HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY, Homestead, FL, March 2, 2003 - The Thunder from Down Under, 22-year-old New Zealander Scott Dixon held off Gil de Ferran to win the Toyota Indy 300, a 200-lap dash around the 1.549-mile Homestead- Miami...
HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY, Homestead, FL, March 2, 2003 - The Thunder from Down Under, 22-year-old New Zealander Scott Dixon held off Gil de Ferran to win the Toyota Indy 300, a 200-lap dash around the 1.549-mile Homestead- Miami Speedway.
Handling lapped traffic like the seasoned professional he is, the young Kiwi took his #9 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota to a .5752-second advantage over the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota. Helio Castroneves' #3 Penske car took third place, giving Toyota a firm grip on the first podium of the season and the firm's first victory in a race it sponsored.
On a hot, humid afternoon that felt more like July than March, Dixon started the event in 12th place acknowledging, "We missed on the qualifying balance." Once the race began, however, Dixon moved steadily through the field, occupying fifth place at the 100-lap mark.
"We knew we had a pretty comfortable car in traffic and I just did everything I could to keep Gil behind me," the Kiwi said. "Coming out of the pits in front of Gil was the key to [winning] the race. Today I really had fun, and I haven't had fun on an oval for quite a while."
Team Target team manager Mike Hill noted, "We are more together as a team than we've been since the days when Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi were part of our team. Tomas [Scheckter] is just as much a part of this [result] as Scott and the guys on our team worked really hard to get us here. After all, Sunday is what we're all about."
De Ferran was waiting for his younger competitor to make an error, but it never came.
"The car was great and it was a shame because once Dixon got ahead, he was obviously very strong," de Ferran recalled. "It was very slippery out there today and, while I felt we were very strong, you never know if he'd have to check up [while getting by the backmarkers]." De Ferran would lead the most laps, 91 over three stints as lap leader.
In the early part of the race, having disposed of front row starters Tony Kanaan and Michael Andretti, de Ferran and Castroneves had their own personal battle, particularly on the restarts. "The shifting winds caused handling problems for me toward the end of the race. My car was good at the start but worse toward the end," Castroneves explained.
Kanaan rebounded to take fourth in the #11 7/Eleven Dallara/Honda. While he led a total of 36 laps for the day, Kanaan "tried to dial the car in throughout the race, but we didn't quite get there. We made a little mistake changing the wings, but we went back and the car was great again."
Scott Sharp ran strongly in the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota and left the top five only during pit stop reshuffles. "All the cars were really equal out there today," Sharp acknowledged. "It was pretty tight competition near the end and I just couldn't capitalize on it."
Michael Andretti took 6th in the #7 7/Eleven Dallara/Honda and teammate Dario Franchitti earned 7th place for his #27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda. Both stated their race set-ups could have been better. "We kept improving the car but the imbalance kept returning," Franchitti stated. Team owner Andretti noted, "We were a bit worried about our setup coming in, but to have three cars in the top seven is a pretty good way to start the season."
Tomas Scheckter's #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota looked strong in the middle of the race, but he had difficulties with a loose car that relegated him to 8th at the close. Felipe Giaffone finished one lap down in 9th yet felt, "We turned out to have a pretty decent race car." He lost the clutch on his first stop, yet was keeping pace with the leaders much of the afternoon.
Sam Hornish Jr., who won this race last year in the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet went up and down the field most of the car and ended up in 9th place. Kenny Brack rounded out the top ten in his #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda and the Swede acknowledged, "We just didn't have a good car today."
Attrition was minimal, despite the heat, as only three drivers retired from the 300-mile contest. Rookie Scott Mayer was first out on only the second lap when his #18 BankOne Dallara/Chevrolet was assisted into the turn 2 wall by Shigeaki Hattori's #5 Epson Panoz G Force/Toyota. Hattori would be the final driver to complete the event, albeit 19 laps down.
Jaques Lazier exited the race on lap 90 after hitting the outside retaining wall in his #2 Menards Dallara/Chevrolet. Lazier had been battling a loose car all afternoon, and it finally got the better of him. Robbie Buhl's contact in turn 2 caused the final of four cautions - the second was for debris on lap 68 - and he retired his #24 Purex Dallara/Chevrolet in the infield. None of these three drivers suffered injury. A fourth caution was called for debris on the track surface.
The IRL's IndyCar Series now takes a three weekend hiatus and returns to action on March 23rd with the running of the Purex Dial 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, part of the Copper World Classic.