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PETER DEMPSEY CAPTURES THRILLING FREEDOM 100, PAGENAUD FASTEST IN FINAL PRACTICE FOR THE INDIANAPOLIS 500
Photo by Brady Whitesel. 2013 All Rights Reserved.
Photo by Brady Whitesel. 2013 All Rights Reserved.
May 24th 2013 -
By:   Mark W. Theisen  | INDIANPOLIS, INDIANA May 24, 2013:    The state is now set for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 come Sunday and the senior open wheel circuit has a tough act to follow after the top four at the finish line of today’s Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 came across the finish line side by side with Peter Dempsey edging Gabby Chaves by an astounding .0026 seconds.

     In what has recently become a jamb-packed day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Friday prior to the race now features a series of events designed to bring in the fans as a prelude to the 500.

     The day is called "Carb Day” a carry back term to the days when the cars that raced at the Speedway all used carburetors to fuel their engines. As the carburetors gave way to fuel injection the title for the day "stuck around” as it was and is the last official practice session for the 500.

   Traditionally run on the Thursday before the race the final practice was moved to Friday and it was incorporated into the day that also features the Indy Lights race, the annual pit stop competition with the day concluding with a concert by a nationally recognized band all designed to give the race fan, who usually did not arrive in town until Friday, and opportunity to witness it all.

     And in the four years that this has been done the crowd has built with today’s assembly of people easily the largest since its inception despite the day being on the chilly side temperature wise per Indiana standards.

     When the green flag fell at the start of the final practice session for the IZOD Indy Car Series it was all 33 drivers eager to make the final adjustments that they hoped will propel them to Victory Lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

     It seemed as though each team was on a different agenda rather than an all out assault on achieving the top speed of the day.

     Some teams started the day with a full load of fuel on their race day set up to see how there car would change as the load of fuel burned off.  Some tested various car set ups in trying to simulate how the car would change as the race wore on.  Others were still chasing the elusive set-up that would give them the speed to challenge for the race.

     Pole winner, Ed Carpenter, a veteran of many races here, stated that a 20 to 25 lap test would be their objective but decided to park the car after 18 laps because the car felt comfortable and they new what they wanted to do.  "We ran race-set up all last week,” said Carpenter, "so we are ready.  We think conditions (weather) will be similar come Sunday so additional laps would not have helped us any more.”

     The one hour practice session produced a total of 1305 laps from the 33 cars with Simon Pagenaud in a Schmidt –Peterson Racing Dallara Honda posting the top speed of 2.827 miles-per-hour, the first time a Honda powered car had been fastest in a practice session all month long.

     EJ Viso and Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosports in Chevrolet powered cars were second and third with Scott Dixon in a Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda fourth and Sebastien Bourdais in a Dragon Racing Chevrolet fifth.  

     Defending 500 mile champion Dario Franchitti was sixth, James Jakes, Katherine Legge, Marco Andretti and Alex Tagliani rounded out the top ten.  Six of the top were Hondas in stark difference to what had transpired since the month of May opened at the Speedway.

     Come Sunday Tagliani will be the top starting Honda in 12th while Pagenaud will start 21st.  "The car is really good in race trim,” said Pagenaud after the session.  "We are happy with the way it used up the tires and the way it goes through the entire stint.  Honda had done a lot of work before qualifying and after the worked even harder.  We are ready for Sunday.”

     Two drivers experienced misfortune in the one hour session.  Ana Beatriz hit the rear of Carlos Munozs’ car entering the pits 35 minutes into the practice session blowing a tire causing the car to veer into the inside retaining wall damaging the front wing of the car and sending the car back to the garage early to repair the car for Sunday.  Ryan Briscoe lost the engine on his Ganassi Racing Honda on the final lap of the session and that engine will have to be replaced by Sunday.

     11 cars started the Firestone Freedom 100, a rather small field by Indianapolis and series standards but what the field lacked in volume it made up for in sheer excitement as the finish was unlike any seen in the 100 plus years of action at the Speedway.

     Sage Karam in an entry from Schmidt-Peterson Racing, a team that has produced a plethora of winners in the Freedom 100’s history, won the pole position for the race in qualifying yesterday with Munoz posting second quickest speed in his Andretti Autosports entry.

     Munoz, the quickest rookie in the Indy 500 starting field, was also the first driver to try and compete in both events at the Speedway in the same year with sights set on winning them both.

     Karam paced the first two laps of the race before Kyle O’Gara spun in the fourth turn hitting the wall sending his car out of the race.  O’Gara was unhurt in the incident leaving 10 cars left in the field.

     Green flag racing resumed on lap 6 with Karam in charge but he surrendered the lead to Munoz on lap 13 and then was content to shadow Munoz as the laps began to wear down.

