FONTANA, Calif. (March 24, 2002) - Sam Hornish won his second consecutive Indy Racing League event after swapping the lead several times during the final laps with runner-up Jaques Lazier. The margin of victory was the second closest in Indy Racing League history with Hornish edging Lazier by 28 one thousands of a second.
"It was real close," said Hornish, who now leads the championship by 26 points over Helio Castroneves. "Jaques gave me a heck of a run."
A late caution period setup a 26-lap shootout, with Gil de Ferran leading the field to the green. Eddie Cheever and Sam Hornish, who were soon joined by Lazier in a three-way battle for the lead, quickly relegated De Ferran to third. With nine laps to go, Cheever pulled into the pits with his car belching smoke, leaving the battle to Hornish and Lazier.
The pair raced side by side to the finish with Hornish pulling ahead by a nose on the final lap.
"I got by him on the next to the last lap, but I went into the corner and pushed it in there too far and it started pushing," said Hornish. "I was like, 'oh here we go, that's the end of it.' But I had it in the right gear, and I got down and got a good run on him."
Although Hornish said he didn't feel it, the pair touched wheels on the final lap. "We did hit a little on that last lap," Lazier reported. "I was going for the win. He was going for the win. We both wanted the same real estate."
Not only was the race the fastest in Indy Racing League history, 400 miles at an average speed of 179.345 mph, it also produced a record number of lead changes. There were 39 lead changes between eight drivers, including one lap led by Jeff Ward. Ward, who started sixth, led the first lap of the race.
Rookie driver Laurent Redon never led a lap but still managed a late race charge to finish third. It was his career best after a seventh place at Chicagoland last season. Redon now leads the rookie standings by 25 over George Mack.
Marlboro Team Penske drivers Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves finished fifth and sixth, respectively. "The car was fantastic all day, we just didn't have enough speed," said de Ferran, whose car is powered by Ilmor-prepared Chevrolet engines. "The team did a super job in the pits and Roger (Penske) made a great call on our last pit stop which put us on the lead."
De Ferran, now third in the championship standings, trails his teammate by three points.
Felipe Giaffone finished sixth, followed by Buddy Lazier and Scott Sharp in eighth. Ten cars finished on the lead lap with Jeff Ward and Jimmy Vasser rounding out the top-ten finishers. Vasser, who runs in the CART series with Team Rahal, was testing the IRL waters in anticipation of competing in the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May.
"It was definitely worth the trip out here to California for our team," Vasser said. We came to learn, and that's what we did. We learned about some areas that we are quite deficient. Now we'll go to Indy in another week to see if we can learn some more."
Nazareth Speedway in Nazareth, Pennsylvania will play host to round four on the 15 race Indy Racing League schedule on April 21. It's the final race before all eyes focus on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 86th running of the Memorial Day classic on Sunday May 26th.