IRL: Hornish: The hare at Fontana

IRL: Hornish: The hare at Fontana

Sam Hornish continues to add his laurels to the Indy Racing League record book in winning Toyota Indy 400, the fastest open wheel race ever run at a whopping 207.151 average speed on the 2-mile California Speedway today for his 11th career victory.

Sam Hornish continues to add his laurels to the Indy Racing League record book in winning Toyota Indy 400, the fastest open wheel race ever run at a whopping 207.151 average speed on the 2-mile California Speedway today for his 11th career victory. The pace set a closed course record for all series.

Sam Hornish Jr..
Photo by indyracing.com/Ron McQueeney.
Hornish beat Scott Dixon to the checkered flags by a large (for the League) .3563 seconds and Tony Kanaan finished third and this trio helped to tighten the IndyCar Series point chase. With Helio Castroneves finishing sixth, he and Dixon now share the point lead with 467, followed by Kanaan with 460, Hornish with 448 and Gil de Ferran (who finished15th) has 436.

With only one caution period (tying the record) for six laps (a new record), the pace was amazing, as was the heat of 95-97 degrees in the air and 135-141 degrees on the track surface. Winds were blowing from the south - an unusual occurrence at this circuit - and skies were clear the whole day.

Hornish drove the entire race with data on his dash, but the Pennzoil Panther team lost telemetry in the pits at the start of the 200 laps. Sam was able to give the team data so they could calculate his pit stops and prepare changes for his Dallara/Chevrolet. "We were able to get in and out of the pits quickly and the car worked well in traffic all day long."

Starting 10th, Hornish made his way slowly up the standings because without data, "everything we planned went out the window. We know what to do in these races to run flat, run high and low and get our pit stops right. The track really changed a lot with the heat and the wind and, when it's hot and slick like that, your car has to handle well in traffic. We did," he added unnecessarily.

Dixon, red-faced after his duel with Hornish had "a great last stop" that got him into the lead, albeit temporarily. "We had a pretty good race and great pit stops. We stayed back at the start and saved fuel and it paid off, but I didn't have enough for Sam. He was better than me on the high line.

"Obviously, at Texas we'll have to finish ahead of Sam, Tony, Gil and Helio to win the title. We had a good test at Texas Motor Speedway last Monday but we're going to have to find some racecraft." The heat today wasn't too bad for Dixon, but "the water in my drink bottle got hot pretty fast."

Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon.
Photo by indyracing.com/Ron McQueeney.

Kanaan's third-place finish came after a battle with the top two, regular foe Castroneves and teammate Dan Wheldon, who took his second consecutive fourth-place finish. Kanaan found it "a long day. I had a good car but I couldn't keep up with the lead pack. They took off and I couldn't do anything."

He spoke of the trust engendered in the driver's meeting that helped make the race so safe. "We took care of each other out there today. There wasn't a single crash." While it wasn't a terribly physical race, "mentally it was more draining." Ever able to find humor he noted, "I pressed my drink bottle button and got hot tea today."

Wheldon's bid to unseat Roger Yasukawa at the top of the Bombardier Rookie of the Year standings took a moderate bump today with his fourth place finish and he now trails by four points. "I had a strong car today and got a good, solid finish. The team did a really, really good job. My aim is help get Tony the championship; that's what's important."

Birthday boy Tomas Scheckter, who turned 23 today finished fifth and, once again, led the most laps, but he struggled with the handling of his car in the later stages of the race. "We were good in the beginning and bad in the end. I don't know what happened, but it ended up loose and went sideways everywhere," he said.

Polesitter Castroneves' sixth place finish could be blamed on uncharacteristic poor pit stops: he tried to leave before the fuel nozzle was uncoupled on his first pit stop and, on his final stop, "we took on more fuel than they did so we ended up in sixth after it all sorted out."

Yasukawa took seventh place with a car that handled better when he was running alone than in traffic yet he was the last to finish on the lead lap. Amazingly, Scott Sharp came from 19th on the grid to take eighth place. "Given the type of weekend we've had this is a great finish," Sharp enthused. "Everything just clicked: the car was better, the team gave great stops and Steve Newey called a great race."

Al Unser Jr. took ninth and thought, "The car ran great but we didn't have enough speed to get all the way to the front." Alex Barron finished tenth and "had a poor race balance. The car was pushing a lot. We stuck it out and made some changes," but none seemed to work for him. Vitor Meira took 11th and Robbie Buhl hauled from 22nd to 12th.

De Ferran, who started 12th had a miserable day and finished 15th, falling to fifth in the standings. "It was a long hot day for everyone and my car just wasn't handling well at all. I spent most of my time struggling to stay in the race. We probably didn't have enough experience with the [Panoz G Force] car in race trim."

His day was better than Kenny Brack's as the Swede ended up falling from 2nd on the grid to finish 20th. There was a malfunction with the fueling buckeye on his first pit stop, and Brack lost 13 laps as the team worked to repair it. "That's the way the season has gone for us. The buckeye clamp was stuck and it wouldn't allow the fuel to go into the cell," he related.

Bryan Herta and Richie Hearn were the only two drivers to retire from the 200-lap sprint. Herta had contact with Barron, who was "on the high side. I gave him room but he kind of came down and hit my right front," breaking the suspension. Handling problems also ended Hearn's day. "All of a sudden it went real loose and it's not fun to be out there just hanging out. I think something broke."

The scene for the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series finale in Texas on October 12th has now been set. It's still a five-man dogfight and closer than ever. "You know we're going to give it everything we've got," Hornish stated. "The fans that come to the Texas race are going to get one heck of an experience."

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Series INDYCAR