Kanaan Caps Record Season, Matsuura Nabs Rookie Title A record-setting Indy Racing League Season came to a conclusion Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, with 2004 IndyCar Champion Tony Kanaan finishing second to race winner Helio Castroneves by...
Kanaan Caps Record Season, Matsuura Nabs Rookie Title
A record-setting Indy Racing League Season came to a conclusion Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, with 2004 IndyCar Champion Tony Kanaan finishing second to race winner Helio Castroneves by just over three-tenths of a second in a green-white-checkered flag finish after a late race caution period. Kanaan was one of five Honda drivers to lead today's 500-kilometer season finale, and finished just a wheel ahead of Andretti Green Racing teammate Dan Wheldon in the last lap "shootout".
Along with three race wins - at Phoenix, Texas in June and Nashville - and top five finishes in all but one race this season, Kanaan set IRL records for laps led  and for finishing on the lead lap - a total of 3,305 laps - in all 16 races, another first in IndyCar Series history.
Honda won 14 of 16 races, with five different drivers posting victories for the manufactuer. In addition to Kanaan, Dan Wheldon, Buddy Rice and Adrian Fernandez won three races apiece, and Dario Franchitti recorded a pair of victories. As a result, Honda clinched its first IRL Manufacturers' Championship in August at Kentucky Speedway, two-thirds of the way through the 2004 season.
Although he dropped out of today's race after just 59 laps due to transmission failure, Kosuke Matsuura parlayed six finishes in the top 11, including a fourth-place run at Kentucky, into IRL Rookie of the Year honors. The Super Aguri Fernandez driver also was named top rookie at the Indianapolis 500 after starting on the third row and finishing 11th at the Memorial Day classic.
Wheldon led 14 laps today in finishing third, and securing second in the drivers' championship. The second-year IndyCar Series pilot remained in the thick of title contention through most of the season, scoring race wins at Richmond, Nazareth and Honda's own Twin Ring Motegi Circuit in Japan.
Rahal Letterman Racing's Buddy Rice was an early retirement today, but held on to third in the drivers' championship, giving Honda drivers a 1-2-3 sweep of the top title positions. Rice's season was highlighted by his win at the Indianapolis 500, and victories at Kansas and Michigan.
Vitor Meira ran in the lead group throughout the race, looking for his first IndyCar victory, but crossed the finish line in fourth, his eighth top-six result of the year in 14 starts for Rahal Letterman Racing. Adrian Fernandez ran fifth in the race to also end the season fifth in the championship with race wins at Kentucky, Chicagoland and California Speedway.
Access Motorsports' Mark Taylor was the top rookie finisher today in seventh, which equals his best previous finish [at Nashville] since joining the team at mid-season. Today's result also moved Taylor up two positions in the final points standings, into a tie for 17th with A.J. Foyt IV.
Although a mechanical failure led to a crash on Lap 184, fortunately without serious injury, Dario Franchitti can look back on a season highlighted by wins at The Milwaukee Mile and the Honda- sponsored race at Pikes Peak International Raceway. He ends the season sixth in the championship, with his Andretti Green teammate Bryan Herta ninth, giving Honda drivers seven of the top nine positions in the final season standings.
Today's race concludes the 2004 IRL IndyCar Series. The 17-race 2005 season kicks off on March 6 at Homestead Miami Speedway in Florida.
Robert Clarke (Vice President and General Manager, Honda Performance Development) Honda wins the 2004 IRL Manufacturers' Championship with 14 victories in 16 events: "It's been a season well beyond our expectations. I'd like to thank everyone who contributed to the program: the HPD associates; our technical partners at Ilmor in both the U.K. and the U.S.; and all of our teams and drivers, without whom we obviously could not have achieved the success we recorded this year. I'd like to congratulate Tony [Kanaan] on his championship, Kosuke [Matsuura] on winning both the series and Indy rookie awards, and all of our teams for such a strong record of performance during 2004."
