Emerson Indy 250/Gateway 100 Postscript Castroneves scores big win; Points battle intensifies MADISON, Ill., Monday, Aug. 11, 2003 -- The losing streak is over for two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves. But was it ever really...
Emerson Indy 250/Gateway 100 Postscript
Castroneves scores big win; Points battle intensifies
MADISON, Ill., Monday, Aug. 11, 2003 -- The losing streak is over for two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves.
But was it ever really that bad?
Between winning the 86th Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2002 and winning the Emerson Indy 250 Aug. 10 at Gateway International Raceway, Castroneves had competed in 20 IndyCarTM Series races without a victory.
However, in that time span, Castroneves finished second in the 2002 IndyCar Series championship and finished second in the 87th Indianapolis 500 on May 25 after starting on the MBNA Pole.
In fact, he finished second in seven of those 20 races, or 35 percent of the time. In 16 of those races he finished in the top 10.
Still, Castroneves was ready for a victory.
"It's better late than never," Castroneves said. "Again, I never lost the faith in my crew. My crew never lost the faith in me. They always believed. I guess that's the way it should be. You have to keep knocking on the door. One day you're going to get your breaks. Unfortunately, it took a little more than we expected. But this is racing, this is the game."
With the IndyCar Series as competitive as it is, eight winners in 11 races thus far this season, any victory a driver gets is difficult to obtain.
However, Castroneves had it a little more difficult than most. During qualifying he had problems with the on-board telemetry in his No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone. Yet he managed to win the MBNA Pole.
When the Emerson Indy 250 started, Castroneves discovered his on-board telemetry was not working at all.
The on-board dash gives drivers data about fuel, the engine, the oil pressure, as well as information about the electrical components of the car. Perhaps the biggest hurdle for Castroneves was not having the information on the dash that indicated to him when it was time to shift gears. Lights on the steering wheel come on when it is time to shift gears, but Castroneves did it by sound and feel.
"When you hit the red (lights), that's when you need to shift, but I didn't have anything," Castroneves said. "I'm hitting the (rev)-limiter every time. Obviously, people were making ground. But finally I got the rhythm back and started understanding in the few spots of the racetrack, that's where I need to shift before I hit the limiter. Maybe I was shifting earlier, but that was the only way to not do any damage in the engine or on the car.
"The team guided me really well. I felt like flying on an airplane without any instruments in bad weather. But the good news is, I don't know how to fly an airplane, but I do know how to drive a car."
Points chase getting interesting: Tony Kanaan, who came into the Emerson Indy 250 second in the point standings, took back the lead after finishing second behind Helio Castroneves in the race. Scott Dixon, who led the point standings entering the event, suffered gearbox problems and finished 15th.
Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, leads second-place Gil de Ferran 357-350, while Gateway winner Helio Castroneves is third with 347.
Dixon fell to fourth in the standings and has 333 points. Kenny Brack, who has yet to win a race this year but has seven top-10 finishes, rounds out the top five with 268 points.
The top four drivers are separated by a mere 24 points, one of the closer point standing battles in the last few years of IndyCar Series competition.
"You're going to see people going back and forth," Kanaan said. "I mean, to be honest, it doesn't mean anything to be leading or to be third in this championship right now. It's all going to get down to (Texas)."
Castroneves, who finished second in the championship last season to Sam Hornish Jr., agreed.
"Sam and I last year were battling toward the last lap basically," Castroneves said. "I don't think it's going to be different this year. It's going to be right there toward the end. So we just have to keep our consistency, keep finishing the race, scoring points to do well."
The winner of the championship will be honored at the Championship Celebration that will take place Oct. 25 in Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla.
Tough day for Dixon: Scott Dixon was in command of the Emerson Indy 250, leading Laps 80-157 before a gearbox problem on his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone ended his day.
On Lap 155, he had a 5.8 second lead over eventual winner Helio Castroneves.
"It's so hard to have a race like this end the way it did," Dixon said. "We had a dominant race car out there. After the last pit stop, I was just saving fuel and waiting for the end to really push it. We had a comfortable lead, and then the gearbox went. The guys tried to change it in the pits, but it was damaged too badly."
Dixon fell from first to fourth in the championship chase.
"This really hurts us in the championship race," Dixon said. "We had an opportunity to extend our lead. Luckily, we have Kentucky coming up this week, and hopefully, we can get back on track."
Brack suffers tough ending: With Helio Castroneves' victory in the Emerson Indy 250, Kenny Brack is now the only driver in the top-five in the point standings without a victory. He finished 19th at Gateway due to electrical problems that ended his day after 86 laps.
Things were looking up for Brack, driver of the No. 15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda/Firestone, at Gateway, as he qualified second, equaling his career-best starting position in the IndyCar Series. He also started second at Walt Disney World in 1998. Brack, the 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1998 IRL IndyCar Series champion, led the first five laps at Gateway, marking the first time in his 40-race IndyCar Series career he had ever led the opening lap of an event.
"We jumped out to the lead early, but the car wasn't too good," Brack said. "It was pushing in the corners. We improved the car on the first pit stop, and it felt better. We picked up some grip, and I think we were gaining on the leaders but then had the engine trouble. I think it was electrical, because the engine just stopped pulling off the corner. It was like we were running on six or seven cylinders. The crew changed a lot of the things, but I think the damage was already done."
Simmons scores first win: Mark Taylor led the first 78 laps of the Gateway 100 before he crashed with second-place Brandon Erwin on Lap 79 in Turn 2. Jeff Simmons, driver of the No. 20 Western Union Speed Team Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, was in third place when the accident occurred and took the victory, leading only two laps.
While a little bit of luck certainly played into Simmons victory, he's been consistent throughout the 2003 season. Simmons has started in the top five for all eight Infiniti Pro Series events this season, including starting from the pole at Pikes Peak. He has finished in the top five in six races and finished second at Pikes Peak and Michigan.
"I think that people that really, really know the series well are certainly aware that our team has been really a threat every single weekend," Simmon said. "But certainly I hope this is a breakout race, and I hope we can string a few wins together now. That, coupled with some misfortune for Taylor in a few other races, could bring us right back up there. It's not over yet. We're not going to look at it like it's over until it is. Hopefully the magnificent fashion in which we got the monkey off our back will really propel us forward."
Simmons is second in the point standings to Taylor, trailing 347-256.
EMERSON INDY 250 NOTES:
*Helio Castroneves' win at Gateway was the 117th Indy-style win for Penske Racing.
*Greg Ray finished eighth, tying his best finish of the season. He finished eighth at Indianapolis and Kansas.
*Vitor Meira finished ninth, his best finish of the season. His previous best finish this season was 12th at Texas and Indianapolis.
*Al Unser Jr. finished 20th due to a pit-road accident that ended his day after 41 laps. He had been running at the finish in all 10 previous races this season, the only driver to do so.
*The Emerson Indy 250 was the 69th consecutive IndyCar Series race Scott Sharp has started, tying the record held by Eddie Cheever Jr. and Buddy Lazier. Both drivers' streaks ended when they did not start at Homestead earlier this season. Sharp has started every IRL IndyCar Series event since Walt Disney World in 1998.