IRL: Hornish at Chicagoland in closest series finish

Joliet, Illinois (September 8, 2002) -- Sam Hornish raced side by side with Al Unser Jr. for the final 22 laps before taking the victory in the Delphi Indy 300 at the Chicagoland Speedway. Hornish crossed the finish line 0.0024 seconds ahead of Unser Jr. in the closest finish in Indy Racing League history.

Sam Hornish led an eight car pack away from the field at the start. With Buddy Rice in tow, Hornish led until a lap 13 caution period for the blown engine of Laurent Redon stopped the action.

Pole winner Sam Hornish Jr..
Photo by McQueeney.

Castroneves, who made a terrible start from the 21st position, stopped for fuel during the caution period. He returned to the track in 18th place.

When the race resumed, Buddy Rice made a bid for the lead, a position he held until a four-way battle four the lead materialized on lap 40.

Al Unser Jr. rose to top on lap 48 with Rice, Hornish and Billy Boat breathing down his neck.

The yellow came out again on lap 52 when Gil de Ferran was involved in a single car accident while running in sixth. He closed on the lapped car of Tony Renna, taking the air from his front wing. De Ferran's car veered to the right, making hard contact with the turn two wall. With the throttle still wide open, the car powered itself along the wall more than halfway down the backstretch.

Safety crews had to shut the engine off upon their arrival on the scene.

Under caution, the full field reported to the pits with Al Unser Jr. returning to the track with the lead. Helio Castroneves, who filled his tanks during the first caution period was able short fill his tank and return to the track in third.

Sam Hornish Jr..
Photo by McQueeney.

Hornish went back to the point when the green flag was shown and pulled away with a four car length lead. When the yellow was shown once again, Hornish stayed on the track while the other front runners reported to the pits.

The lap 93 restart saw Hornish followed by Boat, Felipe Giaffone, Robbie Buhl, Vito Meira and Raul Boesel. Castroneves lined up ninth.

At the midpoint of the race, Hornish faced intense pressure from Boat, as the pair pulled away from the field. Buhl, Wheldon and Meira made up the second pack ten car lengths back.

Boat poked his nose to the outside as Hornish guarded the inside line but was unable to make a move for the lead. Boat pulled alongside on lap 114, going wheel to wheel with Hornish but still could not complete the move.

The action came to a stop as the pair crossed the start/finish line for debris on the backstretch when Dan Wheldon made slight contact with Robbie Buhl.

On lap 117 the field reported to the pits for service. Castroneves picked up six positions in the pits, returning to the track in third. Hornish and Boat lined up fourth and fifth, respectively.

Scott Sharp, who did not stop, inherited the lead.

Buddy Lazier lined up second.

When the green was shown, Billy Boat's car coughed and balked the field, which allowed the top four cars to pull away with a three second lead over Airton Dare in fifth place.

It took Hornish a few laps to relegate Castroneves to fourth and mount his challenge on Sharp and Lazier running nose to tail at the point.

With 60 laps to go, a blanket could cover the top four cars. Hornish, whose car tended to wash out while tucked under Sharp's rear wing, kept half his nose in clean air in the turns. Hornish pulled to the outside on lap 144 and was able to pull alongside before tucking in behind in the nest turn.

Sharp made his last stop on lap 151, leaving Hornish to contend with Rice and Castroneves in a three way battle for the lead.

Hornish, Rice and Castroneves received a gift when Airton Dare crashed three laps later. The ensuing yellow flag allowed all the front runners to report to the pits.

The work of the Team Penske pit crew allowed Castroneves to take the lead in the pits. Al Unser Jr. immediately went to work on the leader, taking the lead on the front stretch. Hornish followed to take second.

Hornish and Unser ran side by side with Hornish edging ahead as they completed lap139.

One lap later, Hornish led by three tenths of a second. Unser retaliated but was not able to take command.

Unser managed to slip underneath Hornish in turn three and led lap 178 by a nose.

For the next 22 laps, Unser and Hornish ran side by side, wheel to wheel to the checkered flag with Hornish finishing the last lap 0.0024 seconds ahead of Unser in the closest finish in Indy Racing League history.

Behind the battle for the lead, six cars lined up in two rows, in the closest racing ever seen at the Chicagoland Speedway.

Buddy Lazier finished third followed by Helio Castroneves Eddie Cheever, Felipe Giaffone and Scott Sharp in seventh.

Hornish now travels to Texas Motor Speedway for next week's race with the points lead. Until today, Texas Motor Speedway had hosted the closest race in IRL history

Fike takes first win at Chicagoland