Sam Schmidt Motorsports must be hoping that they can pull off the same success in the Indy 500 as their man Josef Newgarden was able to do in the IndyLights Firestone Freedom 100 held on Friday (Carb Day.)
Just as Alex Tagliani will start the Indy 500 on pole for the IndyCar part of the operation, another Sam Schmidt driver, Bryan Clauson, had started on pole for the support race based on owner points after qualifying had proved a washout. But Newgarden and Team Moore's Victor Garcia got the better of him into turn 1 at the start. Newgarden's team mate Esteban Guerrieri was also never far from the lead and would eventually eclipse Garcia for second.
"The team was able to make me quick and I got up to speed right away," Newgarden said. "This is the biggest win I think I have ever had. To win the Firestone Freedom 100 in front of this crowd at this famous racetrack is incredible.
"It's an unbelievable achievement for the team," he said, after becoming the first American to win the Freedom 100 since Ed Carpenter won the inaugural event in 2003. Last year, New Zealander Wade Cunningham won the race for Sam Schmidt ahead of Charlie Kimball and James Hinchcliffe, boh of whom have since made the step up into IndyCar this year. Another Indy 500 entrant, Britain's Pippa Mann, was the polesitter - the first woman to take pole in a major race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The end of the race was marred by a scary-looking accident on lap 34 which meant the race finished under caution. Belardi team mates Jorge Goncalvez and Anders Krohn were running three-wide through turn 1 with Clauson when Krohn (running on the bottom) spun and hit the outside wall, prompting Goncalvez (in the middle) to spin as well, making contact with the outside SAFER barrier before rebounding and making a nasty, hard hit with the inside wall.
It took some time to extricate both drivers. Goncalvez was dispatched to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital and Krohn checked at the IU Health Emergency Care Center. Both were released a few hours later with no significant injuries.
The incident was blamed partly on cold weather conditions, with temperatures down in the 50s Fahrenheit at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which caused set-up and handling problems with cold tyres. By contrast, the forecast for the Indy 500 itself is for temperatures in the 80s, although thunderstorms could make an appearance.
The crash delayed the finish of the race and pushed back the rest of the day's schedule which included the IZOD Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge, which offered a $50,000 top prize to the fastest driver/pit crew combination to execute a four-tyre/ simulated fuel stop. Participants were decided by competitions at IndyCar races over the last year together with a final series of 'play-offs' held in pit lane last week during the morning of practice days.
Team Penske have won for the last six years is has been contested, with Helio Castroneves in the driving seat for the last four, but this time Helio Castroneves's Penske crew fell at the first round against Ryan Hunter-Reay and the Andretti Autosport team. Instead, it fell to Ryan Briscoe and his crew to come up trumps by completing each simulated stop in under 8s through the three rounds.
"This win means a lot," said Briscoe's crew chief, Matt Jonsson. "It adds confidence for Sunday, of course, and we're planning on doing the same thing on Sunday and trying to move up through the field."
Briscoe's crew beat Justin Wilson and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in round 1 and then Tony Kanaan and KV Racing Technology in round 2, before facing Dario Franchitti and Target Chip Ganassi Racing in the final. Briscoe's time of 7.882s beat Dario's 8.481s.
Firestone Freedom 100 race results
1. #11 Josef Newgarden
Sam Schmidt Motorsports 00:55:38.9881 (Laps 40 - Running)
2. #7 Esteban Guerrieri
Sam Schmidt Motorsports + 0.4443s (Laps 40 - Running)
3. #22 Victor Garcia
Team Moore Racing + 0.8010s (Laps 40 - Running)
4. #5 Stefan Wilson
Andretti Autosport + 1.3053s (Laps 40 - Running)
5. #77 Bryan Clauson
Sam Schmidt Motorsports + 2.077s (Laps 40 - Running)
6. #36 Peter Dempsey
O2 Racing Technology + 3.1123s (Laps 40 - Running)
7. #17 Rusty Mitchell
Team E + 4.4603s (Laps 40 - Running)
8. #16 David Ostella
Jensen MotorSport + 5.3442s (Laps 40 - Running)
9. #75 Chase Austin
Willy T. Ribbs/Starting Grid, Inc./BAR + 6.1744s (Laps 40 - Running)
10. #63 Mikael Grenier
O2 Racing Technology + 7.4065s (Laps 40 - Running)
11. #4 Jorge Goncalvez
Belardi Auto Racing + 6 laps (Laps 34 - Contact)
12. #9 Anders Krohn
Belardi Auto Racing + 6 laps (Laps 34 - Contact)
13. #28 Duarte Ferreira
Bryan Herta Autosport + 11 laps (Laps 29 - Contact)
14. #32 Brandon Wagner
Davey Hamilton Racing + 12 laps (Laps 28 - Contact)
15. #2 Gustavo Yacaman
Team Moore Racing + 20 laps (Laps 20 - Contact)
16. #12 Juan Pablo Garcia
Jensen MotorSport + 20 laps (Laps 20 - Contact)
17. #26 James Winslow
Andretti Autosport + 20 laps (Laps 20 - Contact)
18. #3 Victor Carbone
Sam Schmidt Motorsports + 33 laps (Laps 7 - Contact)