Kentucky: Sam Schmidt Motorsports race notes

FITTING ENDING: SAM SCHMIDT TEAM WITH WADE CUNNINGHAM WIN AT KENTUCKY IN SERIES 100TH RACE SPARTA, Ky. -- On Saturday night, after a thrilling fight at the front between Sam Schmidt Motorsports drivers Wade Cunningham, Ana Beatriz, and James ...

FITTING ENDING: SAM SCHMIDT TEAM WITH WADE CUNNINGHAM WIN AT KENTUCKY IN SERIES 100TH RACE

SPARTA, Ky. -- On Saturday night, after a thrilling fight at the front between Sam Schmidt Motorsports drivers Wade Cunningham, Ana Beatriz, and James Hinchcliffe, along with AGR's Sebastian Saavedra, Cunningham took the checkered flag for his seventh career victory in Firestone Indy Lights, which celebrated its 100th event.

Beatriz followed in third, Hinchcliffe in seventh, and Gustavo Yacaman was 19th after crashing out on the first lap. It was the 30th victory for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in the series (including one entered by AGR in 2006).

Wade Cunningham takes victory after dogfight.

Wade Cunningham entered this weekend knowing he'd have to lead laps and win the race to gain ground in the championship standings. He did just that. Besides earning 50 points for his victory, he also gained two bonus points for leading the most laps at 23 -- just one more than Sebastian Saavedra, whom Cunningham gained 12 points on for second in the championship. In fact, Cunningham passed Mario Romancini in the championship standings for third. The victory was Cunningham's second for the season, seventh for his career, and fourth podium of 2009.

Ana Beatriz returns to the podium.

Besides wanting to improve upon her 2008 result at the Kentucky Speedway, Ana Beatriz entered this weekend's event wanting to get her season back on track. After winning at Iowa, she had three tough race weekends where one problem or another kept her out of the top five. Finally, she managed to avoid bad luck, and she was in contention for the win during the entire race. She also provided one of the many thrilling moments of the race when she dove to the inside of first and second place heading into Turn 3 on Lap 26 and came out with the lead. The finish was one that Beatriz needed, and it allowed her to gain ground in the championship among the competitors in front of her in the standings.

James Hinchcliffe leads first Firestone Indy Lights laps.

With issues out of his control taking him out of the running at Kansas and Indy, Hinchcliffe entered the Kentucky event with minimal race experience on the big oval tracks. That didn't seem to bother him because when the green flag flew, he charged to the front and stayed there. Starting fifth, he was third by the end of Lap 1. He moved into second on Lap 11, and on Lap 21, he took the lead for the first time. In total, he'd lead twice for 20 laps. When not leading, he was dicing it out with the leaders and showed he could be competitive and comfortable on the big ovals. As the race progressed, his car developed an over-steer condition while in traffic, and it finally lost control just a few laps from the end. Still, Hinchcliffe managed to salvage seventh spot. More importantly, Hinchcliffe can finally make good on his pledge for the Waldenstroms Macroglobulinemia Foundation of Canada. He's promised the foundation $5 for every lap he leads in the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season. He's happy to know that he can finally mail them a check for leading laps.

Gustavo Yacaman's day ends early.

It wasn't all smiles in the Sam Schmidt Motorsports camp after the race as one member of the team encountered issues, taking him out early. Gustavo Yacaman lost control of his car in Turns 3 and 4 on the first lap of the race. The driver was unhurt, but he wasn't sure what had happened. Though he was happy to see his teammates running at the front for most of the race, he's looking to forget about this event and shifts his focus to the next round on the schedule -- Mid-Ohio.

#7 HINCHTOWN.com/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver James Hinchcliffe

"It was nice to finally lead our first laps of the season. I thought they were going to come a lot sooner. I'm glad we finally got some, and I'm glad that I can finally make a donation to the Waldenstroms Macroglobulinemia Foundation of Canada. Running up front was great. The car was really awesome. We really just hit some bad luck with traffic. Wade got a run on me on the outside, and the lapped car we were running up on was running high, so Wade got a draft off them and was able to move to the front. Then with Sebastian, it was a similar sort of thing. A lapped car we were coming up on, I thought was going to stay low, so I went high, but then they went high and pushed me into the marbles allowing Sebastian to get by because I had to get out of it. But, it was still a good race. In the last ten laps, I was running side-by-side with Bia, and the car just kept getting looser on me. I was sort of having to pinch the car down when she was getting her runs on me on the outside, and that was making the car even more loose. With a couple of laps to go, Sebastian, who was running side-by-side with Wade, got a bad run out of Turn 2 and cut down low taking all the air off of my car. With my car already wanting to get sideways, that loss of air just pitched me into a spin, and there was nothing I could do. It's a shame after running strong all day to only finish seventh, but we could have ended up in the wall so it's one of those bitter-sweet days I guess."

