Richmond, VA, June 29 - Sam Hornish Jr. led one and a half laps winning a wild, action packed race on the 3/4 mile Richmond International Raceway.
Sam did it the way he and his team have gotten most of their successes: with a car that Sam could put wherever he wanted. Running third with three laps to go, Sam first passed Felipe Giaffone low (almost on the apron) entering Turn one.
The crowd sensed something big was happening, and was on its feet a lap later, when Sam made the same move on Gil de Ferran. Gil had dominated the race, leading 168 of the 250 laps and seemed to be unstoppable. But Gil was experiencing handling problems, and exhibited sportsmanship by making room for Sam once he knew what was inevitable.
Sam led only the final two laps. But those laps included, as they say, the one that counted.
"I didn't know I could pass him until I did it," Sam said. "We were really getting the car off turn four. The car was super-strong all night long, and that was where we had to do it. We worked all night long. The Pennzoil-Panther guys gave me spots in the pits every time we stopped and we just kind of stayed constant for the last 50 laps. The car was awesome.
"The guys put 110% in every time. Any time I get put in victory circle, it's a total team effort."
Gil de Ferran was philosophical about winding up second after leading so much of the race. "The car was very good at the beginning. Then it just kept getting looser and looser and looser and looser. Right at the end there we were really struggling with a lot of oversteer for the last 40 laps or so. We could hang on to stay on the track, but unfortunately I couldn't hang onto Sam. He had a good run coming off (Turn) four. Aside from running him into the grass, which I wouldn't do, there was no way to keep him behind. It was a really tough race, really hard to pass."
Third place Felipe Giaffone also had a car that wasn't up to the final battle with Hornish. "We had a problem with the brakes this morning, and we couldn't fix them for the race. So I didn't have any brakes in the front when my pedal was going down. So that was always my biggest problem. Then about 40 laps to go my weight jacker wouldn't work so I couldn't adjust the car the way I wanted it. But the car was so good. It was a shame because if we has everything right I think we really should have been able to win the race.
Tomas Sheckter finished fourth, after a solid drive from 18th starting position. "I really have to thank the guys on the Red Bull Cheever team. It feels great to finish fourth. When you start eighteenth, you've just got to get through the field. In the beginning I used a high line and passed a lot of people. I just have to thank my crew again. They gave me a setup on the Red Bull Infiniti that was unbelievable."
The final 50 laps of the 250 lap race was a high-speed high-wire act, with de Ferran leading almost all of them, followed by Felipe Giaffone, Sam Hornish, Tomas Scheckter, Jeff Ward and Al Unser Jr., in various combinations. Scheckter looked like a potential winner, running a close second behind de Ferran for a number of laps until he got shuffled back as the leading freight train encountered traffic.
In contrast to the solid green final 50 laps, the earlier parts of the race were marred by crashes and yellow flags, with a total of 95 laps run under the yellow. The crashing began with Helio Castroneves (lap 7) and Billy Boat (lap 30) each spinning into the inside wall exiting Turn two. On lap 40, Scott Sharp made heavy contact with the outside wall exiting Turn four. On lap 54, George Mack did the Turn two into the inside wall thing. The longest yellow, 21 laps, came on lap 95, when Buddy Lazier was black flagged for smoking. The smoke originated from a fire in the rear of the car, and a pit fire erupted when he came in. After the fire was handled, Jon Herb tested the outside wall exiting Turn four, followed by Sarah Fisher in the same area on lap 161.
The final incident came on lap 181, when Eddie Cheever and Laurent Redon came together and made hard contact with the Turn 3 wall. Redon's car became airborne, contacting the debris fence. This was in the same area that Cheever and Eliseo Salazar crashed in last year's race.
Drivers involved in all incidents were examined and released from the infield medical center. The only injury was some minor fractures on the tips of two fingers on Redon's left hand.
Sam Hornish won a total of $111,500 for his victory. Gil de Ferran, thanks to leading 168 laps, walked away with slightly more - $112,050 - for his second place finish. Despite his early exit from the race, Helio Castroneves remains the leader in championship points, with 280, followed by his teammate Gil de Ferran with 277 and rival Sam Hornish with 156.