SAM HORNISH JR. BECOMES THIRD CONSECUTIVE ATLANTIC SERIES GRADUATE TO WIN THE INDIANAPOLIS 500 INDIANAPOLIS (May 31, 2006) -- With a thrilling last-lap pass to capture the checkered flag Sunday, Sam Hornish Jr. earned his first-ever victory...
SAM HORNISH JR. BECOMES THIRD CONSECUTIVE ATLANTIC SERIES GRADUATE TO WIN THE INDIANAPOLIS 500
INDIANAPOLIS (May 31, 2006) -- With a thrilling last-lap pass to capture the checkered flag Sunday, Sam Hornish Jr. earned his first-ever victory in the Indianapolis 500 and continued the strong tradition of recent Champ Car Atlantic Championship graduates to excel at Indy.
Hornish, the 26-year-old Marlboro Team Penske driver, became the third Atlantic series graduate in the last three years to win the prestigious Indy 500 event. Buddy Rice, the 2000 Atlantic series champion, won at Indy in 2004 while Dan Wheldon, who finished second to Rice for the Atlantic title in 2000, captured victory at the grueling 500-mile race last season.
On Sunday, Hornish led a strong contingent of eight Atlantic series graduates among the 33-car field that excelled at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. In fact, three of the top four finishers in the race all came up through the Atlantic racing ranks. While Hornish earned the right to taste the milk in Victory Circle, 1983 Atlantic series champion Michael Andretti led four laps late in the race before securing a podium result in third place while Wheldon led the most laps on the day (148) on his way to a fourth-place finish.
"We want to congratulate Sam on a tremendous victory and we're happy that Atlantic graduates once again played such a prominent role at the Indy 500," said Vicki O'Connor, Managing Director of the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. "This continues to prove that some of the world's best racers get their training in Atlantics and we're so proud of the talent that the series helps cultivate and graduate year in and year out."
Hornish, a native of Defiance, Ohio, led a total of 19 laps and earned the dramatic victory when he passed Marco Andretti, Michael's 19-year-old son, for the lead on the final lap to win by .0635 of a second for the second-closest finish in Indy 500 history. It represented the 15th career victory for Hornish, who captured the Indy Racing League title in both 2001 and 2002. Before graduating to the next level, Hornish developed his skills in Atlantic competition. He raced for Michael Shank Racing during the 1999 Atlantic season, finishing seventh in the championship standings while claiming his lone series win at Chicago. Hornish captured Atlantic Rookie of the Year honors after the dynamic debut season.
This weekend's win by Hornish marked the eighth time that an Atlantic graduate has claimed victory in the Indy 500, joining the impressive performances from notable series grads including Danny Sullivan, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser Jr., Jacques Villeneuve and Rice.
In addition to the strong results by Hornish, Andretti and Wheldon, the other former Atlantic drivers in the Indy 500 field also performed admirably. Last season's Indy Rookie of the Year, Danica Patrick, recorded her second strong finish at The Brickyard. Patrick, who competed from 2003-2004 in the Atlantic Championship, claimed eighth place after finishing fourth last season at Indy. Roger Yasukawa, a 2002 Atlantic competitor, claimed 16th on Sunday while 1991 Atlantic racer Bryan Herta finished 20th. Returning to compete at Indianapolis for the 17th time in distinguished career, Unser Jr. finished 24th after an accident put him out of action early. Rice also suffered an early end to his day due to contact as he finished 26th.
After three rounds of racing in the 2006 Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, Germany's Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) leads the series championship standings. Wirth, who won the first two races of the season at Long Beach and Houston, holds a slim five-point advantage in the standings over talented French rookie Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne). Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company), the 17-year-old son of racing legend and former Atlantic stalwart Bobby Rahal, is third in the championship after he won in Monterrey, Mexico at the most recent series race, becoming the youngest winner in the history of Atlantic competition. The Atlantic series returns to action June 16-18 at the Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland.
The Champ Car Atlantic Championship continues to be the premier open-wheel development series in North America. In its 33rd season in 2006, the championship is noted for its long history of graduating its stars into Champ Car competition and has helped produce past Champ Car champions Paul Tracy, Jimmy Vasser, Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Michael Andretti and Jacques Villeneuve. 2006 Champ Car competitors Alex Tagliani, Andrew Ranger, Katherine Legge, Tonis Kasemets and 2005 Atlantic champion Charles Zwolsman are established Atlantic graduates along with 2004 Champ Car Rookie of the Year and 2003 Atlantic champ A.J. Allmendinger. Competing in newly-designed Swift 016.a chassis powered by a 2.3-liter Mazda-Cosworth engine riding on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks, 2006 competitors will fight for the 12-race championship and the unique $2 million Champ Car series champion's bonus. For more information on the series and to view this season's races on demand, please visit www.champcaratlantic.com.