Thursday, May 23, 2013

Your Questions Answered: Carb Day's Firestone Freedom 100

If you're headed out to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Carb Day and aren't a big fan of the band Poison, you may be headed out to catch the Firestone Freedom 100. I thought we could answer a few prospective questions folks might have about the event:

So why is this race worth watching?

Because it is, to put it succinctly, alternately terrifying and thrilling. I usually have to watch through my fingers during some portions. Not all of the Lights drivers are overly familiar with terms like "restraint", "normal racing line", or "patience". That's not to say it's some bloody demolition derby (always), but it is an aggressive, wild race of 40 laps. When people talk about drivers "just going for it", they're talking about the kind of knife fight as we'll see Friday.

But I don't normally follow Firestone Indy Lights too closely.

Doesn't matter. This is a great tune-up for the Indy 500, my amigo/a. These cars still put on a heck of a show, and it's more a refresher/appetizer than it is a longer-style race. If the 500 is a steak dinner at an Americana restaurant chain, this is the mozzarella cheese sticks sampler beforehand. We're talking no pitting for fuel, speeds of over 190 mph--still faster than NASCAR on this same track. If you're going to watch a Lights race, this is the one.

But I've been ensured this year's Firestone Indy Lights field is dismal and possibly carcinogenic by no less than five internet experts! 

It's true, there aren't a lot of entries this year, but there are a lot of really interesting drivers with some real talent. I hate to do the whole quality/quantity thing, but a nice number of the full-time Lights drivers this year have at least the potential to develop into solid drivers at the next level.

Oh yeah? Name some.

There's Lights rookie Sage Karam, a young American who's excellent on ovals and jumped to Sam Schmidt Motorsports' program after time in the Andretti ladder system. There's also British driver Jack Hawksworth, who is usually as smooth as they come (though he's still getting his oval legs under him). Ireland's Peter Dempsey is a very well-regarded prospect, as is Colombian-American driver Gaby Chaves. Perhaps most notable is Carlos Munoz, who you will also see in the front row of this weekend's Indy 500. As one of Andretti's Firestone Indy Lights drivers, he's pulling double-duty at IMS this month.

Any current/recent IndyCar drivers ever win the 100?

Oh yes. Ed Carpenter, Wade Cunningham (3 times!), and Josef Newgarden all won this race in their time. Plus, we just mentioned Carlos Munoz, a current driver racing in both the big and little IMS race this month. Plenty of other current IndyCar drivers also took their turn racing in this event, too, including Pippa Mann, who won the the pole for the race back in 2010.

So, how do they qualify?

These qualify the day before the Freedom 100 (today, if you're reading this Thursday), and it's based on two laps of qualifying, not four like the Indy 500. If you're heading out to the track today, Lights quals should start at 1:15pm local.

OK, I'm a local Indy-type person. Give me a good story to follow for the race.

Here's one: Kyle O'Gara. Sarah Fisher's young brother-in-law is a Roncalli High School student who usually runs USAC midgets. He's competing in this year's Freedom 100, and all of his classmates will get to see him race, courtesy of sponsor SportsEvents.com.

Away with your human interest angle, you softie! I want to make a winning bet here!

My prediction is either Munoz or Karam to pull out the win, but the race usually sees some early carnage that changes everything. I wouldn't bet on the Firestone 100 with a wooden nickel; it's that unpredictable, usually.

Am I allowed to punch that obnoxious hipster in the faux-white trash outfit slamming back PBRs square in his stupid face?

You'd better not. You'll be outnumbered pretty heavily. Just realize that there are some, ahem, "non-traditional" fans in attendance on Carb Day. Just grin and bear it--the Firestone Freedom 100 is usually well worth the hassle, and with the seating pretty open, you can always migrate to a better vantage point.

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