Festa Drives Blind, Gets Hard Charger for Third Schmidt Motorsports teams third, fifth, seventh at Indy INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Sam Schmidt Motorsports' youngest racer drove through nearly blinded conditions and lots of slick oil to win the ...
Festa Drives Blind, Gets Hard Charger for Third
Schmidt Motorsports teams third, fifth, seventh at Indy
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Sam Schmidt Motorsports' youngest racer drove through nearly blinded conditions and lots of slick oil to win the FedEx Hard Charger Award and finish third in Saturday's Menards Infiniti Pro Series Liberty Challenge at Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- the second road course race of the season.
A hair-raising start to the 25-lap road course race presented the only challenge for race leader and eventual winner Marco Andretti. Jeff Simmons drove past Andretti heading into the first turn on the first lap, but missed the corner. The pass let Andretti pull away to a sizeable lead that just kept growing − Andretti won by nearly a 13-second margin.
Chris Festa, 19, of Atlanta, Ga., masterfully negotiated his way through the opening-lap chaos, pulling around teammate Jaime Camara and up to fifth in the field. Festa continued exercising his road racing experience, staying tight with the leaders. He drove around Nick Bussell for fourth, then soldiered through the oil from Simmons' expired motor, bringing the #19 Western Union/CareCentric, Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry around to the checkers in third. Festa's third top-three finish of the season moved him to fourth in the standings with 178 points.
Jaime Camara kept the #1 CELG/Goias, Sam Schmidt race car in the top five, which kept him in third in the series championship chase with 181 points. Travis Gregg pulled his #7 Lucas Oil Special, Sam Schmidt Motorsports race car around Marty Roth in the early stages of the race, and finished seventh. Gregg is now second in the title race with 217 points.
"We changed about all we could change on the car before the start of the race and it was really good for us," smiled Festa, who had been concerned about his car's performance in yesterday's qualifying sessions. "I had a faster car at the start and I was able to use it to grab a couple of positions when Simmons went off track. I ended up racing really hard with Wade [Cunningham], which was great. I'm not really sure how I made it through the last half of the race because I was out of visor tear-offs when Simmons's engine let go. My helmet was totally covered in oil and dirt. I knew it was hard to see, but it was a lot worse when I got out of the car and could see the oil everywhere."
Gregg's finish cost him the points lead, and sort of felt like a "call" from the oval tracks for him to hurry "home."
"We started out ninth and finished seventh, so we moved up two positions. The car started off pretty good, but it fell off a little bit and developed quite a push that kept me from getting around Arie [Luyenduk, Jr.]. It was a good, clean race for us and we're ready for a few weeks off, then we'll be back on the ovals. Nashville is next for us and I'm hoping we can get back up front and make up some of the points we lost today (in the championship battle),"said Gregg.
Camara was very excited about the chance to race on the road course, but like any racer who isn't in victory lane, wanted a better finish.
"I was really conservative in the start because I needed a good finish so I wanted to save the car for the rest of the race. My start let Marty Roth and Chris Festa get by me, then I was kind of held back for a while by Roth which opened up a gap between me and the front cars. My car was fast, but I never could make up the ground--I kind of raced by myself a few seconds behind the leaders. It wasn't a fun day, but it was a solid day for the points race," said Camara
Sam Schmidt smiled as he pondered his team's performance.
"Obviously, it's not bad when you can be disappointed with finishes of third, fifth and seventh," said Schmidt. "We've still got room for improvement in our road course program, but we've got some time to think about it. Nashville is next and we hope we can get the points lead back in our hands when we leave there."
Saturday's Liberty Challenge will be televised by ESPN-2 on Tuesday, June 21st at 5 p.m. Eastern.
The next Menards Infiniti Pro Series race is on the concrete oval, Nashville Superspeedway, on Saturday, July 16th.