By Ken Plotkin - Motorsport.com Richmond, VA, June 30, 2001 - Buddy Lazier dominated tonight's SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway, moving to the front on the first lap and leading 224 of the 250 laps. Many of those behind...
By Ken Plotkin - Motorsport.com
Richmond, VA, June 30, 2001 - Buddy Lazier dominated tonight's SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway, moving to the front on the first lap and leading 224 of the 250 laps. Many of those behind (and sometimes ahead) took themselves out on a tight, slick track, but Buddy was fast, patient and untouchable.
The race on the 3/4 mile tri-oval lived up to expectations of being a hard battle and a grueling night. Nine of the twenty starters were eliminated during the race, seven from wall contact.
"It was very difficult to pass," Buddy said after the race. "You just had to time it correctly. If you had two cars that were within five miles per hour it was tough to pass. You had to be real patient. Timing was everything - just plan it right. You definitely wanted track position."
Buddy made a single mistake in the race, missing his pit on the final round of stops. That cost him track position, allowing Eliseo Salazar to lead the only 26 laps that did not belong to Buddy. Missing his pit was part of the grueling nature of running at Richmond. "This is one of the most physically demanding races I've run," he explained. "We were pulling four or five plus G's all night long, in huge humidity and temperature. I sweat a lot, and my visor was all fogged up. I came around the corner, and I didn't see them."
The missed pit stop dropped Buddy to third, with Eddie Cheever following Salazar into second place. Lazier expected a tough time trying to get past them. He was saved the trouble when Cheever thought he had an opportunity to take the lead on a late-race restart. One circuit after the lap 213 green, Cheever put his nose under Salazar in turn 3. Wheels touched, and the two went into the concrete. Both drivers were assisted out of their cars. Cheever was unhurt. Salazar was awake and alert, but transported to Memorial Regional Medical Center in Richmond for precautionary X-rays.
Cheever was disappointed with the outcome. "It's very unfortunate what happened," he said. "I was racing Salazar for the lead. He had older tires than I did. He got up very high out of turn 2, and I got a run on him. There was enough room for him to stay high and for me to stay low. He came down, and there was no place for me to go. I want to look at the tape, but from my perspective I had more than enough room."
The incident did not come as a surprise to Lazier, who was right behind them and threaded his way through the wreckage. "That's two wild drivers," Buddy said. "I mean, those guys run hard. You expect them to go for it. Those two went in there, and it was a real close call for me. As soon as they got side by side in the corner, I kind of set myself up. I didn't think they were going to make contact, but both of them would have slowed each other down through the corner, so I would have had a great run on them down the front stretch."
It was a good day for Sam Hornish Jr. and Al Unser Jr, who finished second and third. Hornish ran near the front most of the evening, but could not match Lazier. "I figured he'd be dominant from the get-go," Sam said. "He started ahead of me and went around everybody on the outside, and I really couldn't catch up to him. But we were really going to work on our car all night long."
Sam agreed with Buddy about the race conditions. "This is the most physical race I've run all year long. The track has a few ripples, actually two, that get the car a little bit antsy going through there and you are really following the car all night long. As far as being tired it's the toughest because you are turning all night long, and you're all over it all the time."
Unser was up and down the field, but seemed to be the one driver who enjoyed himself. "I had a great time out there," he said. "This is a really fun race for us. This is the tightest racetrack I've been on in years, and it's the smallest racetrack I've been on in a single-seat, open-wheel car. I had a great time. I don't know how many times I had to come from the back tonight and had just a great time. We could run high. We could run low. We could run just about anywhere we wanted. I don't know how much patience everyone had out there, because I was driving my ass off all night long."
Unser's teammate Didier Andre finished right behind Unser, giving Galles Racing a 3-4 result. "The team was great," Andre said. "We finished third and fourth. It was a beautiful race. I had a tiny problem with my engine late in the race, but nothing major. This is a grat result for all the guys on the team."
Two drivers who did not have a good time were the front row pair of Jaques Lazier and Sarah Fisher.
Pole sitter Jaques Lazier, Buddy's brother, was eliminated on lap 14 when racing got three wide as the leaders began lapping slower cars. Jaques spun into the turn 4 wall, the victim of touching wheels with a lapped car.
"I feel so bad," said Jaques. "We had a great car. I was taking it easy. I came up on some lapped traffic, came up on the outside, and got hit from behind and spun."
Outside pole sitter Sarah Fisher's evening ended against the turn 3 wall on lap 111, after struggling with an ill-handling car. "The car was so loose," she said. "I came over the radio and said 'I can't hang onto it. I can't hang onto it any more.' This track is a little bit slimy now, but I love Richmond."
Airton Dare and rookie Felipe Giaffone were on their way to good finishes when their evening turned unhappy. Dare was fast tonight, and had taken over second place after a round of pit stops just past the halfway mark. He challenged Lazier for over 20 laps, closing to within a second. On lap 183, the two leaders were lapping Giaffone, who was running well in sixth place. As Dare went under Giaffone exiting turn 2, the cars touched and spun into the wall. Giaffone's car was towed back to the pits for repair, and he eventually finished eleventh, 35 laps down. It was Filipe's first Indy Racing finish out of the top ten.
"The Hollywood team just did an awesome job to get the car back out after we crashed," Filipe said after the race. "I think we picked up five spots that I never thought we would get, and those points are really important. I'm not sure what happened with Dare. I thought I gave him plenty of room."
Airton was not as fortunate: he was done for the night. "I don't know what happened. I was just being pushed further and further to the line. Then I could feel his tires in between my tires, and it was done."
With 89 of the race's 250 laps run under yellow, the running time was just under two hours, at an average speed of 97.435 mph.
The Indy Racing Series makes its next appearance next weekend, on Sunday July 8th at Kansas Speedway.