Festa Takes Second in Crash-Marred Opener

By Dave Lewandowski

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Alex Lloyd and Sam Schmidt would have preferred to race to the finish. So would have numerous other competitors and team owners.

A serious accident involving five cars on Lap 47 of the scheduled 67-lap race, which created a large debris field and damage to the catch fencing above the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2 of Homestead-Miami Speedway, prevented the Miami 100 from going the duration. Lloyd took the yellow/checkered flags on Lap 57 for the third Indy Pro Series victory of his career.

Pole sitter Chris Festa was second in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, followed by rookie Hideki Mutoh, Jaime Camara and Andrew Prendeville. A record 25 cars started the season opener on the 1.5-mile oval.

The racing was tight and spirited at the front and middle of the field, which led to the incident on Lap 47. The No. 4 Guthrie Racing Car Crafters Special entry driven by Sean Guthrie and the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car driven by Pablo Perez touched wheels, sending both race cars into the SAFER Barrier. The debris from the incident scattered on the racetrack, and affected cars driven by Shane Lewis, Micky Gilbert and Joey Scarallo.

Perez was checked at the infield medical center and airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital listed in stable condition with leg injuries. He was awake and alert.

"It was just a really unfortunate thing to happen after our car had been so perfect all day," said Guthrie, who started ninth. "I want to send my best thoughts to Pablo and his team.  I don't really know exactly what caused the accident. We were both racing pretty aggressively, side-by-side, and got together. It's a bad way to start the year, but the good news is we'll head to St. Pete next week and get another chance to run up front again."

The race was under the green flag for five laps before the incident, with the nose of Lloyd's No. 7 Lucas Oil/Isilon/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car in front of Festa's by 0.0022 of a second at the start/finish line on Lap 44. On Lap 21, the No. 27 AFS Racing car driven by 2005 series champion Wade Cunningham spun and made contact with the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier. The nose assembly flew off the car upon impact, and the No. 38 Lifelock/Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car driven by Ryan Justice hit the debris and made hard contact with the wall on the backstretch.

Justice was checked at the infield medical center and also was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital via helicopter for observation. He was awake and alert.

Lloyd, who started on the front row, takes the early lead in the series standings after the first of 16 events. The next is a doubleheader (March 31 and April 1 races) weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

"It's a difficult way of winning it when you know people get injured," said Lloyd, who recorded his first victory on an oval. "So obviously the first thing is to hope that they're all OK. But we started the year off the way we wanted to. For that I'm happy.

"I knew that winning was possible in the first race. I knew I was going to have a very strong car and a very good opportunity. But the difficult thing is when you have that opportunity to make it happen straightaway and come out there and win the first race and the pressure is on. And we were able to do that, which is a great confidence boost."

Festa had given Chip Ganassi Racing its second pole start of the weekend; Dan Wheldon started from the point in the XM Satellite Radio Indy 300.

"We're a little disappointed that the race got cut short by the yellows," Festa said. "Sometimes that's the way things go. We had a really strong car today. Target Chip Ganassi guys did a really strong thing. The car was just so good that I could put it anywhere on the track I wanted. We were just hoping for more laps so Alex and I could shoot it out at the end, but I guess it wasn't in the cards for today."

Mutoh, making his debut with Super Aguri Target Chip Ganassi Racing, had been strong on the road course portion of the Open Test in February at Homestead. But this being his first oval race, third place was a pleasant surprise.

"My first target was to finish the race," said Mutoh, who started third. "Now I've finished with a podium place. This is fantastic; a really big thank you to the team. I have still next week, so I'll focus on that."



Television broadcast of the race will be Wednesday, March 28, 2007 at 5:00 PM on ESPN2

For more information visit: www.chrisfestaracing.com;