CUNNINGHAM WINS POLE FOR FIRESTONE FREEDOM 100
INDIANAPOLIS (Thursday, May 21, 2009) - Wade Cunningham won the pole for the Firestone Freedom 100 Firestone Indy Lights race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, marking the second time the 2005 series champion will start the race from the inside of Row 1.
Cunningham also started from the pole in 2006 when he led every lap.
Cunningham recorded a two-lap qualifying time of 1 minute, 34.6485 seconds, an average of 190.177 mph in the No. 11 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, setting an event qualifying record. He bettered Jaime Camara's 2005 qualifying effort of 189.870 mph.
Sebastian Saavedra qualified second at 190.023 mph, recording his third front-row start of the season.
J.R. Hildebrand and Ana Beatriz will start in Row 2, and Martin Plowman and 2006 series champion Jay Howard will start in Row 3.
The 40-lap, 100-mile race is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. (ET) Friday. The 33 drivers in the Indianapolis 500 also will have their final practice before Sunday's race.
The 10th annual Racing to Recovery Gala sponsored by the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation raised more than $250,000 this year. The event, which included dinner and a live auction, attracted more than 500 people, including IndyCar Series drivers Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Raphael Matos, Ed Carpenter and Alex Lloyd, and Firestone Indy Lights drivers Ana Beatriz, James Hinchcliffe, Gustavo Yacaman and Wade Cunningham.
Live and silent auctions at the event included vacations, jewelry, wines and racing memorabilia signed by IndyCar Series and NASCAR drivers. Roger Warrick, a renowned motorsports artist, created a live painting during the evening, which was also auctioned off.
Arie Luyendyk was presented with the Legendary Driver Award, and Jim Oxley, senior vice president of investments of Oxley Financial Advisory Group, was awarded the Partner for a Cure Award.
INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY CENTENNIAL ERA FACT OF THE DAY: Garages were added inside Turn 1 in 1910, making the Indianapolis Motor Speedway one of the only racetracks to have permanent garages.
Lauren George, the youngest daughter of Indy Racing League founder and Vision Racing co-owner Tony George, assumed the role of team owner of Vision Racing's Firestone Indy Lights operation on May 7, her 18th birthday.
Lauren George attended her first Indianapolis 500 Pole Day at just four days old and will be attending her 19th "500" on Sunday.
George will be graduating from Park Tudor School this month and entering the University of Notre Dame.
TONY GEORGE: "Laura and I have decided to bring Lauren into ownership with the intent of making her responsible for directing our Firestone Indy Lights program. She has literally grown up around the sport and has developed a passion for it. Given her desire, ambition and acumen, her mother and I agreed that this would be a perfect opportunity for her. We are very proud of her and are excited for both her and the team."
LAUREN GEORGE: "Since the formation of Vision in 2005, I have watched the team grow from the ground up and have been able to see first-hand the many challenges of operating a successful racing team. I have been known to offer my dad my 'two cents' about the team from time to time, mostly when it's not asked for, so maybe this is my parents' way of showing me just how difficult it is to operate a team. Regardless, I'm excited for the opportunity and plan on giving it my full attention and devotion. Just because I will be completing my studies, I don't think the day-to-day operation is going to change at all. We have a wonderful group of guys at the shop, from the two-car IndyCar Series team all the way down through the Lights team and our partnership with Bryan Herta and Steve Newey, so I have no concerns about the team's direction. Looking forward, I think one of my main objectives is to make the team sustainable so that in the future Vision can give talented, young drivers, who we believe have the potential to be great assets to IndyCar on and off the track, the opportunity to show their ability to the top teams in the IndyCar Series."
Team PBIR and 2006 Firestone Indy Lights champion Jay Howard agreed to a last-minute deal to put the driver into the #37 car for the Firestone Freedom 100. Howard missed the first practice session but turned 23 laps in the second session with the 13th-fastest speed. He borrowed the helmet worn by Scott Dixon on Pole Day and scrambled to find other equipment.
JAY HOWARD: "It's a bit of borrowed equipment from everywhere. The helmet is Scott's, the suit and HANS are mine from the truck. The fireproof underwear, shoes, gloves and balaclava belong to Anton Julian (a member of Danica Patrick's crew who races locally). I'm just happy I didn't stay out too late last night."
FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS POST-QUALIFYING NOTES:
* Wade Cunningham and Sebastian Saavedra both qualified faster than the previous track record of 189.870 mph set by Jaime Camara in 2005. Cunningham is the new record holder with a two-lap average of 190.177 mph.
* Wade Cunningham wins the pole for the Firestone Freedom 100 for the second time in his career. Cunningham won the race from the pole in 2006.
* Cunningham will make his fifth Firestone Freedom 100 start, the most of any driver. He has finished first (2006), second (2005), third (2008) and 23rd (2007).
