Wheldon Wins the Battle at Chicagoland but Hornish Takes the IndyCar Championship It was a fitting end to the 2006 IndyCar Series season, with the four championship contenders alone on the lead lap of the final race of the year, battling for...
Wheldon Wins the Battle at Chicagoland but Hornish Takes the IndyCar Championship
It was a fitting end to the 2006 IndyCar Series season, with the four championship contenders alone on the lead lap of the final race of the year, battling for both the race victory and series title. At the end of 200 laps, it was the Target Chip Ganassi duo of Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon finishing 1-2, with Marlboro Team Penske's third-place Sam Hornish Jr. crowned series champion by the narrowest of margins: tied with Wheldon on points and decided by Hornish's four race wins over Wheldon two.
It was likewise the conclusion to an excellent initial season for Honda as the sole engine supplier for the IndyCar Series, with 40 drivers logging 171,179 miles over the course of the 14-race season and only three race-day failures. A pool of 84 Honda HI6R Indy V-8 engines were constructed at the start of the season, then prepared and maintained throughout the year by associates at Honda Performance Development and technical partners Ilmor Engineering, Inc.
All four championship contenders started together at the front of the field in Sunday's Peak Antifreeze 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Wheldon earned three bonus points for leading the most laps, but Hornish and Dixon were never more than a wheel-width behind -- and frequently alongside.
Castroneves, who led the championship by a single point over Hornish at the start of today's race, was penalized for speeding in pit lane during the first round of stops and sent to the back of the field. He spent a large portion of the remaining laps fighting his way back and reached the lead group for the final 50 laps. But he had difficulty with lapped traffic in the closing laps and finished fourth, 2.6 seconds behind the lead trio.
For the last 10 laps it was Wheldon in command, with Dixon assisting his teammate. But third for Hornish was enough to secure the title, his third in IndyCar racing, but first for the Penske Racing team (his other titles came with Panther Racing in 2001 and 2002).
Behind the lead quartet, a fierce battle raged among a pack of up to 10 cars, with side-by-side racing and frequent position changes being the norm for the first two-thirds of the 200-lap contest. At the checker, it was Ed Carpenter coming across the line in fifth, his best career IndyCar finish, followed by Panther Racing's Vitor Meira and 2004 series champion Tony Kanaan. Jeff Simmons was eighth, his fifth top-10 result in the last six races, with Scott Sharp ninth and Tomas Scheckter rounding out the top 10.
Dan Wheldon (#10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) Started 3rd, finished 1st, 2nd win of 2006, 11th career victory, finishes second in 2006 IndyCar Series championship on a tie-breaker: "It was a good race. Obviously it's been a tough year for us, and frustrating at times. I was not going to let this one slip away. I was aggressive at times today, but sometimes you have to be that way. It's great to be able to give Target their 50th race win in association with Chip Ganassi Racing and I'm very grateful to Honda, too. They've supplied us with quality engines all year long. Roger [Penske] puts together a fantastic organization, but so does Chip [Ganassi]. The two teams are totally dedicated to winning and they're obviously a cut above the others right now."
Sam Hornish Jr. (#6 Marlboro Team Penske Honda) Started 1st, finished 3rd, wins his third IndyCar Series championship on a tie-breaker (most race wins), his first title with Team Penske: "This is about as excited as I've ever been. It's been a great day, it was a great win. It was a tough race all day long. I wanted to win the race real bad, but couldn't take too many chances out there. The season couldn't have gone much better for me. Obviously winning Indy was the highlight of my career, but this is right up there. I'm so glad we were able to do it for Roger. The first two seemed to come a little easier, and there were a couple of years inbetween, so I'm sure I'm going to appreciate this one a little more.
Robert Clarke (President, Honda Performance Development) on Honda's performance this season: "First, I'd like to offer my congratulations to Dan Wheldon on his victory today, and to Sam Hornish Jr. and the entire Team Penske organization on their well-earned championship. We're pleased to have been a part of such an exciting title fight, and to have helped in providing the Penske team with its first IndyCar title in five years. For Honda, it was a difficult but interesting year. The decision for us to become sole engine supplier came very late, and presented many new challenges for us. I'm very pleased and proud of what the associates at HPD and our technical partners at Ilmor accomplished this season. To take a racing engine and operate it at the levels of performance and reliability required was a great achievement. At the start of the season, our goal was to produce equal, reliable engines for the entire field, and I believe we demonstrated that today, with the four championship contenders running side-by-side and nose-to-tail for the entire 200 laps. It was an excellent finish to an exciting season."
-credit: honda racing