Record field entered for Freedom 100
Race week is here. And not only the 91st Indianapolis 500.
For the fifth consecutive May, the IndyCar Series stars will share the famed 2.5-mile oval at the corner of 16th Street and Georgetown Road with the up-and-coming talent in the Indy Pro Series.
The 40-lap Freedom 100 is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. (EDT) on May 25. A record 25 cars are entered for the event, and a $300,000 prize fund is up for grabs.
Among those entered for the race are the past two Freedom 100 winners, Wade Cunningham and Jaime Camara, and series points leader Alex Lloyd. Cunningham and Lloyd are looking at Indy as a chance to further etch their names into the record books.
Cunningham, who led all 40 laps from the pole last year, could become the first repeat winner of the Freedom 100.
"Saying we led every lap isn't really fair because we did lose (the lead), I think, maybe two or four times throughout the race," Cunningham recalled. "I might be leading at the start/finish line, but it wasn't a really easy race. The first 30 laps went really smooth. Then we developed a problem, vibration in the fifth gear. I had to run sixth for the last bit of the race and that was just a little bit over-geared, and it allowed Jay (Howard) to catch up. Luckily, I got a good run back on Jay."
Looking ahead, Cunningham expects a battle among the top four or five drivers in this year's race.
"Indianapolis is just the way it is," said Cunningham, who was second-fastest at an Open Test at Indianapolis at the end of April. "It doesn't really lend itself to pack racing. So I don't think there's going to be a large group of people battling for the lead. I really think it's going to be the usual suspects."
The usual suspects this year include Lloyd, who has won the season's first three races and holds a 48-point advantage in the standings. A win by the Englishman in the Freedom 100 would tie him with Thiago Medeiros for most consecutive victories in series history.
Lloyd was quickest at the Open Test, which saw the top six cars within a half second of each other and the top 17 cars separated by less than one second.
"To be honest, I guess we're hoping to continue our run of wins and continue building the momentum," Lloyd said. "It's going to be a close race. By no means will it be easy, but we should be challenging for the win. We should be in a position to challenge for our fourth in a row."
Others who will be competing include Hideki Mutoh, the highest-ranked rookie in the point standings who was third-fastest at the test, as well as Bobby Wilson, Chris Festa and Robbie Pecorari, who round out the top five in points, respectively.
"There are a lot of cars that will be very good for the Freedom 100," Festa said. "The Schmidt cars are very good and Hideki Mutoh is running good and Wade (Cunningham) is very strong. We have a lot of rookies who are here for the first time, and they will get better. The field is going to be very tough. There are so many good teams and drivers that everyone is going to have to step up their game if they want to win."
Two drivers with family ties to Indianapolis, Sean Guthrie and Al Unser III, are entered in the Freedom 100. Guthrie's father Jim made three starts in the Indianapolis 500 while Unser is the son of two-time winner Al Unser Jr. and grandson of four-time winner Al Unser.
"When I was growing up, I was really focused primarily on my dad's career," said Guthrie, who made his Indy Pro Series debut with an 11th-place finish at Indianapolis last year. "His first year in an Indy car was my first year in a go kart. I was always following in his footsteps. It was really, really neat as I drove under the track into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year for the first time."
Unser returns to Indy Pro Series competition for the first time since the 2005 Freedom 100 when he finished fourth.
One native Hoosier is also entered for the race. Logan Gomez, an 18-year-old Crown Point native who made his Indy Pro Series debut on Indy's road course last July, will compete in the Freedom 100 for the first time.
"I've never been here except on Race Day," Gomez said. "Last year, I was here on Carb Day to watch the Freedom 100. Other than that, I've just followed it on television like anyone else. It's a lot different to be here the whole month. I'm really looking forward to racing on the home track, and hopefully there will be some fans in the stands rooting us on during the race."