IL: Cunningham claims 100th Lights race
2 August 2009
Wade Cunningham claimed victory in the 100th Indy Lights race of the modern era by passing Sebastian Saavedra for the lead with twelve laps remaining in the Kentucky 100.
The Kiwi completed the move exiting turn two on lap 55, and was still in front when the safety car appeared to cover a spin for Sam Schmidt team-mate James Hinchcliffe on lap 64. Cunningham, driving the #11 Lucas Oil-backed Schmidt car, won under caution after the lap 66 restart was waived off and the chequer came out next time around.
"It was a difficult race, even when I was in the lead those last 25-28 laps," the former champion noted, having also led from laps 43-52, "Sebastian had a very strong car, and the car behind him dropped into a taller gear. That's how I got him, but I knew he was going to be able to make a run. He was pushing his car in a way that maybe may have damaged his front tyres, because he wasn't as strong over the last ten laps as he was before, and I was able to take advantage of that."
Saavedra, driving the #27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers Inc car for AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing, finished second for a third consecutive top five result, strengthening his challenge for the title on a day when team-mate, and points leader, JR Hildebrand failed to complete the opening lap.
"I'm very happy," the Colombian commented, "We scored some very important points. The car was great, and the whole AGR/AFS Racing team did an incredible job. We were just doing as planned, trying to be side-by-side with Wade at the start-finish, but that yellow flag just made everything impossible. We're still in the same position in the points for the championship and I'm looking forward to Mid-Ohio."
Ana Beatriz posted her fifth top five finish in the #20 Healthy Choice machine to give Sam Schmidt Motorsports a 1-3 finish after bouncing back from disappointing recent non-oval results.
"We got speed on the straight and I was able to overtake for first position, but I couldn't hold it," the Brazilian said, having led for a couple of laps approaching half-distance, "It seems like the other cars just had more power at the exit of corners, and that's why we lost it. But we had a top ten, passed a lot of people, got a podium and I think it was a great day. I couldn't be happier for my team."
James Davison was fourth for Vision Racing to take the chequer for the 17th consecutive Indy Lights race. The Australian now sits just one off the series record held by Nick Bussell as he continues his personal resurgence in this year's series.
"I'm really happy with our performance," he admitted, "It is a big development for us as a first year team in this series to have a competitive run on a mile-and-a-half oval with the top teams. We have to be satisfied with that. We weren't the fastest car. We were fourth and fifth the majority of the race, but it is a good result and something to build on."
Andrew Prendeville rounded out the top five for TMR/Xtreme Coil Drilling, having hauled himself up from row seven at the start.
"It was a short schedule, and we didn't have all the time we needed, but we started 13th and finished fifth," he reported, "The team did a really good job in the short time that we had, especially since we are a one-car team, and a lot of the other two-car teams had cars they could have pulled data off. The track wasn't ideal, and we've just been struggling with everything this weekend. The track was still pretty dusty, but we still put on a pretty good show for the fans."
Hinchcliffe was classified seventh, behind Daniel Herrington, while returnee Mike Potekhen, Martin Plowman and Mario Romancini completed the top ten. Plowman's Panther Racing team-mate Pippa Mann took the start despite her visit to hospital on Friday and completed 65 of the 67 laps in 15th position.
Hildebrand, meanwhile, was classified in 17th spot after retiring on the opening lap with a mechanical problem on his ARPRO AFS/AGR machine. The American was one of just three retirements, all coming on lap one after Charlie Kimball and Gustavo Yacaman were both sidelined by contact.