IRL: Homestead-Miami: Race report

Hornish Powers To Dominant Victory At Homestead-Miami MIAMI, Saturday, March 2, 2002 - 2001 Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish Jr. opened the defense of his title in perfect form March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, recording a dominant ...

Hornish Powers To Dominant Victory At Homestead-Miami

MIAMI, Saturday, March 2, 2002 - 2001 Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish Jr. opened the defense of his title in perfect form March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, recording a dominant victory in the 20th Anniversary Grand Prix of Miami.

MBNA Pole winner Hornish built his lead to more than one lap during the second half of a windy race before winning the race under caution, created when Airton Dare hit the outside wall in Turn 2 with three laps remaining. Hornish led 166 of 200 laps, taking the lead for good on Lap 128.

"We were really excited to get this season started off," Hornish said. "The Pennzoil Panther guys did an awesome job. They gave me a great car. They worked well in the pit stops. They worked their butts off.

"It's nice to be able to come to this race and be able to not only be able to put a win up for Pennzoil Panther Racing but also for Chevrolet and Firestone."

Hornish's average speed was 140.325 mph in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone as he earned his fourth career Indy Racing League victory. He also became the first IRL champion to open the defense of his title with a victory since 1996-97 champion Tony Stewart won from the No. 1 starting spot in January 1998 at Walt Disney World Speedway.

Gil de Ferran finished second, and his Marlboro Team Penske teammate, 2001 Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, finished third in their respective debuts as full-time Indy Racing League competitors. de Ferran and Castroneves were the only drivers besides Hornish on the lead lap.

"I knew they would be very strong since the practice," Castroneves said of Panther Racing. "Especially at the beginning of the weekend, we noticed that they're (Panther Racing) going to give a lot of work.

"It's fantastic to finish second and third for Team Penske. They did a hell of a job. That's just the beginning. Hopefully we're going to keep working hard to make sure we keep doing these good results. With the performance of the Pennzoil team, obviously we're not there, so we have to keep working hard to make sure we're keeping up with the other guys."

Jeff Ward finished fourth driving the No. 9 Chip Ganassi G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone in the debut of Chip Ganassi Racing's full-time IRL team. Ward led 29 laps, second only to Hornish. Eliseo Salazar rounded out the top five in the No. 11 Foyt Racing/Banco Chile Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. Both Ward and Salazar were one lap down.

The only true suspense for Hornish came in the final quarter of the race, but it didn't last long.

de Ferran and Castroneves returned to the tail end of the lead lap when Hornish made his final pit stop under caution on Lap 163. Marlboro Team Penske owner Roger Penske hoped a subsequent caution could help his drivers gain ground through the field on Hornish and make a late stop for fuel under yellow, as they didn't have enough fuel to go the distance.

Penske's hopes were answered on Lap 171 when Scott Sharp's No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone lost power, triggering the seventh of nine caution periods during the race. de Ferran and Castroneves dashed into the pits on Lap 173 for their final service and returned to the track with 16 lapped cars separating themselves from Hornish.

But neither Marlboro Team Penske driver made up any ground. Hornish pulled away on the restart on Lap 175, torching the field with the fastest lap of the race, 194.135 mph, on Lap 179.

"He was unreal," de Ferran said of Hornish. "I mean, he was very, very strong today. I tried my best to challenge him, but there was no point doing anything stupid. He was driving very strong. He had a very strong car today. It was his day."

Another caution period was called for debris on Lap 193, giving de Ferran and Castroneves one last shot at Hornish, who was pulling out 1.5 seconds per lap over the Penske pair from Lap 185-190.

But Dare made contact with the wall just one lap after the Lap 196 restart, ending any fading chance that anyone could catch Hornish.

There were five separate accidents during the event, involving Eddie Cheever Jr., Jaques Lazier, Rick Treadway, Billy Roe and Dare. None of the drivers was injured. Lazier was the only driver to continue after an accident, finishing 18th.

Cheever and rookie teammate Tomas Scheckter collided on Lap 3 as Scheckter attempted to dive under his new boss, ending Cheever's day against the Turn 4 wall. Scheckter went two laps down due to ensuing tire changes and a nose replacement, but he rallied to finish sixth in the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone and was the top rookie finisher.

The next Indy Racing League event is the Bombardier ATV Copper World Indy 200 on Sunday, March 17 at Phoenix International Raceway. It will be televised live at 4 p.m. (EST) on ABC.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Tomas Scheckter , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Airton Daré , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Billy Roe , Rick Treadway , Chip Ganassi , Roger Penske , Jaques Lazier
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing