Newgarden, Daly Lead the Way at St. Petersburg; Polesitter Guerrieri Ends Up Sixth
It can be said that Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) was flexing its muscles Sunday in the Firestone Indy Lights Series race that was part of the IZOD IndyCar Series season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
After capturing the first three positions in Saturday qualifying, the four-car SSM team of all Indy Lights Series rookies backed up that performance Sunday when Josef Newgarden in the No. 11 Robo-Pong/SSM entry, and Conor Daly in the No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/SSM entry, finished first and second, respectively, in the 45-lap race.
Perhaps more impressive was the fact the SSM trio of Newgarden, polesitter Esteban Guerrieri in the No. 7 Lucas Oil/SSM car, and Daly were running 1-2-3 for more than 20 laps. While Newgarden and Daly went on to finish 1-2, a late-race restart saw Guerrieri get shuffled back to sixth after an unsuccessful bid to pass Newgarden for the lead on lap 43.
The fourth SSM driver, Brazilian Victor Carbone in the No. 3 Nevoni/SSM Indy Lights car, was able to battle back for only a ninth-place finish after qualifying 12th on Saturday.
The 20-year-old Newgarden drove a flawless race after taking the lead from Peter Dempsey on lap 12. He went on to give team owner Sam Schmidt his 38th Indy Lights race win – more than any other car owner.
“The Lights team really did a good job over there,” said Schmidt, whose Indy Lights teams have won four series titles, including last season with driver J.K. Vernay. “If not for that crazy last restart, we would have had our 1-2-3 with an eighth, so that cost us a little bit. Certainly, though, 1-2-6 and 9 is not a bad way to start that season.”
There were two lead changes in the 45-lap race. Fifth-place qualifier Peter Dempsey took advantage of a great start to jump into the lead. He stayed there until Newgarden’s pass on lap 12. Newgarden led a total of 34 laps, and there was just one caution period that lasted five laps.
Josef Newgarden (Finished 1st), Driver of the No. 11 Robo-Pong/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Entry:
“I don’t know what to say, I am so happy for everyone else. This is way beyond me. It takes the efforts of the entire team that worked so hard over the winter to make this win happen. I am so happy for Sam Schmidt and proud to be driving for him and give him a victory. Sam is a remarkable man, and what kid wouldn’t want to do this. I feel so blessed and happy to be here with the team and have these remarkable partners. I hope we can continue this all year because this is what we are here to do. I think the best plan is not to have a plan. I thought about it a lot last night and you just have to go with what you are feeling at the right moment because anything can really happen. I was so thrilled that we got a good start, and Esteban gave me plenty of room and fought me really clean. It was a nice, easy pass and Peter (Dempsey) actually got by me, as well. I just thought it was a long race and, if you stay cool and pressure him, he will make a mistake and I could capitalize on it. That is exactly what happened and it is unbelievable. This is a dream come true, and it is so great.”
Conor Daly (Finished 2nd), Driver of the No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Entry:
“It is great to race here again and a good day for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. We had really fast racecars and were running 1-2-3 until that restart. Unfortunately, on that initial start, I was just in the wrong gear. It was my mistake and, next time, I will be able to learn from it. It was unfortunate for us there, but it is also good to know that we can make passes happen in this car. It was a valuable experience for me if I ever have to get into a dogfight situation again. The last restart was epic, and Esteban went straight down the inside and he saw I was coming and he was trying to make a move on Josef, as well. I could tell that it was basically an ice rink on the inside of the track as there was dust flying everywhere. Me and Josef haven’t raced together since 2008, and we always seem to end up together on the podium as 1-2, one way or another. It was a great day for the entire Mazda Road to Indy Team.”
Esteban Guerrieri (Finished 6th), Driver of the No.7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Entry:
“It was a really good race until the last two laps. We were lapping great, really consistent. I didn’t want to make any mistakes. I was trying to push on the restart, and we got to the first corner very close with other cars. I missed my braking point a little bit. That was my mistake. I went wide and got picked off. But, in the end, it’s an official race and we go for the next one.”
Victor Carbone (Finished 9th), Driver of the No. 3 Nevoni/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Entry:
“It was a shame in qualifying that I couldn’t qualify better because I was faster than some of the cars in front of me. The race was going well until the last restart. I was unable to get a good restart. That messed up the rest of my race. I have to thank my guys for the work they did in the winter and I look forward to the next race.”