Ireland's Peter Dempsey emerged victorious for Belardi in a thrilling end to the Firestone Freedom 100, the Indy Lights race that is the traditional starter for the Indianapolis 500 race weekend.

The race saw Dempsey take the line just 0.0026s ahead of Schmidt's Gabby Chaves in a jaw-dropping four-wide finish across the world famous yard of bricks at the start-finish line - a sight that most race fans not only thought they'd never see, but which was believed to be impossible on the 50-foot-wide front stretch without triggering total disaster. (See video: Will the Indy 500 provide such drama?)

Dempsey had been in fourth place and Chaves in third when the white flag came out, but the pair got a huge run on race leaders Carlos Munoz (Andretti) and Sage Karam (Schmidt) coming out of the final turn and were able to pull level with the lead duo as the line approached.

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Karam had started the race from pole position, but Munoz had made sure that he never pulled too far away at the start of the race and on lap 12 succeeded in taking the lead for himself, in what is the ideal dress rehearsal for the Colombian who is starting the Indy 500 on Sunday from the front row.

Munoz continued to lead for virtually the remainder of the afternoon but was unable to shake Karam even as the duo gradually dropped Chaves and Dempsey looked to be struggling to remain in touch with the podium contenders, running almost half a second back from the leader when the white flag had came out.

Munoz' grip on victory faltered only in the last seconds, with Karam just managing to inch ahead before both men were passed in the last instant by Dempsey and Chaves on the outside which left Dempsey celebrating in victory lane quipping that the beers were on him tonight, and a slightly bewildered Munoz wondering how he had lost out on the podium.

"It literally took my breath away," said Dempsey's team owner Brian Belardi. "He did such a great job just holding station. We knew it was going to be a shootout with those three cars in the front and they just poked a massive hole and he was able to sneak in there and just drove a flawless race.

"He is a great race car driver, we all know," he added. "For the team to get their first here, it is so special. Words cannot describe it."

"If you're going to win your first Firestone Indy Lights race, there's no better place to do it than at Indianapolis Motor Speedway," said an ecstatic Dempsey. "I had a feeling this end was going to happen, and you know it's going to be four-wide across the line certain enough. It's massive!"

Even though the winning margin was just 0.0026s - literally just inches at the speeds the cars were travelling, and the closest-ever finish on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval circuit - the 27-year-old from Ashbourne was confident that he'd won and punched the air with delight even before the photo finish confirmed his victory.

Less than five hundredths of a second covered the entire top four, with Munoz a heart-breakingly close 0.0443s off winning the race that he'd led for 27 of the 40 two-and-half-mile laps.

With only 11 cars entered in this year's event, there were two retirements: Kyle O'Gara took a hard hit in turn 4 on lap 2 which brought out the only caution of the day, while English racer Jack Hawkesworth exited after glancing the wall at the same spot on lap 14.

1. #3 Peter Dempsey Belardi 40 laps 36mins 48.6540secs
2. #4 Gabby Chaves Schmidt Peterson + 0.0026s
3. #1 Sage Karam Schmidt Peterson + 0.0280s
4. #2 Carlos Munoz Andretti + 0.0443s
5. #6 Zach Veach Andretti
6. #10 Jorge Goncalvez Belardi
7. #11 Jimmy Simpson Moore
8. #9 Chase Austin Herta
9. #7 Juan Pablo Garcia Moore
10. #5 Jack Hawksworth Schmidt Peterson Contact on lap 14
11. #8 Kyle O'Gara Schmidt Peterson Contact on lap 2