Tony Kanaan (#11 7-Eleven Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 8th, finished 2nd, 2004 IRL Drivers' Champion, 3 race wins: "Well, the final lap, I only had one shot. And at the end, I was trying to just keep up on the lead lap behind Dan [Wheldon], first to catch Helio [Castroneves], but that was impossible. So I set myself up to pass Dan on the last corner, and it worked pretty well and we got him. You know, it's a good way to finish - a great team effort, the whole team, and we finished every lap of every race. I think we set ourselves up now because it's going to be hard to match this. So we're always trying to make it better for next year, so we're going to have to work very hard to make it as good as this one. But, work is not a problem for us, and it was a great season."
Dan Wheldon (#26 Jim Beam/Klein Tools Andretti Green Racing Racing Honda) Started 7th, finished 3rd, 2nd in the drivers' championship, 3 race wins, Twin Ring Motegi race winner: "We lacked a little speed today and I'm not sure why. But the team has worked hard all season and they deserved to finish second in the championship. It was a really good season, three wins in all, and a win for Honda at their circuit in Motegi. Honda certainly has been very, very competitive this season and it was a honor to win for them at their home track. Next year, I'm going to work on some areas where I can improve, and I know Honda and the entire AGR team will be working to improve as well. I'm very determined and really looking forward to 2005."
Buddy Rice (#15 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Rahal Letterman Racing Honda) Started 4th, finished 21st (not running - electrical), 3rd in the drivers' championship, 3 race wins, Indianapolis 500 champion: "We had an electrical problem. We changed the battery and it didn't help. Maybe it was an alternator too. It is a shame to finish the season this way because it has been a great season for me and the Pioneer/Argent team, considering where I was at this point a year, sitting on the pine [bench]. To get this ride with Rahal Letterman after Kenny's [Brack] misfortune was a great break for me. I couldn't have asked for a better ride and a better team. We had an outside chance of second in the points but we had to hope that Danny [Wheldon] dropped out at the early part of the race. And that didn't happen. But overall, it was a good season, highlighted by our win at Indianapolis, and I'm looking forward to the 2005 IRL season."
Kosuke Matsuura (#55 Panasonic/ARTA Super Aguri Fernandez Racing Honda) Started 12th, finished 19th (not running - gearbox) 2004 IRL Rookie of the Year, Indy 500 Rookie of the Year: "Today, I had such as good car. We made some changes in the final practice yesterday that really improved things. I think I passed four or five cars in the first 20 laps, but then started having problems with the gearbox. It got stuck in fifth [gear] and I could not shift up any more. I lost a lot of positions at first, but then learned how to deal with it and moved back up to about 10th place, I think. But after I left the pits for my first stop the car stuck in first gear, and we had to stop. I'm really pleased to win Rookie of the Year. We had so many strong races this year, but also a lot of bad luck that kept us from winning. Next year, I want to win a couple of races!"
Adrian Fernandez (#5 Telmex/Quaker State Fernandez Racing Honda) Started 10th, finished 5th, 5th in the drivers' championship, 3 race wins: "It was another strong race for us. At times today, we had a very strong car, just not at the end. But it's been a fantastic year for the entire Fernandez Racing team. We had three wins, fifth in the championship for myself and rookie of the year for Kosuke [Matsuura]. Considering where we started, at the second race with no testing for myself and Kosuke as a rookie, you couldn't ask for any more. Tomorrow, we start preparing for 2005 and building on the success we had this year."
Mark Taylor (#13 University Lofts Access Motorsports Honda) Started 14th, finished 7th, equals his best previous IRL result: "We struggled a little bit with the balance of the car, and I think that's the only thing that kept us from a top-five finish today. We were as quick as the leaders running by ourselves, but lost a little bit in traffic. But it's another top-10 finish for the team, and equals our best finish of the season, so it's a good way to end the year together. It's been a great season with Access Motorsports, and I can't wait for next year."