By David Reininger - Motorsport.com Fountain, Colo. (June 17, 2001) - Buddy Lazier claimed the fifth win of his Indy Racing Northern Light Series career, taking the victory in the Radisson 200 in his home state of Colorado. Lazier averaged...
By David Reininger - Motorsport.com
Fountain, Colo. (June 17, 2001) - Buddy Lazier claimed the fifth win of his Indy Racing Northern Light Series career, taking the victory in the Radisson 200 in his home state of Colorado. Lazier averaged 142.987 mph over 200 miles, a new race record at Pikes Peak International Raceway.
Perseverance paid off for the Hemelgarn Racing team, as they made adjustments, fine-tuning the Coors Light car during Lazier's three pit stops. "At the beginning, that Pennzoil car was flying. Each pit stop, we made the car a little bit better. I think we had the fastest car at the end of the day."
With today's victory, Lazier became the first Colorado resident to win an Indy car race on the one-mile D-shaped oval, which is located 25 miles south of Colorado Springs.
"When we first came here, I wanted it so bad, that I over-drove the car. Last year we had a failure on the very first lap, so I've learned not to have high expectations here. It's such a let down when things go wrong and that's why this is really sweet.
"Winning at home, there's nothing like it."
At the start of the race, polesitter Greg Ray took the lead, a position he held for four laps before being passed by Sam Hornish in the Panther Pennzoil car. Ray's car faded early, dropping the Plano, Texas driver four laps behind the leaders by the midpoint of the race.
"It was loose from the get go," said Ray, after parking the Menard car on lap 143. "This track historically has gone to a push. We tried everything, springs, bars, weight jackers and wing. We were seven or eight laps down. I had a really hard time keeping a handle on the car running by myself, and it was impossible to keep a handle on it when traffic was passing me high and low. I just didn't want to be a factor in the race."
Once in the lead, Hornish immediately widened his advantage over second place. He enjoyed a 16 second lead over his nearest competitor when the first yellow flag of the day closed the field on lap 58.
The leaders took advantage of the caution period to make their pit stops, with Hornish never relinquishing the lead. When racing resumed, Hornish pulled away once again, leading Lazier by 8 seconds when the second yellow of the day, slowed the field once again.
Once again, the leaders stopped for service while safety crews inspected the track.
Hornish returned to the track still in the lead, but the car, which had dominated the race since the start, wasn't the same.
"We're not sure what changed on that last pit stop but it made the car very loose," said Hornish. "Up until that last pit stop, we were closing in on Robbie (Buhl) and Buddy (Lazier). They were both within eyesight and that was making us feel pretty good."
A third and final caution period of the day occurred on lap 146 with Hornish barely in the lead with his ill-handling car. The team prepared for Hornish to come to the pits, but the 21-year old driver opted to stay on the track.
"We've been having such a good year so far, it's hard to justify going out of the lead and coming in and getting a set of tires. There were only three or four cars on the lead lap. The worst you were going to finish was fourth."
Two laps after racing resumed, Lazier passed Hornish for the lead and never looked back. Hornish settled for second place, holding off Robbie Buhl by four tenths of a second at the finish.
"I'm happy that I'm in the ride that I have, and that I'm running with the Pennzoil team," said Hornish, obviously dejected after leading 152 of the 200 laps. "At this point last year I was hoping and praying that I'd have a ride. Last year I would have been thrilled to be second, this year I'm not so happy about it."
Both Lazier and Hornish compete using Oldsmobile engines prepared by Speedway Engines of Indianapolis.
Robbie Buhl, one of two drivers using the Infiniti 35A engine, finished third. "We made some gains right there at the end," said Buhl. "It was great when I was by myself. If I could have got by Hornish, we could have left him. But when I got in behind him, we got some dirty air."
Billy Boat finished fourth, the last car on the lead lap. Boat, who lost a lap early in the race, gambled by staying on the track during a caution period. The gamble paid off and he managed to get his lap back, but a penalty during his last pit stop, for running over a hose, kept the Curb Records entry from pressuring the leaders at the finish.
"We probably could have given them a run at the front because my car was really good at the end," said Boat. "But we'll just keep taking these top-fives. That's really the key for this team, and if you keep running in the top-five long enough, and stay in the hunt, your time will come."
Airton Dare rounded out the top-five, followed by Eddie Cheever, Felipe Giaffone and Scott Sharp in eighth.
The Indy Racing Northern Light Series moves to Richmond, Virginia for a night race on Saturday, June 30. The race at Richmond International Raceway, which measures three-quarters of a mile, will be the first appearance in series history on a track less than one mile in distance.