Las Vegas: Sam Schmidt Racing race report

VERNAY LEADS SAM SCHMIDT HOME WITH THIRD IN LONG BEACH; MAJOR AND MANN HAVE CAREER DAYS LONG BEACH, Calif. - J.K. Vernay's pursuit for three straight wins came up just short on Sunday morning during the Firestone Indy Lights race in Long Beach,...


LONG BEACH, Calif. - J.K. Vernay's pursuit for three straight wins came up just short on Sunday morning during the Firestone Indy Lights race in Long Beach, California.

Starting from second, he fell back to third in the first corner on the temporary street circuit, and he was never able to get by the two guys in front - eventual winner James Hinchcliffe and second-place Charlie Kimball.

The third-place finish was a good result for Vernay in the championship as he leaves the event with a 28 point lead over second-place Kimball.

The event would be a stage for the other three Sam Schmidt drivers to showcase highlights in their young Firestone Indy Lights careers.

Pippa Mann tied her best Firestone Indy Lights result with her eighth-place result. Throughout the day, she ran with the main pack battling from sixth on back hovering in the top-10. Though she gained some spots with attrition, she legitimately held her ground with her competitors on a type of racing circuit she will be the first to admit is not her strong suit.

Philip Major earned his best result in three starts with his seventh. He hovered around the top-five all day. Though he fell from sixth to seventh at the start, he kept up with the group battling it out for fourth on back. The young driver who had a quiet qualifying session also had a quiet race as he kept his nose clean and showed maturity in his driving pursuit.

The star of the show for the Sam Schmidt team had to be James Winslow who, starting from 14th, ran as high as sixth towards the end of the race before it ended with a bang. Having posted the third-quickest time in morning warm-up, he let everyone know that even though he didn't get to fully participate in Saturday's qualifying, he'd be someone to look out for in the race. With a car he considered to be mega-fast, Winslow made pass after pass to move up through the field into sixth position. He was getting ready to challenge for fifth before his day ended in the tire wall, a result of having the steering wheel fall into his hands - literally.

Though the race didn't result in a victory for the Sam Schmidt team, there was many good stories to be taken from this event, and something for all the drivers to build on heading into the oval portion of the Firestone Indy Lights schedule.

The next event on the Firestone Indy Lights schedule is the Freedom 100 at the hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 28th.

No. 7 LUCAS SLICK MIST/CJ Motorsport/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver J.K. Vernay
Started Sunday's race in second; finished third.
Leads series points standings by 28 over second.
Third Firestone Indy Lights start; winner in first two Firestone Indy Lights starts.

"This morning the car was perfect in warm-up and I was feeling confident, but then during the race I didn't really understand what was wrong with the car or what was happening. It was difficult for me to stay behind Charlie and Hinchcliffe. I am happy to be in the front of the championship though, and as a rookie I feel great about my season to this point. And when fighting for the championship, third place is not bad."

No. 11 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver Pippa Mann
Started Sunday's race in 12th; finished eighth.

"Last year, I had some great runs on the ovals, and I had pretty good runs on the road courses, but in my whole career, even back in Europe, I always really struggled on the street circuits. This team has a tradition of running great street course cars. They've really helped me through the winter. Even though a lot of cars didn't finish the race, we were legitimately running amongst the top-10 in terms of pace all day long. I'm just really pleased to come away with a finish that I feel the whole No. 11 team deserves because these guys have been working really hard, and hopefully it's just a stepping stone to many better finishes for the rest of the season."

No. 49 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver Philip Major
Started Sunday's race in sixth; finished seventh.

"This finish for us is very encouraging. It shows that we're getting better. We just have to keep up the trend going forward. We need to keep improving and working our way higher towards the front. In this race, I struggled a bit getting out of the hairpin. When Gustavo got by us in the beginning, he kind of got us all slowed up. My big mistake was letting him get by. If we wouldn't have done that, I think we would have done a lot better, but we just lost too much ground. Oh well, live and learn, and we'll look to improve again in the next event."

No. 77 BSS/BRIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver James Winslow
Started Sunday's race in 14th; finished 12th.

"Today, our car was awesome. We were mega fast. On lap five, the radio stopped working, and I couldn't make out why. Around lap 10, the steering wheel started working itself loose off the steering column. By lap 20, I was up to around eighth I think, and the steering wheel, it had so much play in it, it was almost coming off the rack. Under the yellow flag, I held the car straight, and I worked out that it was the box that the wheel was shaking itself loose from. We did a lot of work to come back from starting 14th and getting up to sixth, and I think we were going to get Plowman for fifth. On the last lap, the steering wheel just feel off clear into my hands. There was a right-hand bend coming up, and I'm holding the steering wheel that's not connected to anything at all. My teammate ran into the back of me. I was just trying to get the car slowed down to not hit the wall as hard, but he had nowhere to go. After having the problems with the gearbox in qualifying, we came back out in the morning warm-up and showed we had the pace to genuinely run with the top-four, but like the last two events, there's been some sort of bad luck that's done us in. I must have done something wrong because everything I've touched lately has gone wrong. We can only take the positives from our showing and move on."

Team Owner, Sam Schmidt
"Even though we didn't win, and we were really hoping to win, there's a lot of positives we can take away from this event. J.K. had a good points-paying day. If he can't win, finishing on the podium is a good thing for the championship. I thought James was having a great day going until he had his issue at the end. Pippa matching her best career finish in Firestone Indy Lights, and Philip getting his best career finish in this series, these are all positive steps. We can build on these and take some good momentum heading into the month of May in Indy. Hopefully we're peaking at the right time and can come away with another win in the Freedom 100 and have a good showing in the Indy 500 with that program."

-source: ssm

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Series NHRA
Drivers Sam Schmidt , Charlie Kimball , Pippa Mann , James Hinchcliffe , Phillip Major , James Winslow