IPS: IRL: Phoenix postscript

Purex Dial Indy 200/Phoenix 100 Postscript. Kanaan, Castroneves snake through; Drivers thrilled with Firestones AVONDALE, Ariz., Monday, March 24, 2003 -- Any time a driver wins an IRL IndyCara Series race, he has needed a skilled effort to...

Purex Dial Indy 200/Phoenix 100 Postscript.
Kanaan, Castroneves snake through; Drivers thrilled with Firestones

AVONDALE, Ariz., Monday, March 24, 2003 -- Any time a driver wins an IRL IndyCara Series race, he has needed a skilled effort to defeat the many talented teams and drivers in the field.

Tony Kanaan, who captured his first IndyCar Series victory March 23 in the Purex Dial Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, certainly put forth a show of skill and determination, overcoming a stall in the pits, a bit of confusion and dodging six accidents en route to victory in the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone.

"The car was competitive all day," Kanaan said. "I knew I had a good car. Obviously, the track changed a little bit so I was working my car into the pit stops. Again, we had a problem in the pits. I stalled the engine again. Completely my fault. I was mad to myself, but I never lost concentration."

At one point between Laps 128-154, Sarah Fisher chased down leader Kanaan. Fisher knew the lead was at stake.

Kanaan didn't -- until the post-race press conference.

"It was hard to hold Sarah behind me," Kanaan said. "She was in a light load of fuel; she was pushing me to get her lap back. I didn't want to let her by." It was then that someone told Kanaan that she was actually in second-place and racing him for the lead.

"Thanks for telling me now," Kanaan said as the room erupted in laughter.

Kanaan dodged the accidents during the race, but he wasn't the only driver who eluded problems. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves somehow missed his teammate Gil de Ferran when de Ferran spun exiting Turn 2 on the second lap. Castroneves went on to finish second in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, finishing .9328 of a second behind Kanaan.

"The race was very challenging," Castroneves said. "I was trying everything. First, we started with Gil spinning right in front of me. Man, I had no idea how I came through. It's something that really I just closed my eyes, said, 'I wish nothing happens.' I guess my wish came true in that time.

"We kept going. Again, we just have to be smart. A lot of action over there. People were like really, really not giving any space at all. But, again, it's just racing. Very, very close."

***

Drivers happy with Firestone: One concern that no driver had in the Purex Dial Indy 200 was the reliability of the Firestone Firehawk tires that are the exclusive tire of the IndyCar Series. Just look at the top three finishers.

Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan had 90 laps, or 90 miles, on the last set of Firehawks on his winning No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone. Second-place finisher Helio Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, had 118 laps on his final set, while third-place finisher Felipe Giaffone, driver of the No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, had 110 laps on his last set.

The performance was so good that many teams opted to take fuel only on their last stops, knowing there was plenty of good grip left in their tires.

"The tires were great," Kanaan said. "They worked well all the race; they were really consistent the whole time."

Said Castroneves, "I have to thank Firestone for making those tires so durable that we didn't have to change tires on our pit stop."

Al Speyer, executive director of Firestone Racing, was as pleased as the drivers.

"Congratulations to the entire Andretti Green Racing organization," Speyer said. "In just their second race of IRL competition, Tony Kanaan drove one of the three team cars to a well-deserved victory. We're delighted for Michael Andretti and the rest of the team. They've always been super supporters of Firestone Racing.

"We're also equally pleased with that the updated tires our engineers designed for this event drew universal praise. The proof is in the performance, and the fact that the top three finishers ran close to half the race distance or more on one set of tires validates the wear and durability improvements that our engineers achieved."

***

Honda scores first win: Tony Kanaan had the honor of giving the Honda engine its first victory in IRL IndyCar Series competition in only the second race for the manufacturer in the IRL IndyCar Series.

Honda joins Chevrolet, Ford Cosworth, Infiniti, Oldsmobile and Toyota as engines that have won an IRL IndyCar Series race since the series began in 1996.

A Toyota engine powered Scott Dixon to victory in the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 on March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

***

Sarah's impressive day: Sarah Fisher and the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team used a smart pit strategy that nearly put her in a position to score her first IndyCar Series victory.

