By Patrick Jennings - Motorsport.com Rookie Scott Dixon outlasted a hard-charging Kenny Brack to score his first CART victory in the Lehigh Valley Grand Prix at Nazareth Speedway on Sunday afternoon. Dixon, driving the Powerware Panasonic Pac...
By Patrick Jennings - Motorsport.com
Rookie Scott Dixon outlasted a hard-charging Kenny Brack to score his first CART victory in the Lehigh Valley Grand Prix at Nazareth Speedway on Sunday afternoon. Dixon, driving the Powerware Panasonic Pac West Toyota Reynard, took the lead from Tony Kanaan on lap 190 and never looked back, leading the last 36 laps of the race. In doing so, the 20-year old New Zealander became the youngest driver ever to record major open-wheel series win. The Kiwi's improbable victory came in just his third Champ Car start, and it was the first win for Pac West Racing since Mark Blundell took the checkered flag at California in 1997.
Although Dixon's win represented quite an accomplishment the young driver, the real story for most of the day was the dominance of Team Rahal's Kenny Brack. Brack started on the outside pole and led the next 125 laps around the 0.946 Nazareth Speedway after grabbing the lead from pole-sitter Bruno Junqueira at the drop of the green flag. Brack ran strong after the first round of pit stops and it appeared as if his first win was well within sight.
But contact between Gil de Ferran and Alex Tagliani on lap 125 allowed a number of drivers including Tony Kanaan, Dixon, and Paul Tracy to roll the dice on fuel. These three drivers were among eight drivers that pitted out of sequence with Brack and the other leaders on lap 116 after a spin by Tora Takagi. As a result, Brack and the rest of the frontrunners were forced to stop under the yellow on lap 125 brought about by de Ferran and Tagliani. This stop forced Brack back to 10th place. Brack, however, refused to concede defeat. He put on a spirited performance that allowed him to go from 10th to second over the course of the next 65 laps.
But a late race caution brought out by a spinning Michel Jourdain, Jr. on lap 214 bunched up the field behind Dixon with 12 laps to go. For all intents and purposes, this sealed Brack's fate because he could not get around Dixon on the last restart of the race. Brack emerged from his Shell-sponsored Lola in an obvious state of despair. "I don't know what he have to do," explained an exasperated Brack. "We'll do all we can and go on to the next one," the 1999 Indy 500 Champion remarked, "[but] [e]very pass you try to do here is a great risk. In the end, I was half a second faster than Scott, but if you're fast in the right places, nobody can pass you."
According to Dixon, "there was a lot of radio conversation with ten laps to go about whether or not we had enough fuel to go the distance quite happily," Dixon stated. So fate turned its back on Brack for the second time this season. In fact, Dixon did not realize that the race was over and he ran into Max Wilson on the cool down lap attempting to make a pass on Wilson.
After the race, the unassuming Dixon handled the biggest win of his young career with the kind of style and composure that one would not expect from such a young driver. "I hasn't really sunk in yet," explained the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights champion. "I started so young and it's what I've come to expect." He was even able to joke about running into Max Wilson on his cool down lap. "I probably didn't need to do that," stated the young driver.
The win was Dixon's first win since his Indy Lights win in California last season. In addition, Dixon became the first rookie in CART history to win his first race on an oval track. Moreover, only one other driver has ever gone on to win a CART race after starting 23rd or worse.
Paul Tracy won his gamble with fuel to finish third. Jimmy Vasser and Christian Fittipaldi rounded out the top-five. While Michael Andretti, Bruno Junqueira, Dario Franchitti, Oriol Servia, and Cristiano de Matta finished 6th through tenth respectively.
Finally, the win was the second for the 2001 Toyota RV8F engine and the 7th overall win for Toyota.