May 25, 2012
On May 24, Esteban Guerrieri's streak of 17 consecutive top-five starts in Firestone Indy Lights races came to an end.
Aside from qualifying 11th and aside from being sent to the back of the starting grid because of an engine change, it was no big deal.
The young Argentinian overtook race leader Tristan Vautier and Gustavo Yacaman in Turn 1 on Lap 38 -- leading at the start/finish line by 0.0352 of a second over Carlos Munoz, who drafted past the other competitors -- and went on to win the Firestone Freedom 100.
Click it: Firestone Freedom 100 box score || Race highlights || Guerrieri talks about win
A close final two laps were expected, but the No. 4 Belardi Auto Racing car driven by Jorge Goncalvez made moderate contact with the Turn 2 wall on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Lap 39, bringing out the yellow flag. He was checked at the infield care center and cleared.
Guerrieri, winning for the second time this season, pumped his fist as the No. 11 Pistas Argentinas/Sam Schmidt Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian car crossed under the checkered flag. It was the fourth consecutive year that a Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver won the race.
"It was one of those weekends that I really trusted that I was going to finished well even if I qualified bad, and then we changed the engine because we felt it had some problems, and then we are (in Victory Circle)," said Guerrieri, who vaulted to the top of the series championship standings heading to Belle Isle in Detroit next week.
"But I’m really happy from starting last to give this to the guys. The Sam Schmidt Motorsports team is very good. I’m really happy and I can’t thank enough to Sam for giving me the opportunity to be here, and for all the guys and everybody that’s here enjoying this beautiful weekend."
Guerrieri, who jumped to second behind Victor Carbone on Lap 23, said advice from his engineer, Tim Neff, about being patient helped as he set up the pass 15 laps later.
"That was a tight (pass)," he said. "Tim told me to be patient the last five laps because that’s where we’re going to have to push, so I just tried to drop back a little bit and wait for everybody to wear the tires more, then I attacked in the five laps and it paid off. My tires were better balanced and I made the move for the lead, so I just put everything I had in it and it worked out."
Munoz, competing in his first oval race in the series finished second, and another rookie, Tristan Vautier, advanced six positions relative to his starting spot to finish third.
Munoz, 20, of Colombia, who competed in the Formula 3 Euro Series in 2011, picked up his second consecutive top-five finish in the No. 26 Team Dialy-Ser car for Andretti Autosport.
"The Firestone Freedom 100 was my first time racing on an oval," he said. "I am really proud to be here and happy that I was able to get second. This gives us important points for the season and moving forward. I have to thank my Andretti Autosport team for all of their hard work. It was been helpful having Sebastian (Saavedra) as a teammate and a crew that works together like family."
Vautier was 0.1354 of a second behind Guerrieri at the close of Lap 38.
“It was so close. I really thought I had a good shot (at winning)," said Vautier, the 2011 Star Mazda champion who has finished in the top five in each of the four races this season. "A big congrats to my teammate Esteban. He started last and ran really strong. A big thanks to the whole team. I guess I’ll have to come back next year and try to win it.
"I really thought that we had it. There’s only one lap to lead and that’s the last one and we didn’t (lead it). I’m happy and frustrated at the same time. I wanted to win, but I’m here (in third). It’s still a great day for Sam Schmidt Motorsports."
Yacaman, the pole sitter, finished fourth in the No. 2 TMR-Tuvacol-Xtreme Coil Drilling car. Saavedra, who also will compete in the Indianapolis 500 on May 27, was fifth in the No. 27 Team AFS car after starting 10th. Carbone, who started on the front row and led 25 laps, finished sixth in the No. 3 Mav TV/Nevoni/Sam Schmidt Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian car.