Battistini Wins Thrilling Firestone Freedom 100

Saturday, May 24, 2008

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As the competitors transitioned to the white flag lap of the Firestone Freedom 100 on Saturday, May 25, the top four cars were separated by seven-tenths of a second, and the sizable crowd along the frontstretch of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway collectively rose to catch the anticipated battle to the finish.

Leader Dillon Battistini was tasked with parrying the moves of Richard Antinucci, Wade Cunningham and Ana Beatriz -- much as he had done throughout the spirited race on the 2.5-mile oval.

Antinucci, looking for his second Firestone Indy Lights victory of the season, looked high and low for an opening in the short chute between Turns 3 and 4 and again entering the frontstretch -- the attenuator of Battistini's No. 15 Panther Racing car a few feet in front. He couldn't get any closer.

Battistini, the pole sitter, was able to hold on for the victory by .2458 of a second. Firestone Indy Lights rookie Battistini is the sixth winner in as many Firestone Indy Lights races on the IMS oval. It's Battistini's second victory of the season, and though he led 38 of the 40 laps, only one was by more than three-tenths of a second.

"It wasn't easy at all, especially at the start of the race," Battistini said. "I think it was James (Davison, who also started on the front row) who managed to get a few of good runs on me. You can get a massive tow from quite a long way back here, and I knew that I could get it back. You can't see very much out of the back of these cars, but going on what my spotter said, it was very close. It was a good race, and I'm just glad that I came out on top."

Antinucci, driving the No. 7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, recorded his third runner-up finish of the season to complement his victory on the streets of St. Petersburg. He moved into the points lead (179-176) over Battistini as the series moves to The Milwaukee Mile for the June 1 race.

"We ran really conservative, with a lot of downforce," Antiniucci said. "We were really quick in the corners. I just kept hitting the (rev) limiter. But congratulations to Panther and Battistini. They did a good job. He was running those times by himself, without a tow - pretty good."

Cunningham, the 2006 Firestone Freedom 100 winner, finished .5033 of a second behind Battistini in the No. 33 Brian Stewart Racing car. Robbie Pecorari, who started 13th in the No. 43 SWE Racing/SWE Race Car Parts car, overtook Beatriz to finish fourth.

Beatriz, driving the No. 20 Healthy Choice/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, finished fifth (the highest by a female in the six-year history of the race), and Bobby Wilson advanced six positions to finish sixth in the No. 17 Patriot Bank Team E car.

"It was a bit of a gamble on setup, really," said Cunningham, the 2005 Firestone Indy Lights champion who had the fastest race lap by a leader (189.517 mph on Lap 7). "We didn't do much running in practice and the conditions were a lot different, so I think we ran with a little too much downforce and that was pretty evident once I got to the lead. Dillon was pretty much able to pass me at will. So it was just a case of managing the race. Once he and I broke away, it was kind of easy to manage the draft of one car. I could just time it through one and stick with him. I really wasn't trying to push him or anything, I was just waiting for the end of the race.

"Fortunately, someone had some problems out there and we got that 10-lap shootout at the end and that just allowed the field to bunch back up. Richard was probably pretty even with me and he got me a lap after the restart just with momentum. After that, he had the same problem I did. He was stuck behind Dillon. Once he pulled out of the draft, I don't think he had much to pass him. Dillon had the fastest car today. It was probably pretty easy out front for him."

Logan Gomez in the No. 23 Guthrie Racing Special moved up two positions to seventh, while Jeff Simmons (who will start from the 24th spot in the 92nd Indianapolis 500) was eighth in the No. 2 TMR-Xtreme Coil Drilling car. Andrew Prendeville, driving the No. 5 Best Friends Animal Society car for RLR/Andersen Racing, also picked up two positions for ninth. Raphael Matos finished 10th in the No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers Inc. car.

"It's disappointing because the AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing car was very good in qualifying," said Matos, who started fifth. "I thought the balance would be very similar in the race. We added some downforce to the car, and it was just never balanced in the race. I had to struggle to just keep my positions. I'm just frustrated for the team. Hopefully we'll bounce back in the next race."

Davison, who led one lap, was running three-wide with J.R. Hildebrand's No. 25 RLR/Andersen Racing car and Antinucci's car through Turn 1 of Lap 30 when Davison's right-rear tire made contact with Hildebrand's left-front wing. Both cars sustained flat tires and had to pit, effectively eliminating them from challenging in the shootout. Hildebrand, who won April 27 at Kansas Speedway, had been the points leader.

Sons of former Indianapolis 500 drivers finished 11th (Al Unser III), 12th (Sean Guthrie) and 14th (Arie Luyendyk Jr.).

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Indy 500 tickets on sale: Tickets are on sale for the 2008 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 25, the 92nd running of "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

Fans can order tickets online at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com, by calling the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700 or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area, or at the ticket office at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Parking and camping information also can be obtained through the ticket office.

Hours for phone orders and the ticket office are 8 a.m.-6 p.m. (ET) Monday-Sunday during May, with special hours of 6 a.m.-1 p.m. on Race Day, Sunday, May 25. Online orders can be made at any time. Race Day ticket prices start at just $20.

Indy 500 TV, radio: ABC and ESPN2 will provide live Race Day television coverage of the 92nd Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 25. Pre-race coverage starts at 11 a.m. (ET) on ESPN2, continuing at noon on ABC. Race coverage begins at 1 p.m. on ABC.

IMS Radio Network Race Day coverage starts with a pre-race show at noon, followed by the race at 1 p.m. The radio network's coverage also will be broadcast live on XM Satellite Radio Channel 145, "IndyCar Series Racing," and XM Channel 144.