#11 LUCAS OIL/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver Wade Cunningham

"It was a difficult race, even when I was in the lead those last 25-28 laps. Sebastian had a very strong car, and the car behind him dropped into a taller gear, which, that's how I got him but I knew he was going to be able to make a run. He was pushing his car in a way that maybe he may have damaged his front tires, because he wasn't as strong the last 10 laps as he was before, and I was able to take advantage of that. It was an awesome race, and a rewarding one. I'm happy that we could get this win in the 100th Firestone Indy Lights event, and more importantly, we made up some good ground on AGR in the points."

#20 HEALTHY CHOICE/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver Ana Beatriz

"We had speed on the straight and I was able to overtake for first position, but I couldn't hold it. It seems like the other cars just had more power at the exit of corners, and that's why we lost it. But we had a top 10, passed a lot of people, got a podium, and I think it was a great day . I couldn't be happier for the Healthy Choice/Sam Schmidt team." (What happened on that caution?): "My spotter called green, so I went go, go, go and I pushed the throttle, and actually Wade went fast too. I saw the yellow flag and the white flag, it was really confusing, I thought it was yellow."

#44 CREPES & WAFFLES/TUVACOL/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver Gustavo Yacaman

"I'm not sure what happened in our incident. I was just heading into the turn trying to be careful and settle into a pace, and the rear of the car just snapped on me. Obviously, I'm disappointed. I feel bad for Charlie Kimball who got collected, and more importantly, for my crew who worked very hard to prepare for this race."

Team Owner, Sam Schmidt

On the 100th Firestone Indy Lights race: "I was thinking about how this was the 100th Firestone Indy Lights race the other day, and I completely forgot about it on race day until I rolled into victory circle and saw the emblem. I think it's phenomenal. I started my IndyCar career in 1997, and I've been with Firestone from the start. They have supported me throughout my racing career, and there was never ever a doubt over thousands of laps with Firestone. I never lacked any confidence in those tires. So I have to thank Joe Barbieri and Al Speyer for that continued support, and I'm really thankful for the $100,000 special prize for winning this race. At least that's what I told them in victory circle. They're also extremely supportive of our foundation, and for that, I will be eternally grateful."

On being a part of three out of the top five Firestone Indy Lights moments: "It's a fantastic accomplishment for the team, and it makes me feel good because we've been running cars in this series since the inception. Everybody on this team from our crew members in 2002 through the crew members of today are really responsible for those results. I have some fantastic memories through those first 100 races, and frankly, the decision to run in Firestone Indy Lights as opposed to the IndyCar Series fulltime was a tough one. But, this is exactly why we do it because we have a chance to sit on poles and win every race, and that's where everybody on this team wants to be. They're all true racers, and to be a part of three out of the top five moments in Indy Lights history, I just have a lot of people to thank. Lucas Oil has been there every step of the way along with KECO Coatings, FloridaCondos.net, JMKC Express. I think they've all been around since day one. More recently, LifeLock has joined on and become really involved, and Healthy Choice has been too. Without them, we wouldn't be here. It's just great to share all of these moments with family and friends."

On fan vote resulting in "Ultimate Podium" being comprised of former SSM/Lucas Oil drivers: "Wow, after hearing that news, I'm speechless. Blown away. That's just unbelievable. Obviously, Forest Lucas will be ecstatic about that, and with his commitment to motorsports in general, he deserves it more than anybody. All of those drivers have made a huge commitment to this sport and putting this series where it is today. That's just a fantastic and tremendous result, and I want to thank the fans more than anything. That's just incredible."

Reflecting on 100 Firestone Indy Lights events.

With 100 Firestone Indy Lights races in the books, the team at firestoneindylights.com spent the last several days highlighting the Top 5 moments in Firestone Indy Lights history. Sam Schmidt Motorsports were a part of the fourth, second, and top moments. Moment No. 4 reflected on Alex Lloyd's record-breaking run of starting the 2007 season by winning five races in a row. Moment No. 2 reflected on Ana Beatriz becoming the first woman in Firestone Indy Lights to win. The top moment was the Guinness World Record setting closest finish ever at the 2007 Chicagoland Speedway between Logan Gomez and Alex Lloyd. The other moments highlighted were AJ Foyt IV winning the first Firestone Indy Lights event at No. 5 and the series running at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time as moment No. 3.

Also, firestoneindylights.com had a fan poll to select the "Ultimate Podium," the top three drivers from the first 100 races. The fans spoke, and they love drivers of Sam Schmidt Motorsports, and more specifically, former drivers of the Lucas Oil car. The podium included Alex Lloyd, Wade Cunningham, and Travis Gregg.

-credit: ssm

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About this article
Series Indy Lights
Drivers Sam Schmidt , Alex Lloyd , Travis Gregg , Wade Cunningham , James Hinchcliffe , Sebastian Saavedra , Logan Gomez , Ana Beatriz , Mario Romancini , Gustavo Yacaman