Rough Day at Barber for Sam Schmidt Motorsports
Newgarden’s Sixth-Place Finish Leads the Way for Four-Car Indy Lights Effort

Date:                    April 10, 2011
Event:                  Honda Grand Prix of Alabama (Round 2 of 13)
Series:                 Firestone Indy Lights Series
Location:             Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Ala. (2.3-mile, 17-turn road course)
Winner:               Victor Garcia of Team Moore Racing
SSM Team:         Josef Newgarden  (Started 7th, Finished 6th / Running, completed 40 of 40 laps)
Conor Daly          (Started 4th, Finished 11th / Running, completed 39 of 40 laps)
Victor Carbone     (Started 9th, Finished 14th / Running, completed 1 of 40 laps)
Esteban Guerrieri (Started 2nd, Finished 15th / Running, completed 0 of 40 laps)

After a solid start to the Firestone Indy Lights Series season two weekends ago on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., and with the promise of a highly successful preseason test right here at Barber Motorsports Park just east of Birmingham, Ala., expectations were high in the four-car Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) camp heading into Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama Indy Lights race.

All that said, today’s 40-lap event around the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course turned into a rather rough day at the office, as described by the team owner himself, as two of his four cars were out of the race before the starter even had time to put away his green flag, and the other two had to settle for finishes of sixth and 11th.

The best news, perhaps, is that they’ll have another shot at it one week’s time on the streets of Long Beach, Calif.

Problems at the start of today’s race occurred as the field of 15 cars took the green flag on the front straight. Outside-front-row starter Esteban Guerrieri, in the No. 7 Lucas Oil/SSM entry, didn’t get a clean jump and was attempting to keep pace with polesitter Victor Garcia as numerous cars behind him scrambled to get around him heading into the fast, sweeping left-hand turn one. Outside-second-row starter Conor Daly, in the No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/SSM entry, was one of those, at one point even venturing off into the grass to avoid his teammate and losing several spots. Moments later, as the field was making its way around the tight, left-hand turn five, Josef Newgarden, in the No. 11 Robo-Pong/SSM entry, got into the back of Guerrieri and turned him sideways, flattening his own left-rear tire. And the fourth SSM driver, Victor Carbone in the No. 3 Nevoni/SSM entry, who qualified ninth, arrived at the corner and had nowhere to go but into Guerrieri’s car.

Guerrieri retired on the spot. Carbone drove his heavily damaged racecar back to the pit lane for front-end repairs. He was credited with one lap before retiring.

Meanwhile, Daly gradually made his way to the front of the field after falling back at the start and was up to as high as third place when, on lap 23, he got into the back of James Winslow and damaged his right-front wing, requiring a trip to the pits for a replacement. He resumed in 11th place and that’s exactly where he ended up when the checkered flag flew, one lap down. Daly did, however, have one of the strongest cars on the track as he settled in and kept pace with Garcia, the eventual race-winner, and runner-up Stefan Wilson for the last dozen laps.

Newgarden, who won the St. Petersburg round for SSM in a 1-2 finish with teammate Daly, was fighting an understeer condition the entire race. He had to pit on lap one to replace the left-rear tire flattened during the incident involving Guerrieri, rejoined the race at the back of the field and still managed to fight his way forward for a sixth-place finish.

Garcia led all 40 laps to win his first Indy Lights race in his second career start. He crossed the finish line .3215 of a second ahead of Wilson. Peter Dempsey, Jorge Goncalvez and Mikael Grenier rounded out the top-five. There were three caution periods for seven laps with three drivers failing to finish the race.

SSM’s Newgarden, with 80 points, continues to lead the series standings by 10 markers over Dempsey. Daly is fourth with 59 points, Guerrieri is 10th with 44 points, and Carbone is 13th with 38 points.

The next Firestone Indy Lights Series race is part of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., on Sunday, April 17. The race will be televised live on VERSUS beginning at 2 p.m. EDT.

Josef Newgarden (Finished 6th), Driver of the No. 11 Robo-Pong/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Entry:

“The front end was understeering from the beginning. I had to go full soft on the bar from P4 to P1 and I thought, to be honest, I was surprised how long we lasted. I thought that was going to kill us, that there was no way we were going to hold onto this with where it’s at. I was trying to be very conservative with the tires even when I was passing guys. First off, we had an incident at the start involving our teammates, which is not good for our group. That’s a shame for everyone. No one wants to see that happen. We had an opportunity to get a podium at the end and just got caught off guard by lapped traffic spinning in front of us. I chose the wrong direction to go. That happens. You get two choices. It’s a 50-50 chance and today we didn’t get it right. But I’m very happy that we were able to leave here with some points. We finished higher than we qualified, so, certainly not a bad day.”

Conor Daly (Finished 11th), Driver of the No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Entry:

“It was unfortunate to see Esteban lagging a little on the start. I don’t know what was going on there, but I tried to go on the outside of him and was in the grass because he didn’t, obviously, want to lose his position. I went off in the first corner, too, just because there wasn’t a lot of good racing going on. It was really kind of shady by everyone. The track is very tough to pass on, so everyone is very aggressive going for position. I drove straight around Winslow in a flat-out corner. Then, the next thing you know, he’s forcing me wide in the next corner. Then, when I tried to come back down underneath him, he just stops. I didn’t quite understand that, and that’s when I got into his tire. We had to make a pit stop. But as soon as we came back out, we caught the leaders, backed off trying to get a gap and then went after them again and caught them again. We have the fastest car out there. Someday, we’ll get ourselves in the right place at the right time.”

Victor Carbone (Finished 14th), Driver of the No. 3 Nevoni/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Entry:

“I had a great time. I’m not serious about that. My teammates, I saw one of them try to pass the other and, when I saw they touched, I tried to stop to avoid them, but there was nothing I could do. We tried to fix the car and try to get some laps and some positions in the points but it didn’t happen. It was a very frustrating day. I need all the track time I can get because I’m taking a big step going from F2000 to Indy Lights. But we’re looking good every time we come to the track. We keep improving. It’s just a shame to have a day like today. I’m glad that we are racing next week at Long Beach. I can’t wait.”

Esteban Guerrieri (Finished 15th), Driver of the No.7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Entry:

“It came on from the start. Basically, I assumed five rows were going to go in a straight line before we get under power like they said in the driver briefing, but it wasn’t like that. I lost a few positions because the green flag was waving so then I was in the middle of the pack, in fourth, and then, unfortunately, my teammate ran into me from behind. It was his mistake but I had made one before. It’s a shame that I’m here (on the pit wall) watching the race. We’ll have to come back strong in Long Beach.”