* This is Cunningham's ninth career pole in Firestone Indy Lights and his second this season. He also won the pole at Kansas.
* This is the third pole for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in the Firestone Freedom 100. Jaime Camara won it for the team in 2005, and Thiago Medeiros won the pole for the team in 2004. Both drivers went on to win the race.
* Sebastian Saavedra qualified second, his third front-row start of the season. He won the pole at St. Petersburg 2 and qualified second at Kansas.
* J.R. Hildebrand qualified third, his fifth top-four start of the season. He is the only driver to qualify in the top five of every race this season.
* Ana Beatriz qualified fourth, her third top-five start of the season. Beatriz also started fourth in last year's Firestone Freedom 100 and went on to finish fifth.
* Martin Plowman qualified fifth, his best qualifying effort of the season. His previous best was sixth at Long Beach.
* Jay Howard qualified a season-best sixth. His previous best was eighth at St. Petersburg 1.
* Charlie Kimball tied his season-best qualifying effort of seventh, which he also did at Kansas.
FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS POST-QUALIFYING QUOTES:
WADE CUNNINGHAM (No. 11 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, qualified first): "It's great. We were sitting here in line, 19th to go out, and Sebastian (Saavedra) pops that 47.25 up on the board, 190.4, I think. That's a good time running by yourself. We were only running marginally quicker than that this morning at 9 with the cool ambient temperatures and a cold track. So I dug deep, and the car was great. I can't complain. The changes that were made from second practice to qualifying obviously worked. We didn't do the quickest lap time, but we were more consistent on the second lap."
(On the Firestone Freedom 100): "It's a long race. Forty laps, and anything can happen. In 2006, it went green for 40 laps, and that is a completely different race than what is was last year where we had the 10-lap shootout at the end. You just have to work hard and have the best car you can and take the conditions as they come. You never have a perfect car and when you do, you win. So it's not often that happens, and you have to battle through the day. We'll just see how tomorrow comes. I love Indianapolis. I love oval racing. To be back full time this year with Sam Schmidt, who has great oval success, and obviously we showed it in qualifying trim. We were able to put our foot down and put the car up on top. It's pretty awesome, really."
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 27 Automatic Fires Sprinklers, Inc., second): "It feels wonderful. The whole AFS/AGR Racing team has done an awesome job putting the car together. I think we're looking forward to the race. The points are important. The championship is important. We have a very strong car for this weekend. We'll try to do our best. It's unbelievable (racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway). During the first five laps, I was like, 'Where are you?' It's a historic race. It's a historic racetrack. And here I am. It's a lot of feelings. It's happiness and nervousness. I am very happy to be here. It's wonderful and more to be on such an incredible team, and we will try our best to try and search for a championship and win here for this race. I'd like to have the second one in the belt."
J.R. HILDEBRAND (No. 26 ARPRO, third): "It felt pretty good. It's a little bit frustrating. I think we had a pretty good shot at the pole. It's just really close with my teammate here, Sebastian. I think everybody here is going to be a little bit bummed that we didn't get it. The two of us are quite fast. I know we've got a really good race car for tomorrow. I'm looking forward to the race."
ANA BEATRIZ (No. 20 Healthy Choice/Sam Schmidt Mtrspts, fourth): "I felt pretty good. I think our second lap was a little bit slower than what we expected. It's so bad to qualify first because you have no test of what people are doing. It's always special to come back to Indy. It's such a magic environment with all of the fans. Indianapolis is all about the Indy 500, so it's a great environment, and I am really excited about the race. It's good to have the team behind you taking photos. I am hoping to be in an IndyCar (Series car) next year. Track conditions are pretty good. It's really hot here in Indy, so we were a little bit slower than we expected to be. It's equal for everybody. It wasn't that windy."
MARTIN PLOWMAN (No. 15 Panther Racing, fifth): "It was exciting. I love this qualifying format for the ovals. It's just one big adrenaline rush. I felt that first lap and a half of qualifying I did the best I could have done, but I made a small mistake on my second lap. It's just one of those things. We're still reasonably pleased, I think. Tomorrow is just a really big race, and we've got a strong car for the race, so we'll see some action tomorrow. (The Speedway) is everything that everyone describes of it. It's awe-inspiring. It's what dreams are made of, and it's what everyone dreams of as a young boy. The first time I drove around this place was just indescribable. It's pretty intimidating the first time you go out there, but once you get confident in yourself and the car out there, it's just a joy to race on."
FRIDAY'S SCHEDULE (all times local):
8 a.m. Garages open
12:15 p.m. Firestone Freedom 100 pre-race
12:30 p.m. Firestone Freedom 100 (40 laps/100 miles)
The 2009 IndyCar Series season continues May 24 with the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 1 p.m. (EDT) by ABC. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 211. The radio broadcast also will be carried on www.indycar.com. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season continues May 22 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast May 22 by VERSUS as part of its Carb Day coverage from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. (EDT).