While most of the leaders pitted under caution on Lap 120, Fisher, who had pitted on Lap 91, elected to stay out and found herself in second place behind eventual winner Tony Kanaan.

Fisher, who drove the No. 23 Team GM Upromise/Raybestos Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, stayed within a second of Kanaan from Lap 120 to Lap 152, when Jaques Lazier spun in Turn 2, bringing out the caution that Fisher needed for her last pit stop.

Unfortunately for Fisher, the left-front wheel was not completely fastened when she left the pits, and she had to be pulled back into her pit box to secure the wheel, costing her several positions. But she worked her way back to an eighth-place finish.

"The car was excellent," Fisher said. "It got better and better as the race went on. During the pit stop that we were in second place, we had a miscommunication that led to a loss of several positions, which was the first time that's happened to this team since it was formed.

"Everyone stuck in there and worked their butts off today, from Speedway Engines to our core group of guys. Now I can say that; A: I've run flat at Phoenix; and B: I had a good time racing here."

***

Unser moves up: Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. is still winless in 17 Indy-style races at Phoenix, but he had an impressive performance Sunday, finishing fourth after starting 20th in the No. 31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota/Firestone. It was Unser's 10th top-10 finish at PIR and his seventh top-five finish.

"Kelley Racing gave me a great car," Unser said. "We had some great restarts, and that put us in a position to run with the leaders. The Corteco team had a great strategy for the race, and I just want to thank the crew for giving me such a good car. We had struggled a bit this weekend. We made quite a few changes, and we were able to help our race car. We also made some adjustments during the race, and that helped it even more.

"I was a little loose at the start of the race, but we got a yellow pretty quickly, and I was able to take some front wing out. The Corteco car ran great the rest of the day."

***

7-Eleven scores another win at PIR: Convenience store chain 7-Eleven last sponsored an Indy-style car for an entire season in 1986 before joining Andretti Green Racing as a primary sponsor on Michael Andretti's No. 7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone and Tony Kanaan's No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone for the 2003 IndyCar Series season.

On Sunday, Kanaan gave 7-Eleven their its victory at PIR as a primary sponsor. 7-Eleven sponsored Kevin Cogan when he won the spring CART race in 1986 at PIR, and it sponsored Bobby Rahal when he won a CART race in the fall of 1984 at PIR.

***

Panther repeat: In 2001, when Panther Racing hired Sam Hornish Jr. to drive its IRL IndyCar Series car, he promptly won the first two races of the season, first at Phoenix International Raceway and then at Homestead-Miami Speedway In 2003, Mark Taylor is mirroring Hornish's 2001 start, this time in the IRL Infiniti Pro Series.

Taylor, a rookie, capture the season-opening Western Union 100 at Homestead-Miami and followed that March 22 with a dominating win in the Phoenix 100 in which he led all 100 laps in the No. 4 Fulmar Panther Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. This is the first year that two-time IndyCar Series champion Panther has fielded a car in the Infiniti Pro Series, the official Indy Racing League development series.

"The team are learning with the car," Taylor said. "That's only their second race with the car, as well. It just shows what a great team Panther are, that they're able to get a car out of the box and make it as good as it is at the moment."

***

Purex Dial Indy 200/Phoenix 100 facts and figures:

*This was Tony Kanaan's first career IRL IndyCar Series victory. He has competed in three IndyCar Series events, two this season and the 2002 Indianapolis 500. This was also the first victory for Andretti Green Racing in IRL IndyCar Series competition.

*Buddy Lazier competed in his 71st IRL IndyCar Series event, setting a record. He was tied with Eddie Cheever Jr. for most IndyCar Series starts with 70.

*Scott Dixon, the winner of the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, led the first lap of today's race. The last time that the driver who had won previous race led the first lap of the next race was in June 2002, when Gil de Ferran won at Pikes Peak and led the first lap at Richmond.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Mark Taylor , Sarah Fisher , Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Buddy Lazier , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jaques Lazier  , Bobby Rahal , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Kevin Cogan , Sam Hornish Jr. , Mo Nunn
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing