Marlboro Team Penske's Sam Hornish, Jr. pulled off another of his patented late-race dramatic dashes to grab the prize Sunday afternoon at the Meijer Indy 300 presented by Coca-Cola and Secret. Besting Target Chip Ganassi's Scott Dixon by over...
Marlboro Team Penske's Sam Hornish, Jr. pulled off another of his patented late-race dramatic dashes to grab the prize Sunday afternoon at the Meijer Indy 300 presented by Coca-Cola and Secret. Besting Target Chip Ganassi's Scott Dixon by over half a second to claim victory in the two hundred lap event, Hornish once again took the front in the all-important Indy Racing League championship points race.
Hornish finished a comfortable 0.0568 second ahead of Dixon and praised his team for the flawless run to the finish.
"We had a really good car. I got by Helio on lap 5, then led for awhile" he said in victory lane. "The Marlboro Team Penske guys gave me awesome stops today. We could bide our time to give us the opportunity to win. It makes up for Michigan! We're happy we got the points lead back. Now we'll move forward and get this championship. "
With five laps remaining Scott Dixon yielded on a late race restart to Hornish, who put pedal to metal in a drag race to the checkered flag. Helio Castroneves stalked Dixon onto the white-flag lap but couldn't clear the Number 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone.
"We struggled on the restart. Sam cut me right off and cost me a big gap, and then Helio was on top of me" said a smarting and stern Dixon afterwards. The result marks the New Zealander's seventh top-five finish of the year.
The race result leap-frogged Hornish seven points to the better of teammate Helio Castroneves in the IRL points chase with TGR's Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon trailing the Penske duo. The result also marked Sam's record eighteenth IndyCar series win and fourth victory of the 2006 season.
Finishing third was Castroneves, who hoped to continue his own quest for the championship after his pole-setting performance at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday.
"We lost today but we're still in the hunt" said Helio. "I had a very good car. The restart was early, and I wasn't ready. But anyway, it was awesome, and I was having such a good time. It was really good."
Once again, fourth-place finisher Dan Wheldon met disaster as he overshot his mark in the pitbox with a mental lapse late in the race. Seventeen long seconds later he was away, but far in arrear of the leaders in the IRL points chase now.
"I just made a mistake, came in a little too hot. Target Chip Ganassi Racing gave me a great car today and I made a mistake. It wasn't too bad, I just made a mistake."
The highly-anticipated run-off between open-wheel racing's two female drivers almost ended before it started with a pre-race practice collision involving Rahal/Letterman driver Danica Patrick and Panther Racing's Vitor Meira. After repairing her car, Patrick started in her eleventh spot on the grid and finished eighth, four spots ahead of Sarah Fisher.
"It was a racy day." said Danica. "I had a good fun feeling like I had last year with lots of adrenaline, pushing hard, and angry, but overall everyone did a great job. The guys quickly made the car good."
Making her first start after two years away from the league, Sarah Fisher was satisfied with both her qualifying and race result of twelfth spot. "We finished where we qualified. We could have been better but we struggled with straight-line speed." She also dropped the hint that her fans were waiting for by concluding "We're gonna' have a better car for whoever gets in it in Chicago."
Marco Andretti overcame a poorly-qualified car once again, moving up rapidly over the first twenty laps of the race to hold an impressive seventh place by mid-race. His race came acropper though when he missed the pit entry on lap 188, leading him into the grassy infield and finally, unmarred, onto the pit road where he stalled. He finished seventeenth in the nineteen car field.
With twenty-four lead changes in little more than ninety minutes of racing the fans came away satisfied on a warm afternoon under puffy "Charmin-soft" white clouds over the BlueGrass. . Vision Racing's Ed Carpenter started strong and was running well into the top five when he spun on lap 55 while leaving his pits on an irregularly- surfaced area of the track leading into turn one. He later recovered one of the two laps he lost, by deferring fuel and tires under a yellow for debris on the track, to finish in eleventh position.
Yellow flew again on lap 88 to clear debris between turns three and four. With a superb pit-stop Vitor Meira took the lead on lap 92 as his crew turned in a rapid 6.9 second stop, fuel only, to put the repaired Number 4 Revive Panther Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone into the lead. Sam Hornish and Tony Kanaan quickly retook the front two positions, however, and Vitor soon found himself falling steadily behind the streaming train of cars drafting at his expense to the rear. Meira finished a disappointing, and disappointed, sixth-almost certainly bringing his dark horse chances of closing on the championship to insurmountable odds.
Running high into turn four Kosuke Matsoura brought the yellow to the aid of Sarah Fisher on lap 120 when he spun with hard contact into the SAFER barrier. Fisher was already entered onto the pit road, where the earlier action in the day transpired, when the Number 55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda/Firestone lost traction on the accumulated rubber outside the low-line groove around the racetrack. The pit-stop put the fan-favorite female driver back onto the lead lap and set the scene for her finish.
Matsoura knew immediately what went wrong, as he said from the infield medical center after being cleared by the staff there: "I was running in the middle of the racetrack with a group of racers. Somebody cut me off. Everybody was going inside. I had quite a big push and too much steering in the car.then the car snaps. It was probably my mistake. It happens."
An extended yellow flag interval to repair the outside and inside walls of the safety barrier led to a restart on lap 134. Bryan Herta, who remained out during the safety-car period, led briefly before Dan Wheldon and Sam Hornish Jr. drew alongside him on the high side to go three-wide around the track. The two hundred mile-plus cavalry charge continued for nearly three laps as an excited crowd of 45,000 came to its feet to cheer them on. The moment provided some of the most thrilling racing of this 2006 Indy Racing League season as the AGR/Ganassi/Penske column thundered around the 1.5 mile track.
Breaking away from the field, and continuing on-track when Herta was subsequently forced to pit under green, Hornish and Wheldon were quickly joined by Castroneves and Dixon. The four-car pack then separated from the others and roamed the oval uncontested until Wheldon and Hornish pitted on lap 185 for fuel and tires
Spinning after pitting on lap 192, Scott Sharp brought out the last and definitive yellow flag when he spun on his pit exit over the roughly-paved portion of track. Sharp finished the race two laps down in sixteenth spot.