Toyota and Marlboro Team Penske managed to bookend the 2004 Indy Racing League 16-race IndyCar Series today, as Helio Castroneves took his ...
Toyota and Marlboro Team Penske managed to bookend the 2004 Indy Racing League 16-race IndyCar Series today, as Helio Castroneves took his #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone racer to his first victory of the season, sixth overall in IRL competition. Teammate Sam Hornish Jr. won the first race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The Brazilian, known as Spiderman for his fence-climbing antics after winning a race, led from pole position to vanquish Tony Kanaan's championship-owning #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda by 0.3732 seconds.
"I'm extremely happy to have the win, especially on the last race of the season, certainly brings a lot of momentum for 2005," Castroneves crowed. "We always kept patient this year. Toyota was really working hard and since the beginning Sam and I were working fantastic."
Dan Wheldon, who wrapped up second place in points when challenger Buddy Rice dropped out early in the going took third place in his #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda, just 0,0072 seconds behind teammate Kanaan.
Both Andretti Green Racing drivers on the podium believed Castroneves may have accelerated a tad too quickly on the final restart, but left the decision as to penalties up to Indy Racing League senior vice president of racing Brian Barnhart.
Kanaan, who clinched the series title October 3rd at California Speedway said, "It's been a great season and it's all about this team. Since day one, it's been about the team, not one person." Regarding the final restart he noted, "We have [two] cones and I'm not going to complain; we have officials to handle that. Basically, he didn't go at the restart cones; he went before then."
Wheldon was a bit more verbal about the final restart: "I think Helio went just about when turn three started which is [what it is]. I don't think I would have passed him anyway as his speed was very, very good. I'd certainly like to see a fine of some sort or something because what he did was wrong."
Vitor Meira earned fourth place with his strong run in the #17 Team Centrix Panoz G Force/Honda after running at the top of the standings all afternoon. "I think we were in position to race for the win when the yellow came out, so I felt a little frustrated. I had some understeer in the car at the start, but I knew if I stayed with the lead pack I would be okay for the end," Meira said.
Three-time 2004 victor Adrian Fernandez' #5 Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda hounded Meira to the flags this afternoon and looked as though he might complete a "hat trick" as he led 18 laps at mid-race. "It was a strong race and at the beginning my car was very strong. Toward the end I developed a bit of a push and we really didn't get rid of it," Fernandez explained. "Clean racing with everybody today and a fantastic season for our team," he said after finishing fifth.
Scott Dixon was sixth for a momentum aiding finish to his championship season in the #1 Team Target Panoz G Force. Dixon's car was a bit too tight at the start "but the Target car was much stronger at the end. The team short-filled me on one stop in order to gain some spots and we were running really well with the leaders to the end." He took tenth in points.
Rookie Mark Taylor earned seventh for the local #13 Access Motorsports team in his Panoz G Force/Honda. Taylor thought his car was better in practice yesterday but "can't complain. The car was really quick on its own but we got caught up in traffic and I was really struggling."
Eighth went to the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota of IRL iron man Scott Sharp, who recorded his 89th consecutive and 97th IRL start this afternoon, finishing all 200 laps and leading three laps. "We just didn't have what we needed on the restarts and I just watched everyone going by me on the outside," he explained. "It was nice to finish the season with our best result and we'll see what is in the cards for next year." Rumors have his Kelley Racing team either selling its equipment to another start-up, merging with another team or, perhaps even continuing in 2005.
Townsend Bell came from 21st to ninth in a steady drive and said, "We had a good, solid run today" in the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevy. "We played it smart and this is about as good as we could have hoped for."
Rounding out the top ten and on the lead lap, young A.J. Foyt IV secured his first top-ten finish in the #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota after having several good qualifying results but being unable to back them up until today. "The car was pretty good, not great, but we made it better on the pit stops. Now we'll set our goals higher for next year."
The race was slowed by four cautions, the final one that the front-runners debated being the most notable when Alex Barron (#51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet) and Dario Franchitti's #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda collided in the fourth turn after the Scot spun in the final corner. It was his second altercation of the weekend after he crashed his primary car in Saturday morning practice, forcing his team to start the spare.
Franchitti limped from his stricken machine at start/finish but Barron needed to be placed on a stretcher after being released from his car. The Californian was transported to Harris Methodist Medical Center in Ft Worth for further evaluation.
The first caution came on lap four when Ed Carpenter crashed his #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevy at the exit of Turn two's SAFER barrier, coming to rest at Turn three. "I was just trying to work my way forward, running the high groove," the rookie explained. "The 24 came across my nose and I lost the front of my car and went straight into the wall."
The race went green again on lap 12 yet Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner was out of the contest by lap 43, when a failed alternator halted the Arizonan's progress from third place. Rice's dismay was palpable: "It's a shame to finish the season this way because it has been great for me and the team. I couldn't have asked for a better ride and a better team."
The field ran clean and close until lap 105, when hapless Tomas Scheckter, who had to start 20th after League officials found "chassis irregularities" with his #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevy. (Teammate Townsend Bell suffered the same fate, starting 21st). Scheckter had bounded from 21st to 14th the first lap and was in the top ten until his latest tragedy struck. "It's a pity for everybody," the South African wailed. "I don't know really what happened."
At that point newly crowned Bombardier Rookie of the Year Kosuke Matsuura had already parked his #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda on lap 60 with gearbox failure, having lost fifth and first gears. Sam Hornish Jr., despite leading 53 laps - second only to teammate Castroneves' 104 laps led - had his day end on lap 106 when he slowed from the lead and inched back to the pit road.
When Hornish failed to make it to pit entry, the third caution period ensued as the Delphi Safety Team brought him back to the pit stall. Hornish retired despite "a real good car today. The car just started missing and I'm glad no one got into the back of me because it dropped quite a lot of speed off," he noted of the electronics problem that ended his day.
(Bryan Herta, despite having the fastest tour of the race on lap 83 retired the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda with handling difficulties that plagued him the latter part of the afternoon on lap 174.)
Back to green the lead pack of seven or eight packed up and flew with rubber just inches apart. That momentum fell as Barron and Franchitti had their problem and the field circulated through the pits as they allowed the safety team to extricate Barron.
When the green finally flew on lap 198, Castroneves apparently got the jump and drove into the wilderness, earning his victory and climbing the fence. His checkered flags brought the ninth Indy Racing League season to a close after 16 hard-fought races and the crowning of a new champion.
And what a champion Kanaan is: this man finished every single lap of competition (3305), had three victories, 15 top-five results and one top-ten (the season opener). The Andretti Green Racing team he drives for came first and second in the point chase and Kanaan earned his second, most prestigious championship.
"I have to give credit to the 90 people at Andretti Green Racing," Kanaan declared after the race. "They are not just doing the job; they are doing what they love to do. They want to do their job and do it well, just like me."