IRL: Sears Point: Race report

ANDRETTI WINS FIRST RACE AT INDY GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA SONOMA, Calif., Saturday, Aug. 26, 2006 -- Marco Andretti became the first rookie to win an IndyCar Series event since 2002, claiming the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway. At...

ANDRETTI WINS FIRST RACE AT INDY GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA

SONOMA, Calif., Saturday, Aug. 26, 2006 -- Marco Andretti became the first rookie to win an IndyCar Series event since 2002, claiming the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway.

At 19 years, 5 months, 14 days, the third-generation driver from one of racing's most famous families became the youngest winner of a major open-wheel race.

"We got it," the youngest Andretti said as he exited the No. 26 NYSE Group Dallara/Honda/Firestone. "I was trying all year for it. We knew this is one track we could have a shot at, but we knew how tough it was going to be. I've got to give it to the team, though. My NYSE boys did an awesome job all weekend, all year long."

Andretti Green Racing teammate Dario Franchitti finished 0.6557 of a second behind in the 80-lap race, while Panther Racing's Vitor Meira was third.

The subplot was the championship race. With one race remaining, Helio Castroneves (441) takes a one-point lead over Marlboro Team Penske teammate Sam Hornish Jr. heading to the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 10. Reigning IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon has 422 points, while his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Scott Dixon, is fourth at 420.

Dixon, who won earlier this season at Watkins Glen International and was the pole sitter here, finished fourth in the No. 9 Honda-powered Panoz. Castroneves was fifth and Wheldon sixth. Hornish finished ninth.

RACE DAY NOTEBOOK:

By starting today's event, #26 Marco Andretti has clinched the $50,000 Bombardier Rookie of the Year Award.

***

Youth groups in Sonoma County were the big winners through an auction before the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway that raised $7,500.

Ticket holders had the opportunity to bid on a parade lap of the 2.26-mile circuit with an IndyCar Series driver. Up for grabs were Marco Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta, Sam Hornish Jr., Tony Kanaan, Danica Patrick, Buddy Rice, and Dan Wheldon.

Speedway Children's Charities, the charitable arm of Infineon Raceway, organized the event. A few signed items also were auctioned.

***

INDY GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA POST-RACE NOTES

* This is Marco Andretti's first career IndyCar Series victory. His previous-best finish was second at Indianapolis in May.

* This is Andretti Green Racing's second win this season and its 23rd win in the IndyCar Series. It is the team's second consecutive win at Infineon Raceway.

* The last rookie to win an IndyCar Series event was Tomas Scheckter, who won at Michigan in his rookie season in 2002.

* Marco Andretti is the youngest winner of a major open-wheel event. Scott Dixon was 20 years, 9 months and 14 days when he won a Champ Car event at Nazareth in 2001. Sam Hornish Jr. (21 years, 259 days) was the previous youngest winner of an IndyCar Series event when he won at Phoenix in 2001. Andretti is 19 years, 5 months and 14 days old.

* Dario Franchitti finished second, his best finish of the season. His previous best finish was a third at Richmond in June.

* Vitor Meira finished third, his seventh top-five finish of the season.

INDY GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA POST-RACE QUOTES:

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 NYSE Group Dallara/Honda/Firestone, winner Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma): "We got it. I was trying all year for it. We knew this is one track we could have a shot at, but we knew tough it was going to be. I've got to give it to the team, though. My NYSE boys did an awesome job all weekend, all year long. Track position was huge. I love a track that you have to qualify well at and have to drive the thing."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 27 Klein Tools/Canadian Club Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished second): "It was a great team effort today. Everybody, Bryan (Herta), Tony (Kanaan), Marco (Andretti), myself, all the crews. Great job. I'm proud of Marco. Great, great drive today. Really all three of my teammates did such a good job. It's been a tough season, so I am happy with the job Klein Tools/Canadian Club guys did. It's a hard race. Racing 80 laps here is hard work."

VITOR MEIRA (No. 4 Lincoln Tech Panther Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished third): "What a long day. The laps on the dash never went by. From the beginning of the race, we saved a lot. Not only fuel but brakes and everything. I think that's one why we were able to do what we did at the end of the race. We had good brakes, we had full fuel, and I guess everybody was starting to save stuff. It's a good result for Lincoln Tech and for Panther Racing."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished fifth): "We could have taken a few more points, but at that stage, third to fifth, I don't think it was worth it. There was more to lose than to gain. Tony (Kanaan) was having problems, Vitor (Meira) dove into me. It would have been a big accident. (Scott) Dixon took advantage of the situation. I could have finished better. Sometimes you have to drive smarter than faster. Today, I think we drove smart. Tony was so slow. The bad news is we didn't have a big straightaway to pass him, so I had to play it like a chess game. If I got to close to him, the guys would have passed me, so I had to slow down so they had to do the same thing. We got the lead, and that's what we want."

