IRL: California: Event postscript

Yamaha Indy 400 Postscript Hornish, J. Lazier fly solo during intense race; Redon puts Infiniti on podium FONTANA, Calif., Monday, March 25, 2002 - Sam Hornish Jr. and Jaques Lazier put on a breathtaking display of side-by-side open-wheel ...

Yamaha Indy 400 Postscript
Hornish, J. Lazier fly solo during intense race; Redon puts Infiniti on podium

FONTANA, Calif., Monday, March 25, 2002 - Sam Hornish Jr. and Jaques Lazier put on a breathtaking display of side-by-side open-wheel racing during their late duel for victory in the Yamaha Indy 400, with Hornish prevailing by just .0281 of a second.

But what made their battle - and their close encounters with other drivers throughout the 400-mile Indy Racing League event March 24 at California Speedway - so remarkable is that it occurred without much assistance from their spotters due to radio trouble.

Both season points leader Hornish and Lazier had problems with their radios for most of the race. They received only random snippets and syllables of transmissions from their spotters located high atop the control tower at California Speedway.

"I don't know what the deal was," Hornish said. "I could talk to them, but all I could hear is about the first two words of anything they could say. (Spotter) Pancho (Carter) would say, 'Clear,' and I would move in. That was the last thing I could hear.

"They would try to give me the rundown or something. I said, 'Whatever you need to tell me, tell me in the pit because I can only hear the first half of your sentence.'"

The radio problem hurt Lazier early in the race when he couldn't hear the team's call for him to pit. He ran out of fuel upon entry to the pit and lost track position.

"They were yelling," Lazier said of the Team Menard crew's radio transmissions. "At points intermittently I could hear them, but I guess they couldn't hear me."

Team Menard crew members tried to alert Lazier to with a sign board, the method of driver-crew communication used before radios became standard equipment.

"We got sign boards out here?" Lazier said, generating laughter from the media after the race. "I didn't see any. Especially at 220 miles an hour, you're not going to see them."

***

Redon delivers for Infiniti: Rookie French driver Laurent Redon became the fourth driver using an Infiniti engine to finish in the top five of an Indy Racing League race.

Redon drove his No. 34 Mi-Jack Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone car to third place in the Yamaha Indy 400 at California Speedway. It was Redon's fifth IRL start, two coming at the end of last season when he placed seventh and 11th at Chicagoland Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, respectively.

Eddie Cheever Jr. has been the standard bearer for the Infiniti engine since switching to the powerplant for the 1999 Indianapolis 500. This was Cheever's 29th race with the builder, and it easily could have been his best in the league's first 400-mile event.

He was locked in a terrific duel with Jaques Lazier and eventual winner Sam Hornish Jr. as the race wound down to its final circuits of the 2-mile oval. Then nine laps from the finish, the engine in Cheever's No. 51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone failed. Hornish then pulled up on Lazier and beat him to the checkered flag by less than 10 feet.

Cheever had presented Infiniti with its first MBNA Pole in Indy Racing League competition at this event, putting in a top lap of 221.422 mph.

During his time with Infiniti, 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Cheever has won at Pikes Peak in 2000 and Kansas Speedway in 2001. Robbie Buhl and Roberto Guerrero also have delivered top-five finishes for Infiniti.

***

Déjà vu: Longtime Indy Racing fans may have encountered a case of déjà vu when Sam Hornish Jr. and Jaques Lazier raced side by side for victory during the Yamaha Indy 400.

The scintillating duel revived memories of a similar joust for the lead between Hornish and Lazier during the inaugural Belterra Casino Indy 300 in August 2000 at Kentucky Speedway. But the situation then was slightly different: Both drove for low-budget teams but still raced side-by-side for lead for eight laps midway through the race.

Hornish eventually ran out of fuel, and Lazier suffered an engine failure later in the race, ending their chances for victory.

"Sam and I for some reason just love to run side by side," Lazier said. "We did it in Texas (in October 2001). We also did it in Kentucky when we first started off our careers, and we've both elevated to the good rides in the Indy Racing League.

"Right now, things are going great. I'm proud of him. I'm very proud of my team, onward and upward from here."

Said Hornish: "You know, I think the first race I ever lead in Indy Racing League competition, I was battling side by side with Jaques for about 40 laps at Kentucky. It's always good to be able to run next to him. I know he's not going to do anything crazy, and I try not to, either.

***

Worn out: The Yamaha Indy 400 was such a close race that it took an unusual toll on a certain piece of equipment for Eddie Cheever Jr. - his driving gloves.

Holes were worn through the leather fingers and palms of Cheever's driving gloves during the 400-mile race. Cheever led 10 times for 33 laps before the engine failed in his No. 51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone with just nine laps remaining. He was credited with 20th place.

***

Heavy traffic: The Yamaha Indy 400 generated the third-highest amount of traffic ever to Indy Racing Online (www.indyracing.com <http://www.indyracing.com>), the league's official Web site.

The site registered 6.7 million hits and 17.2 million page views during the three-day event. Only the 2001 Indianapolis 500 and the 2002 season-opening 20th Anniversary Grand Prix of Miami on March 2 generated more traffic.

