The Firestone Freedom 100 could be the breakthrough race Pippa Mann has been seeking. In qualifications, she broke through one barrier.
Mann became the first female pole sitter in the eight-year history of the Firestone Freedom 100 and in the 101-year-old history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The native of Ipswich, England, driving the No. 11 Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, also is the second female pole winner in Firestone Indy Lights history (Sarah McCune in 2005 at Chicagoland Speedway). She recorded a two-lap average speed of 187.989mph (1:35.7505sec) on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 40-lap race on Friday.
“I don't know if it's sunk in yet,” Mann said about the female firsts. “If I'm still P1 at the end of (the race), I don't know what I'll do. All I can do is give a huge thank you to all of my guys and everybody on the Sam Schmidt Motorsports team. I'm at a loss for words.
“We had a good racecar this morning (in two practice sessions) and hopefully it will carry over. Let's see how many laps we can lead and hopefully we can lead the one that matters at the end.”
Wade Cunningham, seeking to win the Firestone Freedom 100 for a third time, will start on the front row after posting an average speed of 187.742mph (1:35.8761) in the No. 77 Lucas Oil/BSS/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car. He has started on Row 1 in four of the six Firestone Freedom 100s he's competed.
“We didn't expect to be on the front row,” said Cunningham, who won the '09 Firestone Freedom 100 with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. “I came to the Open Test (May 14) having not driven since Miami last October. It's great to be on front row. I'm disappointed to miss out on pole by a tenth, but that's the way it goes.”
It's the second time that Sam Schmidt Motorsports has swept the front row for the Firestone Freedom 100 (Jaime Camara and Travis Gregg in ‘05), and at least one SSM driver has started from the front row in the race since 2004.
Charlie Kimball in the No. 26 Levemir FlexPen entry for AFS Racing Andretti Autosport (187.375) and teammate Martin Plowman (187.209) will share Row 2. Jeff Simmons (187.183), making his fifth Firestone Freedom 100 start and first with Team E, and Firestone Indy Lights championship points leader J.K. Vernay (186.455), driving the No. 7 Lucas Oil/CJ/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, will be on Row 3.
Rookie Philip Major (185.965) in the No. 49 Sam Schmidt Motorsports car and James Hinchcliffe (185.756), driving the No. 2 TMR-Xtreme Coil Drilling car, are on the fourth row.
Mann, who will celebrate her 27th birthday Aug. 1, has one top-10 finish (career-best-tying eighth at Long Beach) in three starts this season. She started eighth in the Firestone Freedom 100 last year in a Panther Racing car, but exited early because of contact. Ana Beatriz, who will compete in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time, is the only female winner (one each in 2008 and '09) of a Firestone Indy Lights race.
“These guys just gave me an awesome car,” said Mann, who was fifth on the combined practice speed chart (best lap of 189.303mph) and second quick in a May 14 Open Test at the Speedway. “I just went out there and did my best to pedal it. This afternoon when it got hot, we went to work on speed. We found some things that really helped. We found some things that made my life more difficult but made the car quicker. For this afternoon, we decided to rein it in a little bit so it would come home all in one piece. Whatever they reined in, they did it perfectly.
“The balance was even better (in qualifying) than it was in traffic. We'll go back to that car (setup) we had this morning, but a couple of tweaks we found that we really like might stay. I have a car that I can drive inside, I have a car I can drive outside, I have a car that likes the dirty air, I have a car that likes to be out front.”