23 May 2009
Cunningham wins close Freedom 100.
Polesitter Wade Cunningham recovered from losing his advantage mid-race to claim his second Firestone Freedom 100 race win in five attempts, edging JR Hildebrand by just 0.1046secs in the closest finish in event history.
Kiwi Cunningham, swapped the lead with AFS/AGR duo Hildebrand and Sebastian Saavedra nine times during the 40-lap blue riband event before the Sam Schmidt driver made the decisive move entering turn three of the white flag lap and held under pressure to take the flag just millimetres in front. Cunningham became the first two-time winner of the Freedom 100, having also won the event from the pole in 2006, but his sixth career victory was, remarkably, his first since Watkins Glen in 2007.
The win was also the third in the Freedom 100 for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, which also won from the pole in 2004 with Thiago Medeiros and 2005 with Jaime Camara, and avenges Cunningham's narrow defeat at the hands of the latter, which 0.1319secs margin had been the previous closest ever. Cunningham is the fourth different race winner in five Firestone Indy Lights races this season, following Junior Strous, Hildebrand and Saavedra.
"The whole race was to-and-fro," the Kiwi admitted, "I got to the front early and knew I couldn't lead all 40 laps, so I fell back because I didn't want to be leading at the end. I knew I had a fast car, and it was a matter of being at the right place at the right time."
Hildebrand also admitted to not wanting to be at the front, but found himself caught in two minds as the pack headed into the final couple of laps.
"I really didn't want to be leading the race toward the end, but there were enough fast cars there in the front that I tried to keep it up there for as long as I could," he revealed, having nevertheless taken over at the head of the points, "Wade got a good run, and I thought, if nothing else, I could just work with him, maybe get by him there at the end. However, I just picked up too much understeer when I was back in traffic - I set the car so I would be quick up front but, once I got behind guys, I just couldn't adjust it fast enough."
Increasingly impressive Brazilian Mario Romancini claimed a second successive third-place finish, following his Kansas podium with a climb through the field from 18th that eventually saw the RLR/Andersen car finishing just 0.2821secs back.
"I'm speechless - I don't know what to say," a surprised Romancini admitted, "The team did a phenomenal job. We did not do well in qualifying yesterday but, today, I was able to pass guys. The car felt really good, I felt really comfortable in traffic, and I am very happy to be on the podium here. This is just my second oval race - my first was in Kansas - so I'm still learning every lap."
Britain's Jay Howard, having qualified sixth on borrowed kit after inking a late extension to his Team PBIR deal, finished fourth after also managing to overcome front row starter Saavedra.
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