If winning the pole for the Indianapolis 500 and Firestone Freedom 100 wasn’t enough for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Josef Newgarden brought home the victory in today’s Firestone Freedom 100 for the team.
“It’s an unbelievable achievement for the team,” Newgarden said after his second win of the season. “I’m so grateful, and I have to thank Esteban because he helped me the whole race. It’s not really the way I wanted to win it, but I’ll take it.”
The Nashville, Tenn. native is the first American to win the race since Ed Carpenter won the inaugural race in 2003.
“The team was able to make me quick and I got up to speed right away,” Newgarden added. “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. This has been a really fun experience trying to come in and absorb all of the information that my team has to offer.”
The 40-lap Firestone Indy Lights race finished under caution after a crash on lap 34 with a 1-2 for SSM as it was his teammate Esteban Guerrieri in second. This is the first 1-2 by teammates in race’s history as they have won six of the nine races so far this year now.
“It was fun for a while and a bit slow the rest of the race,” Guerrieri said. “It was a lot of yellows, we didn’t expect so many, but I’m happy to win second of course. What we were trying to do was work with my teammate, Joseph, to try to pull away and make the gap larger toward third. Then we could finish the race like me and him to race against each other, but unfortunately all the guys crashed.”
Victor Garcia finished third, followed by Stefan Wilson and pole sitter Bryan Clauson.
“I’m pretty happy to all my crew and I have to thank all of them because although we haven’t had a normal weekend it has been really good and we finished third,” Garcia said. “I think we could have won because we had what it takes to win, but we didn’t have the laps to do it.”
“I’m pretty disappointed, really,” Wilson said. “I can’t believe that they had us driving around under the caution for so many laps. They (Anders Krohn and Jorge Goncalvez) were in bad shape. It looked like a really bad accident. There was debris everywhere. In my opinion, they should have red-flagged it and taken time to clean the track. Instead, we just drove around wasting time. The fans didn’t come out here to watch a parade of cars go around on the yellow flag. They wanted to see a race, and we never got to do it. Traditionally, this race has been won in the last 10 laps. I was biding my time, looking after my tires, and mine were looking the best of anyone out here. It was shaping up to be a good finish. If we had had a clear race and we weren’t just driving around under caution, we might have won it.”
“I fell back early there and really didn’t really do my job there at the beginning,” Clauson said. “I had a hard time figuring it out for a little while. I didn’t have enough green flag laps to make up for those mistakes early on. All the guys on the car did a great job; I had a great race car. I made a lot of moves on the high line, but it just wasn’t enough. It was a whole new ball game, a lot different than anything I’ve ever done. I could have done a little bit better, but all in all it was a great day.”
Clauson, who won the USAC National Driver’s Championship last year, started on the pole for his first ever Indy Lights Series race virtue of points after qualifying was rained out.
“This is huge,” he said. “It’s a whole new experience for me, from the starts to the restarts, to the draft, shifting in the middle of a race – that’s unheard of for me. It was a lot wilder than I expected, but it was a lot of fun.”
The caution came out on lap 34 after Jorge Goncalvez and Andres Krohn both wrecked simultaneously. While running three-wide, Krohn spun and made contact with the outside wall.
“We got a big run behind the draft,” Clauson said of the accident. “It looked like the 9 car got low. Everybody just ran out of room. We were going for it.”
“It was one of those races where absolutely everything happened,” Krohn said. “We were so fast, and we took the lead. It was so easy running it up there. Then a caution came out, and I just went to go to power and the rear slide around on me. After that point, we really didn’t have the speed because our tires were flat-spotted. Luckily another caution came out and we pitted for new tires, and then we were super, super quick. I think by the time our big crash happened we were up to fourth. It would have been the easiest thing to at least be on the podium or potentially win the race. I’m so disappointed for the guys at Belardi Auto Racing because we really had the fastest car today. We could run up, down low; it didn’t matter. We were so fast. It’s just a shame for the guys at Liberty Engineering and Logitrans that we couldn’t bring it home today. At the same time, I think we’ve shown people where our speed is, so hopefully we can come back next year and dominate this race.”
At the same time, Goncalvez’s car spun and made right-side contact with the SAFER Barrier, followed by heavy contact with he inside wall. Goncalvez was transported to IU Health Methodist Hospital for evaluation and was released about five hours year. Krohn, meanwhile, was checked and cleared at the IU Health Emergency Care Center.
“I’m so disappointed for the guys as Belardi Auto Racing because we really had the fastest car today,” Krohn said. “It would have been the easiest thing to at least be on the podium or potentially win the race. We could run up, down low; it didn’t matter. At the same time I think we’ve shown people where our speed is so hopefully we can come back next year and dominate this race.”
Meanwhile, history was made today as Chase Austin became the first African-American to compete in the Indy Lights Series.
“It was pretty cool,” Austin said after his ninth place finish. “We had little issues. The gearing was a little off, so I couldn’t really pass anybody by myself. The only way I’d get to pass anybody is when they’d check up in the corner. I just kind of had to be more ballsy than they were, which worked out for the most part. The car started going away a little bit in the end before we took that right rear tire. And just the cautions hurt us a lot on the restarts. But besides that, I have to thank American Honda, because without them we wouldn’t be here; Chris Miles and Willy T. for putting me in the car.”
With the win, Newgarden took over the championship lead with 151 points, while Guerrieri has 125 and Wilson has 121.