It was a night of firsts at Texas Motor Speedway during the IZOD IndyCar Series’ Firestone Twin 275s. The only thing missing for Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) was a first-place finish.
For the first time in modern IndyCar history, two feature races were held in one day. It was also the first time that Firestone Indy Lights standout Wade Cunningham, driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, started an IZOD IndyCar Series race. The night also saw SSM driver Alex Tagliani start first in the first of the two 114-lap races, while Cunningham started in the first row for the second race.
Traditional two-lap qualifying Friday night set the line-up for the first race, while a blind draw established the starting grid for the second race. The draw took place during the intermission of the two races and on the live Versus broadcast.
Tagliani, driving the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, grabbed SSM’s highest finish of the night when he crossed the stripe in fourth in the first race after starting on the pole. The Canadian driver finished 14th in the second race after starting 16th.
“It was a little bit harder, for sure, starting farther back in the second race,” said Tagliani. “I was struggling to stay on the top with some balance issue. But overall from the team perspective, we scored good points compared with some of our competition. I think we’re still going to look fairly good in the championship, maybe even gaining a spot or two. This is a kind of track where you want to come out with the car in one piece, and we did.”
For Cunningham, it was a tough evening after an accident with Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball ended a spectacular IZOD IndyCar Series debut. After qualifying eighth Friday night, Cunningham was running a smart and competitive first race in ninth-place when the lapped car of Kimball came in contact with the SSM No. 99 Creatherm Dallara/Honda/Firestone car. Neither driver was injured.
“We had a really strong run going in the green flag laps,” Cunningham said. “We were just trying to make it to the end. I had gotten into a pretty good rhythm. We were running decent, not as quick as the leaders, but I think we were as quick as anyone outside of that lead group.”
Cunningham was really tested in the second race when he started in a back-up car on the front row next to KV Racing’s Tony Kanaan.
“I got a lot of experience tonight and I was in a lot of traffic, especially in the second race where I was just trying to stay out of the way,” said a frustrated Cunningham. “It was a long night for me. In the second race, I didn’t know what to expect heading into the first corner in a different car, with a different set-up and in a car I hadn’t even sat in before. It was just a big unknown.”
Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti won the first 114-lap race and was followed by his teammate Scott Dixon, Penske Racing’s Will Power and Tagliani. Those first four cars were separated by only .4109 seconds at the stripe. KV Racing’s Takuma Sato finished fifth.
Power won the second race by .9466 seconds ahead of Dixon. Penske Racing’s Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves, along with Kanaan, rounded out the top five.
There was one caution period for 10 laps in first race, and none in the second which produced an incredible race average speed of 206.693 mph. Cunningham and Kimball were the only two drivers not to finish the first race, while all 30 cars finished the second race. Kimball, like Cunningham, started the second race in a back-up car.
The next event on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule is the June 19 Milwaukee 225 on the Milwaukee Mile in Wisconsin. The event begins at 3:30 p.m. ET with live coverage provided by ABC.
Date: June 11, 2011
Event: Firestone Twin 275s (Round 6 of 17)
Series: IZOD IndyCar Series
Location: Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth (1.5-mile tri-oval)
Alex Tagliani Start/Finish: 1st/4th (Running, completed 114 of 114 laps in Twin 275s Race No. 1)
16th/14th (Running, completed 114 of 114 laps in Twin 275s Race No. 2)
Wade Cunningham Start/Finish: 8th/29th (Accident, completed 92 of 114 laps in Twin 275s Race No. 1)
2nd/26th (Running, completed 112 of 114 laps in Twin 275s Race No. 2)
Winners: Twin 275s Race No. 1 – Dario Franchitti of Ganassi Racing
Twin 275s Race No. 2 – Will of Power of Penske Racing