FONTANA, Calif., Sunday, March 24, 2002 - Indy Racing League points leader Sam Hornish Jr. edged Jaques Lazier by .0281 of a second -- the second-closest finish in IRL history -- to win the Yamaha Indy 400 on March 24 at California Speedway. It...
FONTANA, Calif., Sunday, March 24, 2002 - Indy Racing League points leader Sam Hornish Jr. edged Jaques Lazier by .0281 of a second -- the second-closest finish in IRL history -- to win the Yamaha Indy 400 on March 24 at California Speedway.
It was Hornish's second victory of the season in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone as he extended his series points lead. Hornish's average speed was 179.345 mph, an Indy Racing League record. The previous record was 175.276 set in October 2000 at Texas Motor Speedway by Scott Goodyear.
"That was a great race," Hornish said. "That was a lot of fun right to the end.
Rookie Laurent Redon finished a career-best third in the inaugural IRL race in Southern California, while the Marlboro Team Penske tandem of Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
Hornish took the lead on Lap 199 of the 200-lap race, but Lazier nosed ahead in Turn 2 of the final lap - as the cars touched wheels at 220 mph - before Hornish made a final high move in Turns 3 and 4 of the 2-mile oval and held off Lazier in a drag race down the front straightaway. Hornish earned $121,500 of the $1,058,500 total purse.
"It was real close," Hornish said. "Jaques gave me a heck of a run. 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. 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."
Reigning Indy Racing champion Hornish now has prevailed in the two closest finishes in Indy Racing League history. He edged Scott Sharp by .0188 of a second to win the Chevy 500 last October at Texas.
The race featured a league-record 39 lead changes. Hornish led 73 laps, more than any other driver. But he hadn't led since Lap 179 until making his decisive high move past Lazier on Lap 199.
Lazier, a resident of nearby Alta Loma, Calif., took the lead from MBNA Pole winner Eddie Cheever Jr. on Lap 183. Cheever stalked Lazier for the next eight laps, trying to move high in the turns to pass Lazier. But that battle ended on Lap 191 when Cheever's No. 51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone suffered an engine failure. Cheever was credited with 20th place.
Hornish was third when Cheever dropped out, and he wasted no time in stalking Lazier. Like Cheever, Hornish looked high in the turns in an attempt to pass Lazier, whose smooth-handling No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone hugged the white line at the bottom of every turn.
Finally, Lazier and Hornish blazed down the back straightaway on Lap 199 side by side, with Lazier inside and Hornish outside. Hornish gained an edge in Turns 3 and 4 and pulled ahead to lead at the start-finish line as the white flag flew overhead, signaling the final lap of the race.
Lazier continued to hug the low groove on the final lap, nosing ahead with Hornish at the exit of Turn 2. The drivers drag-raced down the back straightaway before Hornish pulled ahead on the outside in Turns 3 and 4 and held off Lazier at the line by about 8 feet.
"We did hit a little on that last lap," Lazier said. "I was going for the win. He was going for the win. We both wanted the same real estate. I have to say congratulations to Sam and Panther Racing. They had an awesome race, but I tell you what, I'm proud of Johns Manville and Team Menard.
"That was one of the better races that I've ever been a part of. Sam and I, for some reason, just love to run side by side. We did it in Texas. 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."
The final dash to the finish was set up by a caution period from Laps 165-173, the fourth and final yellow of the day, when rookie Hideki Noda hit fellow rookie Tomas Scheckter from behind in Turn 4, sending both cars into the wall hard. Scheckter was unhurt, but Noda was transported to Loma Linda University Medical Center complaining of back pain.
Cheever led a parade of cars into the pits for final service, but de Ferran exited with the lead when Marlboro Team Penske decided only to add fuel in de Ferran's No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. All of the other lead cars received fuel and four tires.
Despite that ploy, it didn't take long for Cheever to regain the lead. One lap, to be precise. He passed de Ferran with an outside move in Turn 4 on Lap 175, the first full lap after the restart.
Cheever then kept the lead until he was passed by Lazier on Lap 183 in a three-wide battle that also included Hornish.
Hornish's fifth career victory - all in the last two seasons - came despite radio trouble. He could hear no one from the Pennzoil Panther pits early in the race. The situation improved later, but not much. He could only hear spotter Pancho Carter, the 1985 Indianapolis 500 pole winner, for most of the second half of the race.
"He was about the only person I could hear on the radio," Hornish said. "I could just barely hear him say, 'Clear.' Sometimes I thought I did (hear Carter say 'clear'), so I just kind of moved down a little bit."
The next Indy Racing League event is the Firestone Indy 225 on April 21 at Nazareth Speedway.