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished ninth): "Our second to last pit stop really hurt us today. We weren't taking any tires, so we didn't put them out, because we wanted Helio (Castroneves) to be able to get out of his pit box cleanly. We just came in too far out from the pit wall and we couldn't put fuel in the car. Unfortunately, we lost significant track position when we came back in to fuel on the next lap. The good news is we ended up a lot better than it could have been, so I'm ok with how we did today. Now we just have to focus on Chicago and see if we can bring home the Championship for Marlboro Team Penske."

DANICA PATRICK (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Argent Panoz/Honda/ Firestone, finished eighth): "This was a pretty good run for the No. 16 Argent Honda. We have made some very good progress in the last year on the road courses. We ran a different fuel strategy today, and we would had probably had a top-five had that last yellow not come out. We finished in the top-eight on all three road courses this year, and last season that would have been pretty unlikely. I was proud of how we raced when we were up front. I was racing with Tony (Kanaan) and Dario (Franchitti) and those are two of the more experienced road course drivers in the series. And we were holding our own. I have one race left with Rahal Letterman Racing, and it is at Chicagoland where I ran one of my best races last season. I think we have done a really good job in the recent races. We just need to qualify better and then who knows what can happen."

JEFF SIMMONS (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol Panoz/Honda/ Firestone, finished seventh): "The Team Ethanol Honda was pretty good today. It was very good in the carousel. We had a few incidents out there just because of the track. It is so hard to pass that you need to be aggressive. I tried a couple of passes and just couldn't do it. But there were a lot of guys rubbing on other cars and they play pretty rough. I never saw (Dan) Wheldon up in the far end of the track when he got into me. I thought I was set for the turn and then he slid up inside. I bet he was on the dirt in the inside. That knocked me to the outside dirt and I got a flat right front tire. Luckily, we were under yellow then and I was able to pit first for the flat tire. Then we came back in for fuel on the next lap. Without that mishap, we might have had a chance for a better finish. But the fuel strategy was very good today, and we were able to race with the lead pack at the end. That was fun driving in the middle of the lead pack. This track is very physical, and I'm little sore now. But overall I'm pleased with the performance of the Team Ethanol crew. It is another top-10 finish in my rookie season."

MICHAEL ANDRETTI (Team co-owner, Andretti Green Racing; father of Marco Andretti): "He wasn't going to pit. We'll never know for sure if he would have made it on fuel without the yellow. I guess we'll never know. He was driving hard and was the fastest car on the track. It's a strange feeling when it's your son out there. The other guys on the team are like brothers out there. I love Dario, but I didn't want him to pass Marco at the end. I was happy that Dario was out there behind him, because I knew he wouldn't do anything too stupid. He's such a good driver."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz/Honda/Firestone, finished fourth): "Obviously disappointed as we did everything we were supposed to do starting from the pole. We had the speed and were pulling away. The car was definitely as dominant as it looked when we were running out front. I was just doing what I had to save fuel and be smart and give us a good cushion. The caution killed our 10-second lead, and then we had a problem with the airjack in the pits, and that pretty much blew our chances for the race win and likely the championship. I did what I could to make my way back to the front, but it is so hard to pass on this track. My car was set up to run up front so it was a bit trickier in traffic at the end there. Not much you can do about it."

DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz/Honda/Firestone, finished sixth): "It was a real shame for Scott Dixon and the Target team as he had an impressive run and was so dominant, but that kind of sums up how our whole year has gone really. I was pretty loose and struggled in traffic. I certainly would have liked to have had a crack at Helio at the end there. As fast as we've been all year, as aggressive as everyone knows I can be, no one is going to want to mess with me in Chicago. I have nothing to lose now and I'm not ready to give and neither is the Target team. We've been really strong on mile and a half ovals and we can still win. We're still in this. We just have to win at Chicago and the rest will be in the "Racing Gods"' hands. We've worked very hard all year to make a championship possible and it's not over yet."

MARIO ANDRETTI (Grandfather of Marco Andretti): As told to the Indianapolis Star: "I couldn't be happier. This is a perfect day, and he had a perfect weekend. That's what a big 'W' does for you. You can ask any veteran: The way he handled himself was unbelievable. He was so smart and so patient. We were (in fuel conservation) from the last stop, and he just worked everything beautifully. He managed his fuel and his tires, and he was still fast. That's hard to do. He drove well beyond his age, but he has all year. He's handled himself so well. I knew he could do it (win), but until he did you never know."

***

The final IndyCar Series event of the 2006 season is the Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 presented by Mr. Clean at 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 10 at Chicagoland Speedway. The race will be telecast live by ABC and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPN Deportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio channel 145 "IndyCar Racing" and www.indycar.com. ESPN2's coverage of the Carneros 100 and Valley of the Moon 100 will be broadcast at 2 p.m. on Aug. 31.The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition concludes with the Chicagoland 100 on Sept. 9 at Chicagoland Speedway.

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Marco Andretti , Chip Ganassi , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing