IRL: Barron king at Michigan

IRL: Barron king at Michigan

BROOKLYN, MI, July 27, 2003 - It was back to the future for the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series as Alex Barron won the Firestone Indy 400 at the 2- mile Michigan International Speedway by 0.0121 seconds over Sam Hornish Jr. Alex Barron...

BROOKLYN, MI, July 27, 2003 - It was back to the future for the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series as Alex Barron won the Firestone Indy 400 at the 2- mile Michigan International Speedway by 0.0121 seconds over Sam Hornish Jr.

Alex Barron takes the checkered flag ahead of Sam Hornish Jr..
Photo by Michael Kim.
Barron, making his second start in relief of Felipe Giaffone in the #21 Hollywood Panoz G Force/Toyota overcame a tap with the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota of polesitter Tomas Scheckter on Lap 164, keeping his out-of-control car off the wall to stay in contention for the win after the final round of pit stops when caution was called for his spin.

"I screamed into the radio that it was his fault," Barron recalled. "I was pretty upset. I came in under the caution and picked up new tires but I was still angry. At the restart I went into Turn 1 flat-out" and didn't think he lifted once after that, battling Hornish for 32 laps. "There was a lot of luck involved with saving it after that hiccup," he laughed. "I got it turned the right direction, clutched it out and kept driving."

In typical Indy Racing League fashion, Barron got the top slot on the final lap of the race. "I think Sam used a lot of his power in the last four to five laps. The last two, he seemed to slow up just a little bit and I got a good run off Turn 4. On the last lap, I got into [turn] 1 far enough back to keep momentum out of Turn 2. I feel comfortable racing side by side with Sam; I had enough pull to win the race."

It was a wild race at this track, celebrating its 35th year of hosting competition. And a fast race, taking all of 2 hours 12:39.4413 minutes to complete 200 laps on a mostly overcast and humid afternoon.

Hornish, debuting the new Gen IV Chevy Indy V8 in his #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara went from his fourth grid spot into the lead at the start of the race. He would lead the most laps, 126 of the six drivers who executed 30 lead changes. "It felt pretty good to be out front and it was a good test for our new engine. We just came up a little bit short.

Sam Hornish Jr., Alex Barron, Tomas Scheckter and Scott Sharp.
Photo by Michael Kim.
"I thought it was a great race and a lot of fun. It's good to be running at the head of the pack again," said the reigning IRL IndyCar Series champion. "I knew he was going to get it right," he said of Barron, "and he did on the last lap." Hornish led a large number of laps because his car wasn't handling well in traffic, forcing him to the front. "We had a severe push in traffic today."

Tomas Scheckter started on pole for this race, just as he did in 2002 when he won the Indy Racing League's first visit to Michigan Speedway. Leading eight times for 42 laps in the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, Scheckter admitted, "Anyone could have won this race. When you're running three wide, there's no way to get by, but it was great to mix it up with so many great cars out there."

Scott Sharp had a competitive run to fourth place in the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota. "We had a really strong car but didn't get the breaks. I cut a tire and had to pit right after a restart," going a lap down. "We got that lap back and I thought this was a great race here at Michigan today."

Finishing fifth in the #9 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, Scott Dixon led only three laps today and had a fairly quiet day. The Kiwi bounced around the top ten throughout much of the contest but didn't have his car handling well enough to challenge for the win. Tora Takagi earned sixth place in the #12 Pioneer Panoz G Force/Toyota, also from the Mo Nunn Racing stables of winner Alex Barron. While he led no laps, the Japanese ace drove a competitive event throughout the afternoon.

Gil de Ferran had an up and down day in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota. "We were struggling a little bit for speed throughout the race and we're not exactly sure why. The late yellows benefited us because they helped us stay in the draft" and place seventh at the end of the day.

Roger Yasukawa, Tora Takagi and Al Unser Jr..
Photo by Michael Kim.
Rookie Roger Yasukawa finished eighth from 12th starting spot, working the draft like a pro in his #55 Panasonic/ARTA Dallara/Honda. He was the highest placed Honda driver, after the three Andretti Green Racing machines all failed to finish the race, due to various misfortunes. Dan Wheldon exited after 19 laps with an engine problem on the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda; Bryan Herta's battery failed and he was through for the day after 37 laps, parking the #27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda.

Tony Kanaan, who led the points chase coming into this event lost power and retired the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda after 160 laps. "I'm not sure what happened," he said, "but all of a sudden we lost a lot of speed." Kenny Brack did not finish in the #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda after hitting the Turn 2 wall just after a caution period. Brack was unsure what happened to his car, which plowed right up to the barrier.

Al Unser Jr. finished ninth after leading four laps. The #31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota had to run lean on fuel because Unser did not stop on the last caution for Barron's spin and win. "It seems like we went the wrong way on our strategy. It's disappointing," he said. Greg Ray rounded out the top ten with a solid but uneventful drive in the #13 TrimSpa Special Panoz G Force/Honda.

By finishing 11th, Buddy Rice earned the right to track test the new Gen IV Chevy Indy V8 and race it at Gateway in two weeks. The #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara will be fitted with engines used by Sam Hornish for practice and qualifying this week prior to receiving their allocation for the Gateway race. Buddy Lazier drove from the final 21st grid spot to finish 12th, four laps down to the leaders in the #91 Delta Faucet/Life Fitness Dallara/Chevrolet.

This was a race of some attrition but mostly one of excitement from start to finish. With four caution periods - only one for an accident - it was also one of the safest and most competitive races seen at this seminal Irish Hills circuit in a long time. It was the closest margin of victory in Indy car races at the track.

The points race got shuffled, as Dixon assumes first place with 318 points, followed by Kanaan (317) and de Ferran (315). Helio Castroneves failed to complete the distance in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota after puncturing a radiator and fell to 4th with 295 points while Brack holds fifth place with 257.

In their second visit to Michigan International Speedway, the IndyCar Series staked a serious home for itself on the 2-mile banked oval. And, hopefully, Alex Barron earned the right to continue with Mo Nunn Racing until Felipe Giaffone is ready to return to competition. Nunn said Giaffone will visit the tour at Kentucky next month and hopes to return in time for Chicago. While sponsor Hollywood would prefer to have a Brazilian driver representing their brand, they've got to be pleased to have their name in Victory Lane.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Al Unser Jr. , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Mo Nunn , Sam Hornis , Michael Kim
Teams Team Penske