AVONDALE, AZ, March 23, 2003 - Tony Kanaan became the 30th different winner in the Indy Racing League's 73-race history today, surviving a two-lap shootout with 2002 Phoenix winner Helio Castroneves and Felipe Giaffone in the Purex/Dial 200 at...
AVONDALE, AZ, March 23, 2003 - Tony Kanaan became the 30th different winner in the Indy Racing League's 73-race history today, surviving a two-lap shootout with 2002 Phoenix winner Helio Castroneves and Felipe Giaffone in the Purex/Dial 200 at this tricky 1-mile oval. It was an all-Brazilian podium - for three drivers who have competed against one another since they were kids - in the 59th Indy style race at Phoenix International Raceway.
"It feels like I won this race," remarked Andretti. Owning this team is "just the most pleasurable experience that I've ever had in my career. I'm glad I've experienced this before I retire. It's been a lot of fun and it seems like, when you have fun, that's when you get the results. That's what's happening right now for this team."
Castroneves declared: "People were like really, really not giving any space at all" today, "but again, that's racing. I didn't have good tire pressure at the end so I couldn't battle with Tony for the win. "We had a fantastic battle and I was trying to pass Tony outside, but the team reminded me to keep the pressures up on the tires. They never said the tire (right rear) was going down," he said.
For Giaffone, it was "a really tough day. This racetrack is always tough because you depend on the setup and depend on pit stop strategies. I had a really, really good car, one of the best, but Tony was in a better strategy maybe at the end when he had newer tires. The fun part is being competitive. That's why I'm glad" for this result.
Two drivers were injured in crashes on the track: rookie Roger Yasukawa complained of back pain after crashing his #55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda on lap 100; Gil de Ferran sustained a concussion and a possible lumbar injury after hitting the wall in his #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota.
A crewman for Kenny Brack was injured during the first round of pit stops as well, but his injuries were deemed superficial and he was quickly released from Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix. All were transported to hospital by ground transportation and, while further updates were expected late this afternoon, prognosis for de Ferran and Yasukawa was optimistic. Both drivers are being kept overnight at Good Samaritan; Yasukawa for observation and de Ferran for his concussion and for a minor fracture of his lower back, according to Dr. Henry Bock, Indy Racing League medical director.
It was an exciting and incident-filled race from start to finish - as they usually are at this track - with plenty of passes within the field.
Scott Dixon led the first sequence of green and yellow flag laps in the #9 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, losing that spot to Felipe Giaffone's #21 Hollywood Panoz G Force/Toyota at the first round of pit stops on lap 34. Dixon would exit the contest after 43 laps with gearbox failure. Yasukawa took over the lead for five laps (and did not make his first pit stop until lap 85), handing the lead back to Giaffone on lap 40.
Michael Andretti would lead 23 laps in the #7 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda before Giaffone took over the top spot a second time, yielding to Kanaan on his final pit stop. Kanaan and Castroneves (#3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota) would battle over the final quarter of the contest, passing each other within laps, but Castroneves would lead only a single tour.
The final caution flag, on lap 187, occurred when Michael Andretti and Gil de Ferran were battling for sixth spot. They squeezed one another to the point where there was contact coming out of turn 1 and, while it looked like Andretti had the harder contact with the wall; it was de Ferran who would sustain more physical damage. It took 10 laps to clean debris and carefully remove the 2000-2001 CART champion from his car, allowing a two- lap dash to the checkered flags.
Andretti felt he was "a sitting duck for Gil. I gave him room and I don't know if he misjudged and came up high or what. I don't know what happened." Andretti angled into the wall at about a 45-degree plane, while de Ferran's Dallara/Toyota walked the wall.
As they have since they were kids, Kanaan, Castroneves and Giaffone fought to gain the top spot and Kanaan finally prevailed, leading longtime rival Castroneves to the checkered flags by a .9328-second margin of victory. Giaffone was another half-second back in third place.
Fourth place belonged to another veteran, as Al Unser Jr. came from 20th on the grid in his #31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota to finish just shy of the podium. "We had great restarts all day long and good strategy. I struggled a bit this weekend, but the team made good adjustments for us throughout the race."
Kenny Brack had been quick in practice and finished fifth in the race in the #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda. "It was a tough, long day for us. We just seemed to have too much push, but we brought it home in the top five. Not bad, but we need to improve." On his first stop, the Swede came in a bit hot and hit Mike Fisher, one of his crew. "Even after he was hit, he changed the [left rear] tire. What a tough guy! I'm glad to know he's okay," Brack said.
Jaques Lazier gave Chevrolet a good sixth place finish in the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara, admitting: "The car wasn't quite right at the beginning but we just kept fighting with it until it worked. That's the nature of this team." Scott Sharp gave Kelley Racing a 7th place finish in the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota, calling the 200-lap race "a long, rough day. Phoenix is always that way, with lots of cautions and quite a few incidents."
Sarah Fisher gave Tony Kanaan a run for his first-place money ($118,300), hounding the winner in her #23 Team GM/Upromise/Raybestos Dallara/Chevrolet and earning the winner's respect in the process. "The car was excellent and it got better as the race went on. We all stuck in there and worked our butts off today. Now I can say that I've run 'flat' at Phoenix and had a good time racing here."
Buddy Rice, too, persevered with a car that wasn't great in qualifying (he started 16th in the #52 Red Bull Dallara/Chevy.) The Phoenix native thought his 9th place finish was "a big improvement for us. We were running in the lead pack today and that's a big gain. A top-10 finish is a good cap to the weekend, and it's nice to be at home." Shigeaki Hattori rounded out the top ten in A.J. Foyt's #5 Epson Dallara/Toyota, while the final finishers were Buddy Lazier in the #91 Delta Faucet/Life Fitness Dallara/Chevy and Robbie Buhl in the Purex/Adventis Dallara/Chevy.
Defending IndyCar champion Sam Hornish Jr. had a short day of it, making contact with A.J. Foyt IV's #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota when trying to put the rookie a lap down. His #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet ended up in the turn 3-4 wall, while Foyt would retire later due to damage from that contact.
Franchitti retired with a Honda engine problem after completing 164 laps, while Tomas Scheckter tried to put a pass on Giaffone in his #10 Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, only to be foiled and end up in the wall.
The IndyCar Series reconvenes in Japan next month for the IRL's first off- shore race at Twin Ring Motegi.