IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2005-03-21

Today's IRL headlines 1. Toyota's gains foster even closer competition 2. Kanaan races to the front, twice 3. A left, then a right 4. XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 Presented by Argent Mortgage by the numbers 1. Toyota's gains foster even...

Today's IRL headlines
1. Toyota's gains foster even closer competition
2. Kanaan races to the front, twice
3. A left, then a right
4. XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 Presented by Argent Mortgage by the numbers

1. Toyota's gains foster even closer competition: Of course two-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. would like a clear horsepower advantage. That's possible yet this season, but for now incremental gains by Toyota Racing Development have boosted his confidence and created opportunities.

That's when his cunning and experience -- such as in the race March 19 at Phoenix International Raceway -- come through. Hornish combined both to win the XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 Presented by Argent Mortgage at Phoenix International Raceway by 1.0408 seconds over Marlboro Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves. Adding a runner-up finish in the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway to his first victory in 13 months, Hornish has vaulted to the top of the IndyCar Series standings.

Hornish and Castroneves in 2004 combined to post bookend victories in their Toyota-powered Dallaras, with Honda teams winning the 14 other races. In the initial two of 17 events this year, all three engine manufacturers have made strong showings for a burgeoning level playing field.

<pre> A breakdown: Honda Toyota Chevy Poles 1 0 1 Victories 1 1 0 Top 5 6 4 0 </pre>

"I'm never going to be happy until we have an advantage," said Hornish, who recorded his series-leading 13th victory. "I know that the guys at Toyota are never going to be happy until they have an advantage. I think everything is real close right now, and everybody's working hard. If you can find 3 to 5 horsepower between every race, you're going to be better off than anybody else because that's what keeps all these guys going. They're just looking for those little gains. There are not big gains to be made anymore."

Toyota and Chevrolet appear to have made significant progress in the off-season. GM Racing has one two-car team to focus on, with the prospects for a half-dozen entries in the 89th Indianapolis 500. Toyota powers 10 entries, with more likely for the 500-Mile Race on May 29. Honda's 10 teams also remain strong -- especially the four-car Andretti Green Racing juggernaut that already has combined for four top-5 finishes.

"Hopefully, with all the things that we've got going we'll just continue to be a little bit better each time that we go out for the races," said Hornish, who picked up his 13th career IndyCar Series victory. "Hopefully, we'll keep getting a little bit better and we'll be exactly where we need to be; we'll have an advantage."

The next test is the 1.8-mile street course in St. Petersburg, Fla., on April 3 -- the first non-oval event in IndyCar Series history. The Ohio resident with an oval-racing pedigree acknowledges the perceived disadvantage, but isn't blunted. He was quick, though not among the quickest, in a two-day test on Homestead-Miami Speedway's road course in January, and has received instruction from Castroneves and team advisor Rick Mears.

"It's been a long time since I've been on a road course competitively," said Hornish, who has competed in the Toyota Atlantic series and U.S. F2000. "But, like I said, my goal for this season is to finish every lap. I'm going to go there, try to keep a cool head about me no matter what happens that weekend. I know if you're running at the end of that race, you're halfway competitive, you're going to be in the Top 10.

"You don't have to win every one of these races to win the championship. It sure helps if you can. But I'm just going to go out there and try to do the best I can. If we can go there and stay out of trouble, we'll be OK."

2. Kanaan races to the front, twice: It didn't take Tony Kanaan long to move from his 21st starting position to his familiar position in the top five.

The reigning IndyCar Series champion passed 11 cars on the opening lap of the XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 Presented by Argent Mortgage and was running seventh by Lap 5.

"I liked my start," said Kanaan, who finished third for the second race in a row. "That is something Michael (Andretti) taught me. I had a bet that I would get $10 for every car I passed, and I wanted to win at least $100 before the end of the first lap."

Kanaan passed actually had to fight to front twice. After gaining the lead under pitstops at Lap 78, the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Honda-powered Dallara returned to pit road because of a failed fuel probe. Kanaan restarted ninth after making the second pit stop and eventually worked his way his 17th consecutive top-five finish.

"He makes me look awfully good," said Eric Cowdin, Kanaan's race engineer. "We knew we had a good car. We were confident at the test and he was happy with the car this weekend, even with the limited running we got in practice. Obviously, circumstances put us where we were. It was nobody's fault and it was out of our control. We just took care of what we could. When you've got a driver like that who has confidence in his equipment, that's the package. If he's happy with the car and he is confident with what he can do, then he is going to put it in the front."

3. A left, then a right: After completing 85,724 consecutive left hand turns the next official turn at an IndyCar Series event will see the cars turning right for the first time. The driver who turned the series' last exclusively left turn? Ed Carpenter.

4. XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 Presented by Argent Mortgage by the numbers:

2: Hornish has won at least two races at five different tracks -- Phoenix International Raceway, California Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. He's won three times at Homestead's 1.5-mile oval.

5: Sam Hornish Jr. has won at least one race in consecutive seasons since joining the IndyCar Series in 2001. Scott Sharp with seven holds the record (1996-97 to 2003).

13: IndyCar Series victories for Marlboro Team Penske, one off the record of Panther Racing. Hornish provided 11 of Panther's victories.

137.753 mph: Average speed, which is an IndyCar Series record at Phoenix International Raceway. The record was 127.981 mph, set in 2004.

3,705: Consecutive race laps over 18 events completed by reigning IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan. He also extended four other series-record streaks: 17 top-5 finishes, 18 top-10 finishes, 21 races running at the finish, 12 races led.

***

The 10th season of IndyCar Series competition continues with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, April 3 on the streets of downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. The race, the first non-oval event in IndyCar Series history, will be telecast live by ESPN and broadcast by IMS Radio Network at 3:30 p.m. (EST) The race also will be available on XM Satellite Radio channel "XM Extreme" (Channel 152). ESPN2's coverage of the Phoenix 100 will be telecast at 3 p.m. (EST) on March 24. The next Menards Infiniti Pro Series race is the Menards Infiniti Pro Series Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on on Sunday, April 3 on the streets of downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. ESPN2's coverage of the race will be telecast at 3 p.m. (EST) on April 8.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Tony Kanaan , Rick Mears , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske