announced Sept. 28 that Wade Cunningham will return to the cockpit of the #77 IZOD/Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry for the Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka 100, the season finale of the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The trio of IZOD, New Zealand native Cunningham, and Sam Schmidt Motorsports had a successful debut in May where Cunningham scored his third Firestone Freedom 100 win at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Cunningham hasn't competed in Firestone Indy Lights since his Indianapolis win. His best finish at Homestead was a fourth as a rookie in 2005.

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O2 Racing Technology announced Sept. 27 that Daniel Herrington will pilot the No. 36 Quamtel/DataJack entry in the season-ending Firestone Indy Lights race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Herrington, a 23-year-old native of Winston-Salem, N.C., earned his first win at Chicagoland Speedway in 2009 and is eager for the opportunity to once more show his talents thanks to an opportunity from a former teammate in Firestone Indy Lights, O2 Racing Technology team owner, Mark Olson.

The race will be the home race for O2RT's sponsor Quamtel, which is based in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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Up-and-coming USAC driver Henry Clarke will join Davey Hamilton Racing for the Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka 100 at Homestead-Miami Speedway after successfully completing Firestone Indy Lights rookie testing Sept. 22-23 at Kentucky Speedway.

Clarke, the 2009 USAC National Sprint Car Rookie of The Year, claimed his first USAC national sprint car victory at Toledo in July. He ranks in the top 10 in both USAC National Sprint Car and National Midget points.

Clarke, a 21-year-old native of Villa Park, Calif., relocated to Indiana in May to race for Keith Kunz Motorsports in the USAC series.

***

Andretti Autosport driver Sage Karam clinched the 2010 Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda title by winning the race Sept. 30 at Road Atlanta in the No. 8 Team Comfort Revolution car.

Karam, 15, from Nazareth, Pa, also clinched the VP Fuels Rookie of the Year Award.

His Andretti Autosport teammate, 15-year-old Zach Veach, finished second, giving the team its first one-two result of the season.

The USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda is one of entry-level rung on the Road To Indy ladder system to the IZOD IndyCar Series. The other levels are the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear and the Firestone Indy Lights series.

SAGE KARAM: "I'm so happy and honored to have won the championship driver title today after winning the first race. We started out the week on a rough note, but it really can't get better than this. I want to thank everybody--Michael Andretti, the Michael Fux Foundation, Comfort Revolution, Mazda, Cooper Tires, the Road to Indy program and my awesome crew. I can't thank Andretti Autosport enough for the opportunity to race this season."

***

Sam Schmidt Motorsports drivers J.K. Vernay, Pippa Mann and Philip Major will meet today with individuals with disabling injuries as part of the team's Day at the Races program.

Team owner Sam Schmidt suffered a spinal-cord injury in a testing accident in 2000 and has formed the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation to help fund scientific research, medical treatment, rehabilitation and technology advances for spinal cord injuries.

SUNOCO POLE QUALIFYING NOTES:

* Pippa Mann earned her third Sunoco Pole Award of the season and her Firestone Indy Lights career. She also won the pole at Indianapolis and Kentucky, winning at Kentucky.

* Charlie Kimball qualified second, the best start on an oval of his Firestone Indy Lights career. His previous best was third in September at Kentucky.

* Brandon Wagner qualified third, his best of his five starts this season. His previous best was eighth and Chicagoland and Kentucky.

* Points leader J.K. Vernay qualified 12th, his worst starting spot of the season. Vernay needs to start the Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka 100 on Saturday to clinch his first Firestone Indy Lights championship.

***

SUNOCO POLE QUALIFYING QUOTES:

PIPPA MANN (No. 11 Sam Schmidt Motorsports, pole): "Here and Kentucky are two extremely different tracks. We would love to do it again. It's going to be extremely hot and slippery."

(About her strong form since missing Mid-Ohio due to surgery on her broken hand): "We couldn't put together whole weekends (before the injury). It's been putting whole weekends together. It hasn't been the outright pace. It hasn't been luck. I think the momentum coming back from this injury has really helped."

(What would a victory Saturday mean to you?): "Does my silence speak volumes? It would be amazing. That was the goal, to have a perfect weekend. In this series, that's getting pole, leading the most laps and winning the race. I don't know if that's possible. I'm really, really focused to getting back to fifth in the championship. If that happened, I think I would be lost for words. As people who know me know, that doesn't happen to me very often."

J.K. VERNAY (No. 7 Lucas Oil/CJ/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, 12th): "For sure, we cannot be happy at all about this qualifying. It wasn't good. We're going to have to work hard tonight to improve everything. I have to improve myself with my driving. We have to find a bit more in the car, as well. My goal is still to win tomorrow. That's always my goal, and we're going to give it our best to achieve that effort. But right now, I'm just disappointed with qualifying."

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 26 Levemir FlexPen, second): "Qualifying felt really good. We spent both practices working on our race car. The car felt good in the warm-up lap, so I knew the #26 Levemir FlexPen car was quick. I was hoping to get a pole to finish out the year, but I'll take the front row, for sure."

MARTIN PLOWMAN (No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers/KEP Printing, eighth): "That qualifying session was obviously not what we wanted, but the track was constantly getting cooler so we were fortunate to go out early. I'm expecting to have a really good car tomorrow and have some fun and come to the front."

-source: irl

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Series INDYLIGHTS