FORT WORTH, Texas. (Oct. 12, 2003) - Team 7-Eleven's goal coming into Texas was to end the 2003 Indy Racing League (IRL) IndyCar Series season with a race win, a series championship and the rookie of the year title. As the late stages of Sunday's...
FORT WORTH, Texas. (Oct. 12, 2003) - Team 7-Eleven's goal coming into Texas was to end the 2003 Indy Racing League (IRL) IndyCar Series season with a race win, a series championship and the rookie of the year title. As the late stages of Sunday's race arrived, it looked like that was well within reach.
Team 7-Eleven drivers Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon dueled in and among the top- five all race long - at one point running first and second. Both drivers looked capable of possibly winning the event - a victory that would have guaranteed Kanaan a series crown and Wheldon the rookie title. But, with just over 20 laps to go, a big part of the equation changed.
Moments after a restart on lap 179, Kanaan passed Helio Castroneves to move into second position behind eventual winner Gil de Ferran. But, as the two battled for position, Castroneves made contact with Kanaan, cutting his left-rear tire in the process. After the unscheduled green-flag pit stop, Kanaan returned to the track to finish the event, ending the day with a 14th place finish. Kanaan's misfortune dropped him to fourth in the final IndyCar Series standings.
Wheldon fared much better in the closing laps. The 25-year old rookie stayed with the leaders until a late-race crash involving Kenny Brack and Tomas Scheckter brought the race to a premature close on lap 195 due to irreparable damage to the catch-fence. Wheldon brought his #7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone home in third behind de Ferran and Scott Dixon, who clinched the 2003 championship with his runner-up effort. The result gave Wheldon his best career finish and also delivered him a win in the 2003 rookie of the year battle.
TONY KANAAN, #11 TEAM 7-ELEVEN DALLARA/HONDA/FIRESTONE:
"Deep inside myself I am satisfied because I know we did whatever we could. Unfortunately, things like that can happen. It wasn't mechanical; it wasn't my fault. But, things like that can happen and unfortunately it happened to us today. Look at Scott Dixon - he had so many DNFs this year, but it paid off for him today. It was a long year - a good year. Let's look forward to next year."
ON THE CONTACT WITH HELIO CASTRONEVES "I felt something from behind me, but I don't know what happened. I was on the outside and I gave him plenty of room and we touched. I don't know what happened, but it's unfortunate. I had a run on him, I passed him, I was ahead of him. It's a shame to lose a championship like that after the race that we had. The team did a great job. I need to thank the guys for awesome pit stops. Unfortunately, it wasn't our day today."
KIM GREEN, PRESIDENT, ANDRETTI GREEN RACING:
"We've got it down to a seven-point gap. The thing we can look forward to at Texas is that we had a very, very good car there the last time we were there in June and I think our engine guys have really stepped it up since then. I'm pretty hopeful for having a very good package to take in there. Obviously, we would have liked to have won this race. We got ourselves in a position, but it just seemed like we didn't quite have enough at the end for the '4' car (Hornish) and the '9' car (Dixon). But, Tony drove a fantastic race and the pit crew did an absolutely fantastic job. Those were the best pit stops I think we've had all year. Under pressure - when we needed it - they came through, so it shows that they mean business, too."
DAN WHELDON #7 TEAM 7-ELEVEN DALLARA/HONDA/FIRESTONE:
"We had a fantastic race car, fantastic pit stops and Tony drove the best I think he ever has -- he did a great job on fuel mileage. Everything was just going our way. It's just unfortunate. This was certainly not the way we wanted to finish the championship. But, we came here and we did an awesome job. That's just motor racing, I guess. I'm a little bit disappointed. Congratulations, obviously, to Dan for winning rookie of the year. I just can't say enough about everybody at Andretti Green - how well they've worked together in our first year in the IRL."
TONY COTMAN, TEAM MANAGER, TEAM 7-ELEVEN:
"We had a good day. We were pretty fast all day and we hung around up front and did what we had to do to win the rookie-of-the-year title. I'm proud of the job Dan has done this season and rookie-of-the-year caps it off for him. I want to thank the crew and the whole team, everybody at home, for a great season and for continued success next year."
- AGR -