It was a personally gut-wrenching four weeks for Ana Beatriz, whose short-term professional goals were nearly short-circuited by a shortage of funding. Maybe her victory in the Miller Lite 100 at Iowa Speedway will jump-start some additional financial interest.
Beatriz, who started sixth in the No. 20 Healthy Choice/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, passed teammate Wade Cunningham on Lap 107 of 115 and went on to her second Firestone Indy Lights career win. The race ended under caution as a Lap 114 incident involving the cars of James Davison and Pippa Mann brought out the yellow flag.
Would Cunningham's No. 11 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car have been able to overtake Beatriz, who led by 0.6093 of a second after Lap 112 and by 0.3777 of a second after Lap 113?
"We qualified sixth but it was great at the start of the race and it was very competitive," said Beatriz, who finished on the podium at Iowa Speedway last year. "I was fortunate to find the right time to pass Wade. There were a lot of lapped cars out there when that happened. It was all about momentum. "
James Hinchcliffe completed a Sam Schmidt Motorsports sweep of the podium - a first in Firestone Indy Lights. Gustavo Yacaman almost made it a 1 through 4 finish as he advanced six positions in the No. 44 Crepes & Waffles/Tuvacol/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car for fifth.
"It is a great effort for the team," team owner Sam Schmidt said. "It was a brand new car they had to build up the last few weeks. This made up for all those hours."
An accident in the Firestone Freedom 100 and a hole in the budget forced Beatriz to sit out the race in Milwaukee on May 31.
"At the finish I was thinking it was just unbelievable," said Beatriz, who is the sixth different winner in seven races this season. "I nearly crashed at the end right there around the flipped car (of Mann, who was uninjured). This team deserves it. I really want to celebrate with them tonight. The last couple of weeks have been tough missing out on sponsorship and then finding a way to come back.
"Together with my management and agents, we worked very hard to find additional sponsorship to get back on track. One of my managers, Andre Ribeiro, put in a lot of his personal resources into this project to get us back on track and allow us opportunities to grow in the near future to hopefully finish the season in a strong position."
The victory will be a sizable morale boost, and lend support in the championship points race. J.R. Hildebrand, the pole sitter who overcame a mid-race penalty for blocking to finish sixth, remains the points leader - by 16 over Mario Romancini. Cunningham, the 2005 series champion, is 22 points off the pace.
He started second, led 103 laps after passing Hildebrand on Lap 4 and regained second place by passing Hinchcliffe on Lap 111. Cunningham started from the pole in the inaugural race at Iowa Speedway in 2007, led a field-high 105 laps and finished second to Alex Lloyd.
"I've got good equipment, but a tight championship like this you have to capitalize," said Cunningham, who posted his fourth consecutive top 10. "And today should have been my win. I did get most laps led. But it would have been (great) day to get 25 points on J.R. and that was stolen from us. So I'm extremely disappointed."
Romancini charged from the 13th starting position to finish fourth in the No. 5 Revita/Win Brazil/Allied/RLR Andersen Racing car. Charlie Kimball in the No. 35 Palm Beach International Raceway entry finished seventh and Martin Plowman of Panther Racing was eighth. Daniel Herrington, driving the No. 28 LeBleu/Bryan Herta Autosport car, was running as high as second on Lap 80 and finished ninth. Davison finished 10th.
"I'm very happy with the finish because we didn't have a good qualifying," said Romancini, who has finished in the top five the past four oval events including a victory at Milwaukee. "It's good for the championship because we scored good points, and let's go for the next one now."