Indianapolis: RLR/Andersen Racing race notes

RLR/Andersen Racing's Romancini Finishes Third After Thrilling Drive In the Firestone Freedom 100 at IMS INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., May 22 - A star was born at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday. His name is Mario Romancini and he drives for...

RLR/Andersen Racing's Romancini Finishes Third After Thrilling Drive In the Firestone Freedom 100 at IMS

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., May 22 - A star was born at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday.

His name is Mario Romancini and he drives for RLR/Andersen Racing.

Romancini started 18th in the 22-car Firestone Freedom 100, the crown jewel in the Firestone Indy Lights series since it supports the Indianapolis 500.

With a dazzling display of driving on the always tricky outside line, Romancini passed seven cars on the first lap, ran as high as second, and finished a strong third in only his second oval-track race ever.

By improving 15 positions, his performance earned him the Force for Earth Hard Charger award.

It was the best Firestone Freedom 100 ever held. It had the closest margin of victory (0.1046 of a second) and the most lead changes (nine) in the event's history.

Polesitter Wade Cunningham won the race over J.R. Hildebrand, who started third. Despite starting on the outside of Row 9, Romancini was only 0.1775 of a second behind Hildebrand when the checkered waved after 40 laps of competition on the world-famous 2.5-mile oval. Jay Howard was 1.6263 seconds behind Romancini in fourth, while Sebastian Saavedra rounded out the top five.

Romancini has finished third in both of the oval-track races he's competed in, as he was also third in the Firestone Indy Lights race at Kansas Speedway April 26.

Driving the No. 5 sponsored by Andersen Racing, Revita Recycling, Win Brazil Marketing, Allied Interior Products and Lafarge North America, the 21-year-old from Sao Paulo, Brazil dazzled the big Carb Day crowd on hand with his high-flying command of the outside line.

After passing seven cars on the first lap he was already in the top 10 by the end of lap one. He passed James Davison and Charlie Kimball on lap two to vault into eighth, and then took care of Martin Plowman and Pippa Mann on lap three to move into sixth. Plowman repassed him on lap five but Romancini dodged a big bullet and got the position back when Plowman and Mann crashed in Turn 1 to bring out the first full-course yellow on lap seven.

Romancini remained in sixth on the restart on lap 12, but he moved into the top five on the following lap when he passed Jay Howard. He passed Ana Beatriz on lap 14 for fourth. Two laps later everything almost came to a premature and violent end when he and Howard touched tires, but they both continued on, with Romancini retaining fourth. Beatriz and Yacaman weren't as lucky, as contact between them resulted in the second full-course caution on lap 17 when they crashed in Turn 2.

Bolstered by his charge on the first lap and his subsequent passes, at that point Romancini promised his engineer, Walter Preston, a podium finish over the radio.

The green flew again on lap 24. Romancini once again got an excellent restart, and passed Cunningham entering Turn 1 to nail down third on lap 25 and back up that promise. Cunningham got him back on lap 26 right before a third yellow waved for debris on the track near the pit-in point, however.

Romancini's fans were really screaming when he blasted from fourth to second on the restart on lap 29, passing both Saavedra and Cunningham on the outside entering Turn 1 like they were standing still. Hildebrand had the lead at that point. Romancini was almost as animated as his fans about the whole thing while talking on the radio, saying "Now that's what I'm talking about!" to his crew when he got second place.

He had to pause again, however, as another yellow came out on lap 31 when Mike Potekhen spun and made a nifty save after contact with Kimball.

The restart on lap 34 was another thriller. Romancini hung on to second behind Hildebrand when the green waved, and he was only 0.0665 of a second behind Hildebrand on lap 35. At that point the battle for the lead became a four-way contest between Hildebrand, Romancini, Saavedra and Cunningham as the lead pack duked it out.

Saavedra and Cunningham both passed Romancini on lap 36 to push him from second to fourth. Undaunted, Romancini used the outside line to regain second on the next lap by repassing both of them. Cunningham wiggled back by him on lap 38 to push him back to third. Cunningham then passed Hildebrand for the lead on the white-flag lap, and took the victory. Romancini held on for the final podium spot, while Howard exchanged positions with Saavedra one more time for the final top five after Saavedra brushed the wall exiting Turn 2 on the last lap.

Romancini's fastest lap was lap three when he ran a 47.2123 for an average speed of 190.628 miles per hour. That was the second-fastest lap of the race and far better than his qualifying speed of 186.785 mph.

The two other RLR/Andersen Racing drivers had to start at the rear too, but they both had problems. Jonathan Summerton of Kissimmee, Fla. started 19th and finished 12th in the No. 9, which advertised Give Kids the World, Allied Interior Products and Lafarge North America. He had to make two pit stops for a loose shock cover and lack of radio contact with his crew and spotter, but he said without those problems he had a car that could have been in contention for the victory.

Ali Jackson of Belfast, Northern Ireland started 20th in the No. 6 sponsored by the Moyvalley Hotel & Golf Resort in Kildare, Ireland. He placed 19th after he brushed the wall in Turn 2 on lap 17. Although he was able to bring the car back into the pits under its own power, the damage was too much for him to continue.

Hildebrand (158 points) now leads the point standings over Saavedra (153), Summerton (148), Junior Strous (146), Cunningham (135), James Hinchcliffe (130), Daniel Herrington (130), Romancini (126), Howard (123) and Davison (115).

