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Indy Lights - Mitchell Involved In Crash During Season Finale

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LAS VEGAS, Oct. 17, 2011: Unofficially Team E Racing’s Rusty Mitchell set the fastest lap ever run by a Firestone Indy Lights car during practice Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and he turned in his best qualifying performance to date in the series later that day when he qualified fourth. Unfortunately he got caught up in an accident when another driver lost control of his car with only eight laps down in Sunday’s Firestone Indy Lights season finale, and Mitchell ended up in 12th place in the final rundown.

Although the rookie from Midland, Texas only competed in six of the 14 races he placed 14th in the 2011 point standings with Team E’s No. 17, which is sponsored by Motorola and Petro Communications. He had four top-10 finishes.

Mitchell had never driven on Las Vegas’ 1.544-mile oval before the first practice session on Thursday, but he topped the charts in the third practice session on Friday when he was timed in 28.5257 seconds in a multi-car draft for an average speed of 194.856 miles per hour. That was surpassed in Sunday’s race, but it was the fastest lap run in practice or qualifying for the top step in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system.

Mitchell put the Tampa Bay, Fla.-based team’s car fourth on the grid in Sunoco time trials Friday afternoon with two other sizzling laps at an average speed of 190.398 miles per hour. Mitchell’s previous best starting spot was seventh at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in August.

The team’s hopes were as high as the Stratosphere Tower when the green dropped. Realizing that he had an excellent car under him and in an effort to save his Firestone Firehawk tires for the end of the race, Mitchell was patient at the start. He dropped to eighth place on lap two as the field diced for position, but he passed Duarte Ferreira and Gustavo Yacaman to move into sixth place on the next lap. He passed Stefan Wilson on lap four to move back into the top five, but then Wilson and Ferreira got around him again on lap five to push him back to seventh. Ferreira had started last (13th), but he was sixth at that point.

Mitchell passed Brandon Wagner, Wilson and Ferreira to move back into fourth place on lap six, setting his fastest lap of the race in the process with a time of 28.7741 for an average speed of 193.174 mph. He was still in fourth place on the next lap, trailing only the leader and series champion, Josef Newgarden; the polesitter, Victor Carbone; and Esteban Guerrieri.

Unfortunately Ferreira, who had fallen back to eighth place, attempted to pass several cars at that point and lost control of his own machine at the exit of Turn 1 with eight laps down. Both Mitchell and Bryan Clauson became involved in the crash and all three were out at that point, although luckily no one was injured. Team E’s No. 17 suffered extensive right-front damage, and the race was red-flagged for about 11 minutes to allow the track crew to clean up the debris.

Mitchell was understandably upset afterwards.

“We started out well; I was just trying to bide my time,” Mitchell said. “I was in fourth place at the time. Duarte had been all over the place before that, and he got a good run inside me coming out of Turn 4. I held my line but he darted out and ran over my nose and hit my left-front tire and cut it so I got a flat, so I backed off going down the frontstretch.

“Because I knew I had a flat tire and a bent front wing, I tried to get out of the way. He had a right-rear cut tire but apparently he didn’t realize it, because he kept on going and he spun in front of Clauson and myself at the exit of Turn 1, and Clauson and I got collected in it.

“As far as I’m concerned Duarte made two mistakes that cost us dearly, but he doesn’t think he did anything wrong,” Mitchell continued. “Apparently he didn’t learn anything after he was black-flagged at Kentucky. It’s ridiculous, really, but it is what it is. He doesn’t seem to understand that it’s a privilege to be in this series, and that your actions can cause a lot of expense and work for other people, let alone possibly injuries when you’re running close to 200 miles per hour. He’s young; maybe he should go back and try learning to run ovals in F2000 or Star Mazda. But you can’t tell him anything.

“I want to thank everybody on Team E and my sponsors, Motorola and Petro Communications, for allowing us to be here. Everybody on Team E worked their tails off. We had a fast car and a legitimate shot at winning this race, but unfortunately that’s just the way it worked out.”