Thursday, October 6, 2011

Stefan Wilson & Josef Newgarden Indy Lights Winners

Kentucky winner Stefan Wilson
Stefan Wilson, younger brother of injured IZOD Indycar Series driver Justin Wilson, took his second win of the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights series at Kentucky Speedway this past Sunday. Wilson drives for Andretti Autosport and his oval track win is in addition to the street course win he picked up at Toronto earlier this summer. Wilson's win came after a first lap crash wiped out five cars in the 13 car field and even though Wilson started from pole position, he had to race back into the lead later in the 100 mile race after Josef Newgarden came to the front for several laps. The early crash took most of the drama out of the event as the incident involved the back third of the field coming off the second corner of the first lap. Gustavo Yacaman endured the wildest ride of those involved in the crash as he got airborne and rode backwards along the top of the SAFER barrier with the top of the car close to the catch fencing. The slideshow which follows this post has multiple shots from my photo sequence and shows the chaos which ensued as I picked them up coming out from behind the infield fencing all wadded up together. I was halfway down the backstretch when the incident happened so I was fortunate to get the shots I did. Since the area inside Turns 1 and 2 had been closed off for safety reasons this weekend, the vantage point I took was out of character for my normal race shooting strategy but this time it happened to work out for me. As a result, I only shot the beginning of this race and Victory Lane, using the middle part of the race to download my crash images. I was especially happy to see USAC star and Mazda Road to Indy driver Bryan Clauson find his way through the melee and soldier on to a fifth place finish, his fourth Top 5 out of five Indy Lights races run this season.

Josef Newgarden celebrates season title with SSM Team after Kentucky 100
While Stefan Wilson won the race, the big winner was Josef Newgarden who easily clinched the season championship by virtue of starting the race. Leading a few laps was a bonus for Newgarden but the series title was a much needed boost for Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM). It was the sixth Firestone Indy Lights championship for the team led by the wheelchair-bound former Indycar driver Schmidt, and came within days of the sudden death of the team's manager Chris Griffis who had collapsed after playing pickup basketball recently. The team sported CG stickers on Newgarden's helmet and equipment to honor his memory, and Schmidt commented during the weekend that his death had him seriously shaken to the point of contemplating getting out of racing. That would be a shame as Sam has done wonders for young drivers who have driven his Indy Lights cars and his foray into Indycar ownership this season after purchasing the FAZZT race team has been largely successful for a small team going against the Penske-Ganassi juggernaut. The team has set up a fund to help the Griffis family so please give if you can. More information is available at the following link: God bless the SSM family in this tough time. I hope they can put their energies into helping Dan Wheldon win the $5 million bonus next weekend at Las Vegas. Perhaps that will salve some of the pain they must be feeling with the loss of their comrade.

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