Sam Hornish Jr was a man on a mission this afternoon: nothing would stand in the way of his victory and nothing did, as the Ohio native bunted his way to Victory Lane in the ABC Supply Co/AJ Foyt 225 on the venerable Milwaukee Mile. Never placed...
Sam Hornish Jr was a man on a mission this afternoon: nothing would stand in the way of his victory and nothing did, as the Ohio native bunted his way to Victory Lane in the ABC Supply Co/AJ Foyt 225 on the venerable Milwaukee Mile.
Never placed lower than third in the 225-lap contest held under scorching, 96-degree sun-baked conditions in this Milwaukee suburb, Hornish even put teammate Helio Castroneves in the turn 2 wall on the 186th lap. He led 123 laps of the contest and shortened the distance between himself and point leader Dan Wheldon by 51 points, trailing in second place 377-309.
"This was a really tough race," Hornish acknowledged. "This is definitely one of my most difficult wins (of his 14, an Indy Racing League record) and I've had a roller-coaster of emotions here today."
Hornish beat Dario Franchitti to the flag by 0.3836 seconds after passing and being re-passed by the Scot several times in the waning laps. Following the cleanup for Castroneves in the turn 2 area, the duo swapped the lead from the lap 195 green flag. Although Franchitti initially pulled out a good lead, by lap 197 Hornish swept by Wheldon to take third place away and then began to work on Tony Kanaan.
He took Kanaan's position on lap 201 at the start/finish line and set sights on Franchitti. On lap 210 Hornish got by Franchitti at turn 2 but got high two laps later and gave the point away. He'd take the lead for good with an inside move in turn 1 on the 216th lap and never looked back.
Kanaan had to give way to Tomas Scheckter in the closing laps and that gave the IndyCar Series a parity podium comprised of all three engine makers: Toyota (Hornish Jr.), Franchitti with a Honda and Scheckter's Chevrolet.
"The team put a good car under me today and I really wanted to win after that little problem with Helio," Hornish continued. "I feel real bad for the guy but it's close racing and you can't take it back. You've got to go out there and try and win it." Hornish was trying to keep his gearbox intact as he had shifting irregularities, one cause of his trip to the marbles when Franchitti was able to get past.
Franchitti admitted he was "definitely beaten by the better car today. I think Kyle Moyer made a very good call" by not having Franchitti or Kanaan pit on the fourth caution when Buddy Rice slammed into the turn 3 wall and ignited an oil fire. Both Andretti Green Racing drivers made it to the close after pitting on lap 130 and Franchitti said, "It was pretty close by what the dashboard was telling me.'
"Sam made the mistake there in [turn] 2 and I thought I had him again, but we were still saving fuel and he was going flat. That was it," the Scot explained.
Scheckter's race rose and fell all day, too. After starting third the South African struggled with oversteer much of the afternoon, yet made his patented outside passes to gain position throughout.
"Every time I touched the throttle the car would step out," he said. "One lap it would be fine and another a gust of wind would upset the car. I'm a little frustrated because Tony pushed me up the track" and made him work to pass for the final step on the podium. "We had a good car in the end but in the beginning I had to save the car maybe 10, 20 times," Scheckter declared. "Another 10 laps and I think maybe this race would have been ours."
Kanaan was diplomatic about his race after the day was done. "We finished second, fourth and fifth and it's not very good but we'll take it," the 2004 IRL champ mused. "I have never had a race that hard in my life," he said of the heat, which made this event the hottest In Milwaukee Mile history.
Wheldon finished fifth and wasn't pleased with the strategy of his team. "I'm not sure that we thought properly about it. When you know your two teammates are staying out, who can stay out and control the pace of the race and save the amount of fuel that you need to, we didn't do that. I think we should have learned this from practice," he barked. Wheldon led 58 laps mid-contest.
The fourth member of the AGR crew, a pleased Bryan Herta finished sixth. With the track slowing appreciably due to the weather, "It was really hot out there. It was really hard but I like that. When you have to battle like that and the car is sliding around you're tired and everybody is fighting out there, to me that is the most fun racing."
French Canadian Patrick Carpentier brought his "fast car" home in seventh place, one lap down. "I think we were pretty close to what the leaders were running. When you can stick with the leaders, it's a lot easier to stick with them at the end. We lost a lap early and couldn't find a way to get it back, but overall I'm pleased with the result."
Teammate Alex Barron snagged eighth and "ran a really strong race." Battling understeer at the start, "as the race went on we got faster. The team put forth a lot of effort this weekend and I think it shows."
Vitor Meira was the sole member of the Rahal Letterman Racing team to complete the race, ending up ninth. "Man, that was a long day for us. The car was sliding all over and I was just trying to hang on. We had some pretty good racing in the middle of the field and actually we could stay ahead of some of the leaders on long runs. But once you get a lap down," Meira reminded, "it is very hard to make it up."
Scott Sharp rounded out the top ten, four laps down in his 100th consecutive IndyCar Series race and 107th overall. Falling nearly to the rear of the pack early on, he fought back. "We made a lot of changes going into the race and the fact that we finished in the top 10 is a real positive. We came to Milwaukee with great expectations but we just seemed to chase the car all weekend."
Of 21 contestants, 16 completed the race and Helio Castroneves, despite a change of rear wing and attenuator was the final driver still running in 16th. "What can I say?" he remarked about his run-in with Hornish. "I just hope Sam gives me half the prize money. It's a shame we got together but sometimes these things just happen."
Kosuke Matsuura took a tentative 11th place five laps down and was clearly off the pace all weekend, Ed Carpenter got together with Buddy Lazier in the pit lane, causing the veteran left front damage that ended his day on the 130th lap but Carpenter soldiered on to finish 12th, six laps back. Scott Dixon had a quiet race to 13th and Jimmy Kite secured 14th place. Roger Yasukawa's strength in qualifying never translated to race trim and he ended up 15th.
After a clean start, A.J. Foyt IV was the first driver to retire on the 19th lap with an ill handling car. The young Texan crashed in morning warmup and noted, "The car had no grip." The first yellow - of four - emerged on lap 58 for debris and the track went green again on lap 70.
Rookie Danica Patrick crashed into the outside turn 2 wall on lap 126 and fell to the inside wall from there, ending an eight-race finishing streak. Patrick had been up to sixth place at the time and closing on Franchitti and Kanaan. "When I turned into turn 2 [on that lap] the car was pushing. So I turned a little more and the rear just came around. I was surprised by the snap of the car." She was treated, released and cleared to drive.
Her teammate Rice brought out the third yellow when he crashed in turn 3 on the 167th lap. "It was very slippery out there and we were holding on as best as possible. I was just cruising down the back straight and something broke." He jumped out quickly to avoid a fire and was uninjured in the incident.
"This is definitely the way I wanted this race to go," claimed Hornish as he cooled off after the event. "We're trying to move forward as much as we can in this championship and the closer we get to Dan, the more we can push him into making a mistake."
The Indy cars end their three races in three weeks stretch next weekend on the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway oval, in the Firestone Indy 400. Wheldon continues to lead the point standings with 377, Hornish lies second with 309 and Franchitti holds third with the same point total (but one less win). Kanaan has moved down to fourth with 306 points, Castroneves is fifth at 274 points while Sharp retains sixth with 250 points.