There have been four different winners in the first five races of the year. The RLR/Andersen Racing drivers will try to make that five different winners at the next race on the schedule, which is coming right up on May 31 at the Milwaukee Mile.

Mario Romancini: "I'm very happy; happy for me, happy for the team. They did a good job from yesterday to today. We spent a lot of time yesterday trying to figure out what happened on qualifying that we were starting so much at the back. But we knew we had a strong car for the race. We knew that from the beginning because on the practice when I was running in traffic, I knew that the car was good, and that's what I was trying to tell them. We need to improve when we are running by ourselves, but for the race I think we will go good.

"I was able to make a very good first lap. I think I passed seven cars, I don't know exactly. This helped me a lot. The car was really good in traffic, especially when I was running side by side on the high line, I was able to pass them in the first turn, which is important. In Kansas we struggled a little bit with that. I couldn't pass them on the high side. So I'm very happy and just speechless, I don't know what to say. I want to thank them.

"The first time I was on an oval was in Homestead in February at the first test. The first laps I thought: 'What am I doing here? I can't handle this car; it's just too fast.' But after some laps I was getting up to speed, and I was feeling comfortable. I think what really helped me was the race in Kansas because that was my first one and we finished on the podium too, and I was feeling pretty comfortable with the car. That's just confidence. I trust the car and I trust the guys.

"More important, I didn't want to risk anything. I'm really thinking about the championship this year, so I just wanted to finish this race in a good position to score points after the problem that we had in Long Beach. But now I think we are starting to be more confident too. I'm feeling better working with my engineers and with my mechanics. I know the guys better now, so this is helping us, too.

"About the last laps, I think the guys in front are quicker, which means it's more difficult to pass. So this was the main key, I think. When I was at the back my car was quicker than the others, so it was easy for me to pass them on the outside. When I got to Hildebrand it was difficult. We were running side by side, but I couldn't do what I was doing with the others; I couldn't pass him. So I tried to stay with him and didn't let the guys behind me catch me because I wanted to finish on the podium after the position that we started.

"To be honest, I think the yellows helped everybody because since from the first practice everybody was having troubles with their right-rear tires. On the yellows I wasn't scrubbing the tires; I just tried to cool them down because I knew that I was going to need them for the last laps.

"That's something that I talked to my engineer about yesterday too. I said to him: 'We need an understeering car. We cannot have oversteering in this race because of the problems that we are having with the right-rear tire.' And that's what I tried to do. I was playing with my bars, always trying to keep the car a little bit understeering, so then the tires could last the whole race.

"As I said, I'm speechless. This race means a lot, especially starting from the back. It's a pleasure to be here, to be representing my country, to be getting good points towards the championship, but especially for me to be able to give my team good results for their hard work. They are working really hard, and the best way that I can show them my appreciation is with good results. They are very happy to have a car on the podium here in Indianapolis in the most important race of the year. So for me, that's the most important thing.

"I really don't know why I'm doing so well on the ovals. I mean, last year I was doing the World Series by Renault. That car has a lot of downforce, which means that when I was running on fast corners, I really had to learn how to make that happen because with so much downforce, you really lose the front of the car. So that helped me a little bit. But ovals are different. I really don't know. I just have a good car that can keep a good pace behind the others, and that's it. I'm just trying to be consistent and not risk too much. I just want to finish races.

"I'm used to running close on the ovals. At the first test in Homestead, on the second day we took the day to just run in traffic so I could get used to it. The race in Kansas helped me because I was running side by side with Cunningham for almost 15 or 20 laps, which gave me confidence. If you trust the guy running side by side with you, you've got to trust that he's thinking the same way you are, that you both need to finish the race. So whoever has the best car will win."

Jonathan Summerton: "Our car was great. As we saw at the end, I was plowing through all the traffic. We had as fast a car as the front runners, for sure. It was just a shame we had a little bit of problem with the radio in the race, so I had to pit for safety [and lost a lap]. I'm just a little down considering my teammate [Mario Romancini] was third, and I know we had as quick a car as he did. I think we would have been top three, no problem.

"We pitted twice. First the front shock cover was coming off, so we came in under yellow. We came out on the same lap and dropped back to about ninth again. I couldn't hear anybody on the radio on that stint, though, so we came in for safety and that's when I lost a lap.

"Overall it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. Sometimes it gets a little nerve-wracking when a guy comes up on you and you get a big understeer. But all in all, the car was really good, and I'd like to thank Andersen Racing for giving me this chance to race out here. I'm sure we can fight for the championship even with this result."

Ali Jackson: "This was the first time I've been in that much traffic. I just got caught up by the car in front. It took the air off my wing, and my car just glanced off the wall; not very hard but enough to put us out. It wasn't a lot of damage [right-rear suspension]. The draft was a big thing, obviously. We'll move forward."

"If this wasn't the biggest crowd I've ever raced in front of, it was one of the biggest. Despite the problems we had it was fun."

-credit: rlr/ar

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About this article
Series Indy Lights
Drivers Charlie Kimball , Pippa Mann , Wade Cunningham , James Davison , Daniel Herrington , Junior Strous , Jay Howard , James Hinchcliffe , Sebastian Saavedra , Mike Potekhen , Martin Plowman , Jonathan Summerton , J.R. Hildebrand , Mario Romancini