Another server has been added to handle the increased activity. A third server will go online in May to accommodate the expected heavy traffic to Indy Racing Online and indy500.com, the official site of the Indianapolis 500, during the 86th Indianapolis 500.

***

Changing his tune: 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. was livid with rookie teammate Tomas Scheckter after Scheckter crashed Cheever out of the season-opening 20th Anniversary Grand Prix of Miami after just three laps March 2.

But Cheever had nothing but compliments for Scheckter's effort during the Yamaha Indy 400. Scheckter led five times for 28 laps in the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone before he was hit from behind and into the outside retaining wall by Hideki Noda on Lap 165. Scheckter was credited with 24th place.

"The best piece of Tomas' driving today was when he lost several positions, and he waited," Cheever said. "He was in a bottleneck and got stuck. I was betting money that he was going to be knocking cars right and left, but he waited. That was the best bit of his race.

"He drove impeccably."

***

What a rush: Willie McGinest knows all about thrills in sports. After all, he was a Super Bowl champion this year as a linebacker for the New England Patriots.

Still, the Yamaha Indy 400 made a big impression on McGinest, who attended the race as a guest of 310 Racing and driver George Mack.

"I'm excited," McGinest said. "I've never been in the racing world. Out here you can see how fast the cars are going and how small they are and low to the ground. It's amazing. It's a different type of sport.

"This is my first time being in the pit, being in the suite, watching the cars, seeing how they get them back together after they come to the pits. It's amazing. It's loud, real loud. There's a lot of energy out there."

Former Major League Baseball star Eric Davis also attended the race as a guest of 310.

"This is a real rush," Davis said. "It's the first time that I've ever been at a race, and it's one of the best rushes I've ever had. When you're here and not just watching it on TV and see how fast they take off the tires and gas it up, it's amazing."

***

Hoosier happy: John Barnes, co-owner of Sam Hornish Jr.'s winning car in the Yamaha Indy 400, had a double reason to celebrate.

Barnes is a longtime Indiana University basketball fan, attending many home games over the years. Not only did Hornish win on the racetrack, the Hoosiers won on the hardwood.

Indiana beat Kent State on March 23 to earn a berth in the Final Four. The Hoosiers play Oklahoma on March 30 in Atlanta, and Barnes could be there since the IRL doesn't race again until the Firestone Indy 225 on April 21 at Nazareth Speedway.

***

Facts and figures: Facts and figures from the Yamaha Indy 400:

*The margin of victory of .0281 of a second was the second-closest finish in Indy Racing history. The closest finish in league history was Sam Hornish Jr. over Scott Sharp by .0188 of a second in October 2001 at Texas Motor Speedway.

*The average speed of the race was 179.345 mph, an Indy Racing League record. The previous fastest average speed was 175.276 in October 2000 at Texas Motor Speedway, ironically in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara by Scott Goodyear. Hornish now drives the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara.

*Sam Hornish Jr. reached five career Indy Racing victories faster than any driver in league history. It took Hornish 24 races to achieve the feat. Scott Sharp previously was the fastest to five wins, doing so in 34 races.

*The 39 lead changes that took place is a league record. The previous record for lead changes in a race was 32 in October 2001 at Texas Motor Speedway.

*Jeff Ward led the first lap from the sixth starting spot, the deepest in the field that any driver has come to lead the first lap of an Indy Racing League event. Buddy Lazier came from fourth to lead the first lap at Richmond International Raceway in June 2001, the previous record.

*The 27-car field for the Yamaha Indy 400 combined to complete 4,990 laps during the race, the most ever in Indy Racing League history outside of the Indianapolis 500 and the third-highest total ever. The 33 starters of the 2000 Indianapolis 500 combined to complete 5,435 laps, and the 33 starters of the 2001 Indy 500 completed 5,215 laps.

*Sam Hornish Jr. has led nine consecutive Indy Racing events, one away from Tony Stewart's record of 10.

*Sam Hornish Jr. extended his league record of consecutive races running at the finish to 16. In those 16 races, he has completed all but seven laps.

*There were 10 cars on the lead lap at the finish of the Yamaha Indy 400, tying a league record set in 2000 at Walt Disney World Speedway and in 2001 at Kansas Speedway.

*This was the first race that the driver starting from the MBNA Pole did not win the race since the Gateway Indy 250 in August 2001 at St. Louis. The pole winner had captured four consecutive races since then. MBNA Pole winner Eddie Cheever Jr. contended for victory for most of this race until his day ended with engine failure nine laps from the finish.

*Sam Hornish Jr. now has led 1,109 laps during his Indy Racing League career, moving past Buddy Lazier into third place on the all-time IRL list. Tony Stewart is first with 1,515, and Greg Ray is second with 1,149.

*Twenty-two of the 27 starters were running at the finish of the Yamaha Indy 400, the most in an Indy Racing League event since the 2001 Indianapolis 500, when 23 were running at the finish. But there were 33 starters in that event.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Tomas Scheckter , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Robbie Buhl , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Scott Goodyear , Roberto Guerrero , Laurent Redon , George Mack , Hideki Noda , John Barnes , Sam Hornish Jr. , Jaques Lazier