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Team E's Mitchell Finishes Seventh in Firestone Freedom 100
May 28, 2011

Rusty Mitchell of Midland, Texas, advanced more positions than any other driver in the Firestone Freedom 100, the premier event in Firestone Indy Lights, Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Driving the Motorola/Petro Communications/Skip Barber Racing School No. 17 fielded by Team E Racing, which is based in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area, Mitchell started 16th and finished seventh in the 40-lap race to kick-start the track's weekend celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first Indy 500.

Mitchell was one of five American drivers in a field of 18 that attracted hot shoes from 12 different countries. All but three were rookies, including Mitchell. It was only his second Firestone Indy Lights race and fifth race on an oval ever, but he continued his excellent record of never finishing outside of the top-10 in an oval-track race.

Only a handful of practice laps were run on Thursday, and qualifying was canceled due to rain. The starting grid for Friday's race was set by entrant points, which put Mitchell 16th. He was fifth-fastest in a 20-minute practice session Friday morning, and after the race he said he felt sure he would have finished even higher than seventh had he been able to start higher up in the race, which was broadcast live on VERSUS.

There were four accidents in the race. Mitchell brushed the wall once and made two pit stops under full-course cautions, but preserved for a good finish despite a somewhat slow start.

He ran near the back of the pack initially and was still there when he had his first close call when he brushed the wall on lap seven while avoiding Victor Carbone, who crashed and brought out the first yellow flag on lap eight. Mitchell pitted at that point for the Team E crew to inspect the car, which was deemed fit to continue.

Just after the halfway point there was a three-car crash in turn two that brought out the second full-course caution flag. Gustavo Yacaman, Juan Pablo Garcia and James Winslow were in that one and Mitchell just missed being caught up in it too. He hit Garcia while he was taking evasive action but he was able to keep on going, although it was so close a screw from Garcia's car was found implanted in Mitchell's car's left-front wing after the race.

Mitchell felt sure he had more damage than that so he pitted again for the Team E crew to inspect the car, but once again he was sent on his way. The attrition put him into the top-10 for the first time with 25 laps down, and he got one more spot when Peter Dempsey spun to move into ninth place.

Mitchell wasn't done dodging bullets, however. He was very close to both Duarte Ferreira and Brandon Wagner when they crashed in turn two on lap 28 to bring out the third full-course caution, but once again he emerged unscathed. With 10 laps to go Mitchell's heads-up driving had advanced him into eighth place.

He dropped back to 10th on the last restart on lap 33, but he passed David Ostella for ninth before the last yellow waved on lap 35, when Anders Krohn and Jorge Goncalvez both crashed separately in turn one. That moved Mitchell back up to seventh and the race ended under that full-course yellow.

Josef Newgarden won the event over Esteban Guerrieri and Victor Garcia.

Additional information can be found on the team's website at TeamERacing.com; Mitchell's website at RustyMitchellRacing.com and the series' website at indycar.com/fil. Updates can also be found on Team E Racing's Facebook page.

"I didn't get the start I wanted, but I decided to just let the field spread out a little and see if everybody was going to play nice. The only problem with that was the dirty air was so bad when you were running behind a pack of cars that you couldn't make up any positions.

"When Victor Carbone crashed and brought out the first yellow I brushed the wall in the exit of Turn 1, so we pitted just to look at the back of the car and see if it was OK. It was so we went back out, but I couldn't get any better than 15th; I just sort of sat there in that position.

"Then there was another wreck that involved three cars, including Juan Pablo Garcia. I lifted but I just didn't slow down enough in time and I hit him; that was at the exit of turn one too. I thought it broke the front wing, but we pitted to look at that and it was OK too. During that pit stop we fixed the understeer that we'd developed too. When I hit Juan Pablo it was hard enough that I thought I'd probably broken my front wing, but we were lucky. There is a screw stuck in my left-front wing; I think it's probably from Juan Pablo's car.

"Anyway, I worked my way up from there.

"I had another moment around lap 30, when I almost got caught up in Duarte Ferreira and Brandon Wagner's crash. I was outside of one and inside the other one when they crashed at 190 miles an hour. It was cool when it was over, but I thought I was going to hit both of them, actually.

"All in all, to hit the wall and pit twice and still finish seventh isn't bad. We had good tire wear with our Firestone tires; my right-rear lasted the whole race.

"I really have to thank Motorola, Petro Communications, the Skip Barber Racing School and Team E Racing. We had a really good car. It's just a shame that qualifying was rained out and we weren't able to start closer to the front.

"It was an honor to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Every one of us in this race has wanted to race at Indy since we were kids, and I'm very thankful to have had this opportunity."

"Who would have thought we could hit the wall, pit twice and still finish seventh?" stated Team E Racing owner Neil Enerson. "It's a shame it rained yesterday and we didn't get to qualify, but Rusty's seventh-place finish shows you how he kept his head about him. It was a lot to bite off for your first Firestone Indy Lights race on an oval, but he certainly showed what he'd made of. He was mature and he drove a really nice race. We would love to compete in Firestone Indy Lights full-time if we could find more marketing partners."