Say goodbye to that black cloud following Tomas Scheckter since July of 2002. He blew it away tonight in the Bombardier Learjet 500 on Texas Motor Speedway's 1.5-mile banked oval, taking a Texas typical 0.053-second margin of victory over Sam Hornish Jr. after 200 laps of side-by-side racing. Theirs was the tenth tightest finish in Indy Racing League history.
"Sam helped push me to the front," Scheckter explained after leaving the front straightaway awash in Firestone tire smoke. "I knew we had everything we needed to get to the front; this is great for the team, for my morale to get my confidence back up."
Unlike most Texas races the high line around these 24-degree banks wasn't the hot tip on this warm, humid night. "The high line just wasn't there; I couldn't get speed there but the car would stick down low. Behind Sam I could get ahead on the low side," he explained.
"I've changed my shoe colors, my underwear colors, just about everything to try and get things turned around. At Twin Ring Motegi I pretty much stepped away and looked at getting to the end of the race, just relaxing and getting ready to go. I told the team tonight, if you get me out of the pits in fifth place I can go to the front."
Hornish simply "didn't have a strong enough car on my own," with a #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota that still is down on power to the Chevrolets and Hondas. "It handled best behind the 4 car and, while I tried really hard to get that pass complete on the last lap, it wasn't there.
"I'm a little disappointed but I was really happy with the car tonight. We had good pit stops and, who knows? With the right timing maybe I could pass Tomas but it would be really hard," Hornish admitted.
Tony Kanaan was in the catbird seat with his #11 Team 7/Eleven Dallara/Honda after the final round of pit stops and did lead 62 laps tonight. Starting 13th Kanaan moved up easily in the early going and, with only ten laps in the books had seventh place in hand. He never moved out of the lead pack and was in contention for his second consecutive win until Scheckter and Hornish Jr. blew on by.
"We didn't quite have the speed to win the race tonight," Kanaan admitted. "I think Scheckter deserved it; he had the best car all weekend, he drove a smart race. We did the best we could today."
Scott Sharp said he spent much of Thursday preparing for tonight's race and that showed in his fourth place finish and was "really ecstatic."
Helio Castroneves led seven laps in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota but didn't have the ability to stay with the pack. He consistently pitted a lap prior to his teammate and ended up fifth at the close yet was "really happy with our performance. We didn't have the fastest car but we did what we needed to do."
Point leader and 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon took sixth place tonight in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda. Wheldon didn't think his car "was very quick this evening. I lost quite a bit of time on pit stops and then, when I lost the draft I couldn't do the times the leaders did," he said.
Second-year driver Kosuke Matsuura used the high line much of the night and appeared to have an entirely different manner of getting around the Texas banking with his #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz/Honda. Running with the leaders from 14th on the grid, Matsuura earned seventh place at the close.
Dario Franchitti finished eighth with the #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda, slipping two positions from his sixth place grid spot due to out-of- sequence stops and a high side pass by teammate Kanaan that caused the Scot to lose the lead pack.
Vitor Meira "lost contact with the lead pack in the middle of the race and couldn't get back in touch," he contended. Surprised by the lack of caution periods in mid-race, "My right foot was getting tired of stomping on the throttle" of his #17 Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda. He finished ninth.
Bryan Herta rounded out the top ten with the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda. When the leaders pitted on lap 63 Herta felt a vibration, making another two stops to try and remedy the situation. His team never found the reason for the problem and Herta continued on, "struggling in traffic. When the sun went down, the car got really loose."
In all, only three drivers of 22 starters dropped out of the contest. Jimmy Kite caused the first caution on lap 7 when he clouted the Turn 2 SAFER barrier with his #91 Ethanol Hemelgarn Dallara/Toyota. "For some reason the car snuck around on me but I just don't know what happened," he said.
It took a while to clean up the debris and the track went green again on the 16th lap, only to fall to yellow again on lap 26 when Buddy Rice's gearbox gave up on the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda. He slowed on the apron and, in fact the team tried to effect repairs on pit road to no avail. "A vibration got really bad and I didn't have any gears," Rice explained.
Green flags came out again on lap 32 but caution waved once more for a tow- in for the #2 RockStar Dallara/Chevrolet of second starter Tomas Enge, who experienced an electrical problem that would relegate Enge to 19th at the close, six laps down. Enge did set the fastest lap of the race on lap 193 of 216.184mph.
The only other caution came about when Ed Carpenter hit the Turn 1 wall after sparking his way down the front straight with the #20 Vision Racing Dallara/Toyota on lap 64. Carpenter had made a recent pit stop and team manager ordered a tire pressure adjustment and big front wing decrease, which may have aided the problem.
Once the track was cleared of Carpenter's stricken car that was it for caution periods, making good green flag pit stops essential to a fine finish. Scott Dixon took 11th with the #9 Target Panoz/Toyota, followed by rookie teammate Ryan Briscoe's #33 Target/Pioneer Panoz/Toyota.
Danica Patrick finished 13th after dicing with Briscoe during the latter stages. "It took me a little while to learn how the car was going to react in traffic," she said after missing much of the final two practices with poorly balanced wheels. "This was a tougher day but we finished and I gained a lot of experience" in her #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda.
Alex Barron took 14th in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota on his 35th birthday, the first car a lap down from the leaders. At the start his car was a bit loose, "but we were able to get it back underneath us. I ran 80 percent of the race flat out but we just couldn't move forward," the Californian said.
Roger Yasukawa had a fast #24 Racing for Kids Dallara/Honda but finished 15th. "We picked up a lot of push midway and lost the draft," he explained. Patrick Carpentier soldiered to 16th in the #83 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota yet didn't think it was too bad a result. "The crew did a good job in the pits but after a while we lost the lead pack and started going backwards," the French Canadian said.
Darren Manning took 17th in the #10 Target Panoz/Toyota and A.J. Foyt IV was two laps back in the #14 ABC Supply Dallara/Toyota.
Until tonight Tomas Scheckter had led a relentless 252 laps here at Texas Motor Speedway without the result he was looking for. Adding another 119 laps was quite an accomplishment, but the resulting win was even better, a relief for the fourth year IndyCar Series driver.
The Indy cars have a test date at Watkins Glen and race once more in two weeks at Richmond International Raceway. Wheldon continues to lead the point chase with 262, followed by Kanaan with 197 and Hornish Jr. at 186 points. Herta holds 159 fourth place points and Meira lies fifth with 158 points.