Kansas Indy 300/Aventis Racing for kids 100 postscript Herta's long road to victory; Dixon's dominance ends KANSAS CITY, Kan., Monday, July 7, 2003 -- When the IRL IndyCarTM Series season kicked off March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Bryan...
Kansas Indy 300/Aventis Racing for kids 100 postscript
Herta's long road to victory; Dixon's dominance ends
KANSAS CITY, Kan., Monday, July 7, 2003 -- When the IRL IndyCarTM Series season kicked off March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Bryan Herta was not a driver many people would have picked to win a race in 2003.
It's certainly not because Herta, who won the Kansas Indy 300 on July 6 at Kansas Speedway, isn't a capable driver. It's just that he didn't have a ride, never had competed in an IndyCar Series event and just wasn't a guy a lot of people figured would be driving in the series in 2003.
But racing often can be a strange, fascinating business as officials from Andretti Green Racing and Herta, driver of the No. 27 Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone, have found out.
The plan for Andretti Green Racing prior to the season was simple. Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan would drive in all 16 races in the series in 2003. Michael Andretti, the team's co-owner, would compete in the first four events in the season and retire following the Indianapolis 500.
Dan Wheldon, who was hired as a test driver for the team, would compete in the Indianapolis 500 as part of a four-car effort for AGR. When Andretti retired, Wheldon would drive the remaining 12 races of the season.
Before the Indy Japan 300 in April, Franchitti suffered a back injury in a motorcycle accident in Scotland. Wheldon took over in Japan and finished seventh.
Wheldon then had a ride for the Indianapolis 500, and with Franchitti out, the team turned to Indianapolis 500 veteran and NASCAR Winston Cup Series regular Robby Gordon, who would attempt to drive the "500" and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day.
Herta was hired by AGR in May to fill in for Gordon if Gordon had to leave the "500" early to head to Charlotte, N.C., for the NASCAR race. Team officials also announced Herta would fill in for Franchitti in June at events at Texas and Pikes Peak.
Herta finished fifth at Texas, but did not compete at Pikes Peak because Franchitti had returned to the cockpit earlier than expected. The weekend of the Pikes Peak IndyCar Series event, Herta competed in a CART race at Laguna Seca, a track where he won in 1998-99. He finished 11th at Laguna, and then received a call from team co-owner Michael Andretti.
Andretti informed Herta that Franchitti was out for the rest of the season because he needed back surgery stemming from his motorcycle accident. Herta was asked to fill in for Franchitti for the remainder of the year.
Herta finished 14th at Richmond, before leading just six laps en route to victory in the Kansas Indy 300.
"I think it was a shame what happened with Dario, and he's a good friend," Herta said. "But they needed somebody, and I'm just thrilled that Michael called me, really took a chance because, you know, I'd had a few bad oval races toward the end of my CART career there."
"You know, there were some people thinking maybe I couldn't do it on the ovals anymore. Michael believed in me. That gave me a lot of confidence to know a guy like him believed in me and gave me this chance."
"I've been the flavor of the month, I've been ground down into a little smidgen of an ash. This is just kind of a funny business that way."
Herta, 33, from Valencia, Calif., went the final 61 laps on the 1.5-mile oval without a pit stop in order to score the emotional win.
"I never cried in a race car, and I cried crossing the start/finish line; it hit me so hard," Herta said. "You know, driving for (Andretti), who is a good friend beyond everything else. The team effort, the way we won the race. I mean, it was such a team effort."
"You know, it was almost magical. I don't know if you can re-create it. No matter what else we ever do together, you know, this will be very, very special for me always."
Dixon's dominance ends:
Scott Dixon found out at Kansas that all good things must come to an end.
Dixon had led 290 consecutive laps entering the Kansas Indy 300. He led the last 84 laps June 15 at en route to victory at Pikes Peak and led all 206 laps of the rain-shortened SunTrust Indy Challenge on June 28 at Richmond. He then led the first 53 laps at Kansas for a total of 343 consecutive laps led in his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone.
Dixon, who finished sixth after starting on the MBNA Pole, became the first driver in IRL IndyCar Series history to lead consecutive laps throughout three consecutive races.
"Our car was very good, and we were able to stay up front for most of the day," Dixon said. "The fuel pickup problem ended any chance that we had at winning three straight. It's very frustrating to have this kind of thing happen."
"Luckily, we were able to salvage a sixth-place finish out of it. We're still in the points race, so we just need to keep finishing races, and we'll be OK."
Kanaan keeps points lead:
Tony Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, nearly won his second event of the season at the Kansas Indy 300.
Kanaan, who won the Purex Dial Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 23, led as late as Lap 194 of the 200-lap event before pitting for a splash of fuel and finishing fourth.
Despite losing the lead late in the race, Kanaan was happy to keep the points lead and see his teammate Herta score the victory. Kanaan leads the points, 279-248, over Scott Dixon.
"It was a good day," Kanaan said. "I worked my butt off. It was a long day for the whole Team 7-Eleven. I was trying to keep it in the front. I knew I wasn't going to make it on fuel and I saw Bryan [Herta] saving fuel, and I said, 'Hey, if I can't win I'd rather have my teammates win that anybody else."
Penske Racing 2-3:
Marlboro Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran finished second and third, respectively, in the Kansas Indy 300. The two cars represented starts No. 999 and 1,000 for Penske Racing in Indy-style competition.
"For any driver to drive for Penske Racing is something that one is extremely proud of," de Ferran said. "For you as a driver, to be invited by Roger to be a part of this team, is something that I will carry forever with me, as some of my greatest accomplishments. So it's something that I'm very, very proud of."
"It's incredible to be on Team Penske. I'm just happy to be part -- a little part -- of the history, his (Roger Penske's) history."
Rice's streak ends:
Buddy Rice's streak of consecutive races in which he was running at the finish ended at Kansas when an oil leak ended his day after 85 laps.
Rice set a record for most consecutive races to be running at the finish in at the start of an IRL IndyCar Series career. Rice was running at the finish in all 12 of his first IndyCar Series events, starting in his debut in July 2002 at Michigan.
Two-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. holds the series record for most consecutive races running at the finish with 18.
Taylor scores third win:
Mark Taylor came from the 13th starting spot in the Aventis For Kids 100 Infiniti Pro Series race to score his third victory of the season.
Taylor originally qualified for the pole position, but the Panther Racing team, which fields the car for Taylor, was penalized for failing to pass post-qualifying technical inspection.
He was forced to start 13th but quickly worked his way up through the field and was fifth by Lap 23. By Lap 37, Taylor had moved his No. 4 Fulmar Panther Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone to second and battled with Freedom 100 winner Ed Carpenter for the lead for the remainder of the race before beating Carpenter to the line by .1666 of a second.
"I think from now on, no matter where we start, we'll be able to win the race," Taylor said. "I'm so happy. It's even better than the first two wins. It was tough. The first 10 laps I was really struggling. So many cars in front of you. You try and think you're making a move, then people are making a move in front of you, and you suddenly lose the gap that you think you have."
Taylor gave a lot of credit to his spotter, 1985 Indianapolis 500 pole sitter Pancho Carter.
"He worked me through the traffic, and he did really well," Taylor said. "I'm just so happy that he was there. He was telling me who to tow with and who to go outside of, who to go inside of. I can learn a lot from him, and I've learned a lot."