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Author: Mark W. Theisen
May 26th 2012 -      INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA  May 25, 2012:     Target Chip Ganassi team driver’s Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon paced the traditional “carb day” practice session for the cars of IZOD Indy Car Series which was the final opportunity for teams to tune their cars for the running of the 96th Indianapolis 500 this Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

     Esteban Guerrieri gave Sam Schmidt Motorsports its sixth victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Freedom 100 Firestone Indy Lights race in what was a very exciting race albeit it ending prematurely with a yellow flag just two laps from the end

    The quick laps for the Honda drivers came after the Chevrolet contingent stole the thunder in qualifications for the race last weekend thus bringing up the possibility of competition between the manufacturers on race day when it was thought the Honda cars were at a disadvantage.

     With a return to the season long large oval tack mandated engine boost of 130 kPs for the race the teams returned for the final hour of practice after four days of assessing data from all the practice sessions in hopes of making their cars “right” for the 500 and it seemed as though Honda found what they were lacking all month long when three of their drivers were in the top five of the one hour session.

     Franchitti’s top speed of 222.360 was just ahead of Dixon’s 222.274.  The Chevrolet of Andretti Autosport driver Marco Andretti was third at 221.702 with the Honda of Takuma Sato next at 221.078.  Ryan Briscoe, the winner of the pole for the 500 last Saturday was fifth at 221.025.  Justin Wilson in a Honda was sixth and then the Chevrolet’s of Will Power, James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top 10. 

     1230 laps were recorded in the one hour session and the data collected will go along way towards determining the final set-up for Sunday’s race which will be run in what could be record heat for the 500.

     “It is still a learning experience for us,” said Franchitti, a two-time Indy 500 winner.  “We were better today after a rough start to the month for us and were still working at it.”

     “There are still a lot of unknowns,” said Dixon.  “In the past when we had the same car we knew what to expect but now I am expecting a lot of unknowns.  We are just trying to be as ready as we can.  I expect a tight race come Sunday with a lot of passing.  It should be fun for the fan to watch.”

     Despite winning the pole Briscoe said today was today was spent still fine tuning the car.  “We had to adjust on the car a lot today and expect to do the same Sunday,” said Briscoe.  “Everyone was just looking for speed and more experience running in the turbulence that these news cars create.  It helped that it was warm and humid today so as to somewhat mirror what is forecasted for Sunday.

     Veteran Indianapolis 500 observers are calling this year’s race the “Unknown” 500 not because of inexperienced drivers in the field but because the race will be the first oval track race for the new Dallara DW12 car that has very different characteristics to the chassis that was driven the last 9 years here.  Not exactly the element that drivers want to be in but it will be exciting to watch what these cars will do and how they will react pack racing where the trailing car is said to be at an extreme advantage and that should produce an exciting finish to a race that ‘I’m sure will come down to who has done what in preparation and race strategy.  I can’t wait!

     Guerrieri started the Freedom 100 in 11th position and avoided a lap 5 accident in turn two that swept up five of the 19 starters in the race.

     The car driven by Brandon Wagner touched the wheel of Oliver Webb who in turn collected the car of David Ostella sending all three cars into the SAFER Barrier in turn two.  Emerson Newton-John, the son of performer Olivia Newton-John spun across the track to avoid the three cars initially involved in the accident but also collected the car of Peter Dempsey before sliding off the track.  All five cars were heavily damaged and were out of the race as the red flag came out to clean the debris from the track.

     When the race resumed it became a back-and-forth battle between Victor Carbone, Gustavo Yacaman, Carlos Munoz, Sebastian Saavadra and Tristan Vautier.

     It seemed as though the front stretch became the primary battle area during the race as the cars raced side-by-side sometimes four wide in what became a frequent change of the lead with some cars coming extremely close to the inner wall along the front stretch in quest to gain the lead.

     The lead changed hand 9 times during the final twenty laps and it was shaping up for a thrilling battle for the finish as the leaders jockeyed for position to make their final charge on the last lap but that went away when Jorge Goncalvez spin through the second turn on lap 39 hitting the SAFER Barrier with the front and left side of his car sending pieces of car all over the turn.

     The yellow flag came out and because the series does not have a stipulation for a finish under green the win went to Guerrieri who quietly moved to the front in the final laps of the race with Munoz, Vautier, Yacaman and Saavadra left wondering what would have been had the race gone the full distance.

     “I’m really, really happy,” said Guerrieri.  “It was one of those races that I trusted I was going to finish well even though I qualified bad, from last to first, I’m happy!  I was fighting over steer the first half of the race but my engineer kept telling me to be patient that everything would happen in the last five laps and the car just went to the front.  I’ll never doubt him again.”

     “We overtaking the whole second half of the race,” said Munoz.  “It was exciting and really a fun race, it’s just too bad it had to end a lap early.  I knew I was in the race, it would have been fun to have tried for the win.”

      “It was so close,” lamented Vautier.  “I really though I had a good shot at winning.  I had so much fun.  I am happy and sad at the same time as my teammate (Guerrieri) won the race.  It would have been exciting to race him for the win.  There’s only one to lead and that the last one and we didn’t do it this time.”

     For Sam Schmidt Motorsports it was a record setting 6th win in the race and the fourth time in a row that a car from their stable won the race.  Last year Josef Newgarden drove a Schmidt car to the win and is now driving in the senior Indy Racing League for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and will start the 500 in 7th Sunday.

     Schmidt Motorsports had four cars in the race today and continue to be the pacesetter in the series that is a springboard