     As the pair raced nose-to-tail around the two and one half mile speedway they were joined by Chaves and Dempsey and it became apparent to all of what was materializing, a wait for the final lap.

     With the large crowd anticipating an exciting finish and on their feet they witnessed something never seen at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the white flag was put over the field.

     First, as expected, Munoz pulled out to pass Karam as the pair raced into turn one.  Karam did not block the attempt.  Now Chaves pulled alongside the pair as they raced down the back stretch and three wide into turn three.  All three came out of turn three side-by-side with no contact.  Coming out of turn four they were joined by Dempsey on the outside.  Yes, four wide, with no contact.

     All four came roaring down the front stretch, again with no contact, and as they raced under the checkered flag it was Dempsey on the outside, four wide, edging Chaves by 0.0026 seconds in the closest finish in Speedway oval track history.  With the naked eye one could not tell if it was Dempsey or Chaves and Karam and Munoz were a scant thousandth of a second behind.  Yes, a blanket could have covered them all with room to spare.  It was something to behold!

     Four wide at the Speedway, wow, but also no contact among the foursome, double wow.  All four held their lines and made it a truly memorable finish.

     This was Dempsey’s first win in 20 Indy Light starts and the first for his Belardi Auto Racing Team.  "My hat is off to Stefan Wilson,” said an excited and jubilant Dempsey in victory lane referring to his spotter and a former Indy Lights driver.  "He kept me calm, won the race for me he said ‘be patient, get us across the line, they’re going to spread out and you’ll sneak up on them’ and you know he was right on, this coming from a guy that never won here.  I definitely own him this won.  It was a fantastic finish.”

     "A couple of feet more,” said Chaves, "and this would have been my race.  I did everything I could up to then.  I was just sitting there waiting for my moment and then to loose it by so little, I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep for a couple of nights before I can let this one go away.”

     Karam echoed what everyone saw.  "The whole race I just put myself into position to win it.  I was going to make a move in Turn Three to win it,” said Karam.  "I was on his attenuator the whole race, I popped high and I just couldn’t hold it.  I just couldn’t get the momentum.  Great race, great finish.  It was such a strategic race.”

     "I saw it coming,” said Munoz, "but I did not expect all four.  It was disappointing but tomorrow is a bigger day and we are ready for it.”

     The closest Indianapolis 500 finish was 0.043 seconds in 1992 between Al Unser Jr., and Scott Goodyear.  The closest Brickyard 400 was .183 seconds in 1997 between Ricky Rudd and Bobby Labonte but this was not the closest finish in the Indy Lights series history.  That came in 2007 at Chicagoland Speedway when Logan Gomez edged Alex Lloyd by 0.0005 of a second.

     Dempsey joins Jack Hawksworth as first time winners in the series this year and the win ended Schmidt-Peterson’s current win streak of four in the Freedom 100.

     In an emotional presentation this morning, Target Chip Ganassi owner Chip Ganassi presented the Reynard 96I/Honda that Alex Zanardi drove to victory in the CART race at Mazda Raceway in Laguna Seca, California in September of 1996 to Zanardi.

     That race became a watershed for Zanardi for the famous pass in the "Corkscrew” turn on the last lap of the race in the famous car for the victory.  It was an "impossible” pass that is still talked about today.

     Zanardi won the CART championships for Ganassi’s team in 1997 and 1998 and then suffered severe injuries in a racing crash in September 2001 at Lausitz, Germany, that resulted in the amputation of both legs above the knees.  Zanardi has inspired millions around the world by resuming his full-time racing career in touring cars and then winning gold medals in hand cycling races in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. 

     Zanardi, who never raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway because of the split of CART into two dueling circuits, was in awe of the Speedway yet appreciative of the honor today.  "I am lucky enough to have had a long career, a career with many highlights, along with the two championships we won with Target,” said Zanardi.  That day and this car changed a lot of things and that day lives on in our memories.  It is an honor to have this car.”

     Ganassi said, "I am happy to have Alex and his team as special guests this year.  (Jimmy) Vassar and Alex were the foundation of our team.  He (Zanardi) has done some much this is only a small tribute to him but I felt it was time to honor him here, at Indianapolis, and let him feel all the excitement that this place generates.

     In the Coors Lite Pit Stop Challenge it was the Penske Racing team of Helio Castroneves edging the Ganassi team of Franchitti for the honor, the fourth time that Castroneves’ team won the competition.

     Concluding the exciting day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a concert by the rock band Poison.

     Race preparation is behind; last minute preparations will transpire tomorrow, Saturday and early Sunday before the green flag falls at noon.  It will be exciting.