Firestone Indy 200/Cleanevent 100 Postscript
De Ferran in thick of points chase; Brack having quiet, productive season
LEBANON, Tenn., Monday, July 21, 2003 -- The last time a driver won the Indianapolis 500 and Indy-style championship in the same year was 1995 when Jacques Villeneuve won the 79th Indianapolis 500 and the CART championship.
Interestingly, the "500"/championship "double" only has occurred six times in the last 25 years.
Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner, is hoping to make it seven times in 26 years and become the 30th driver since the first "500" in 1911 to win the "500" and the Indy-style championship in the same year.
He received a boost July 19 at Nashville Superspeedway when he scored his fourth career IndyCarTM Series victory in the Firestone Indy 200. De Ferran, driver of the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, led 49 laps en route to the victory.
The win vaulted de Ferran from fourth to second in the points standings, and he now trails Tony Kanaan 303-289.
"As far as the championship is concerned, certainly my goal is to win the championship, make no mistake about it," de Ferran said.
The fact that he is second in the standings is impressive considering de Ferran missed the IndyCar Series event April 12 at Twin Ring Motegi. He suffered a minor fracture of the lower back and a slight concussion in a two-car accident during the Purex Dial Indy 200 March 23 at Phoenix International Raceway.
"I think we never really lost heart," de Ferran said. "It's certainly hard to be out of it for a race and six weeks, feeling like I felt. But I never really lost heart and said, 'It's all gone.' Racing is racing, man. Things change, things happen. The likelihood of you having two or three bad results in a 16-race season is very high. So I guess I felt like, 'OK, we had our two bad results, out of the way early on.'"
After missing Motegi, de Ferran rebounded in the next event, winning the 87th Indianapolis 500 and has scored the most points of any driver in the races following Motegi, having captured 231 points. He finished third three times and his worst finish was eighth in June at Texas.
"From (Indianapolis) on, everything's been great, with the exception of Texas, which we weren't particularly strong," de Ferran said. "Every other race, we were very strong. It's nice to have everything come together again for a win."
With seven events remaining on the 2003 IRL IndyCar Series schedule, the chase to the championship and the $1 million bonus that goes with it is heating up.
Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, has led the points standing since the 87th Indianapolis 500 and had a 49-point lead over Scott Dixon after the June 15 Pikes Peak event.
However, his lead has dwindled to just 14 over de Ferran, while Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, is in third place with 288 points, one point behind de Ferran and 14 behind Kanaan. Fourth-place Helio Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, has 282 points, 21 behind Kanaan.
"You can't set your sights on the championship; you have to keep racing like you normally race." Dixon said. "We've tried our best, tried to stay at the top. Obviously, if you can stay at the top, you're going to collect some points."
Brack's Quietly in the Hunt: Despite having not scored a win in the 2003 season thus far, Kenny Brack, the 1998 IRL IndyCar Series champion and the 1999 Indianapolis 500 champion, is fifth in points. Brack, driver of the No. 15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda/ Firestone, finished sixth in Nashville and has amassed 245 points this, 58 behind leader Tony Kanaan.
"We had a good car at the end of the race," Brack said. "It's just a shame that we had trouble on one pit stop. We had to make an extra pit stop to get the left-front wheel back on properly. We fell back to 17th and then came up the field. The middle portion of the race wasn't good for us. I think we didn't have the best set of tires right then. But after the final stop, the tires were great, and we were fast. I had to go on the grass there at the end to get around (Tomas) Scheckter for sixth."
Brack has had a quiet season, leading only 16 laps, and while winning a championship without scoring a victory is rare, it is not unheard of. Scott Sharp was the 1996 IRL co-champion and did not win a race, however the season was only made up of three races. In 1978, Tom Sneva was crowned the USAC National Driving Champion driving for Penske Racing, and he failed to win any of the 18 races that season.
Brack and Team Rahal, after finishing 16th at Indianapolis, have notched five top-10 finishes and two top-five finishes.
"We're getting closer to the setup we want on this car," Brack said. "Hopefully, next week at MIS, that should be a good race."
Marlboro Team Penske driver Helio Castroenves, who is in fourth place, also has yet to score a victory in 2003.
Firestone happy: Gil de Ferran spoke highly of Firestone tires after driving to victory in the Firestone Indy 200. The event was the home race for the Firestone Racing group with its corporate headquarters located near Nashville Superspeedway.
De Ferran raced the final 86 laps over the coarse concrete of Nashville Superspeedway with the same set of Firehawk racing radials. That's an amazing 114.38 miles on tires designed to go about 100 miles on smoother asphalt surfaces. And de Ferran was not alone. Three other drivers put in 86-lap stints on one set of Firehawks to finish the race and five more completed the final 69 laps (91.77 miles) on a single set.
"We had some concerns before the race, but the Firestone tires were great throughout the race," de Ferran said. "They were fantastic. I was racing wide open those final 20 laps, just like at Indy, and there were no problems with the tires."
"It was a fantastic race seen by an extremely enthusiastic crowd, including some 2,600 Bridgestone/Firestone employees and many of our best friends from middle Tennessee," said Al Speyer, executive director of Firestone Racing. "Nashville Superspeedway has a concrete surface which tends to be very abrasive, but once again we saw the Firestone Firehawks outperform our own expectations. Gil de Ferran won the Indy 500 this year and now wins in our own backyard, and he drove one heck of a race. We can't wait to be back next year."
Taylor scores fourth win: Mark Taylor started from the pole and led all 77 laps en route to a victory in the Cleanevent 100 Infiniti Pro Series race at Nashville Superspeedway.
The victory was the fourth of the season for Taylor, tying him with 2002 Infiniti Pro Series champion A.J. Foyt for most career victories and most victories in a season.
Despite winning four of the six races this season, Taylor has remained humble.
"If dominating this series means I have a better chance to get into (IndyCar Series cars), I'm grateful for it," Taylor said. " I'm just trying to do the best I can every single race, every single time I get in the car. If it's not good enough, it's not good enough. We'll have to look at that when it comes."
He also credits Panther Racing.
"My confidence is high when I get in a car that is so good like this," Taylor said. "Every time I get in the car, it just feels perfect. That's where the confidence comes from. It's not the wins, necessarily; it's just knowing you can go around that track as quick as anybody can on that day. That's down to the Panther guys. (We) haven't had a problem all year, touch wood."