IRL: Fontana: Chevy race report

Chevy powers Hornish to record-setting victory at California Speedway FONTANA, Calif., Sept. 21, 2003 - Sam Hornish Jr., the hottest driver in the IRL IndyCar Series, turned up the heat on his rivals for the IRL championship with a victory today...

Chevy powers Hornish to record-setting victory at California Speedway

FONTANA, Calif., Sept. 21, 2003 - Sam Hornish Jr., the hottest driver in the IRL IndyCar Series, turned up the heat on his rivals for the IRL championship with a victory today at California Speedway. Chevrolet powered Hornish to his third victory in the last four races at an average speed of 207.151 mph, the fastest race in motorsports history. Hornish notched his second consecutive win on the 2-mile oval and tallied his record 11th career IRL victory.

"We could pull away once we got to the front, but it was hard to get there," said Hornish in the winner's circle. "The engine and car were working real well. We didn't have any telemetry, so I was telling the pit crew what the fuel consumption was. We were getting as good or better mileage than anyone out there."

It was a punishing day for drivers and engines at California Speedway with temperatures in the high 90s, track temperatures approaching 140 degrees and a wilting desert wind. The 400-mile endurance test was slowed by only one caution period that lasted six laps. Despite the adverse conditions, the Chevy Indy V8 again had a perfect reliability record.

"It was hot and windy just like we thought it would be," Hornish explained. "The wind was making the car really loose coming off of Turn 2. That was something we battled all day long. Hot, slick conditions, I like that!"

Hornish's record pace eclipsed the 197.897-mph mark he set at Kentucky Speedway on August 17 en route to his first victory of the year with the new Chevy Indy V8. Since Hornish debuted the Gen IV Chevy Indy V8 at Michigan International Speedway in July, he has tallied three victories (Kentucky, Chicago and Fontana) and two runner-up finishes (Michigan and Nazareth).

"Early on I thought it would be a lot closer than it was," Hornish recalled. "With all the green-flag pit stops, it was important to get in and out quickly. I knew as long as we were out in front that's where we needed to be because our car could work in traffic where a lot of other people couldn't."

Hornish led four times for a total of 30 laps. The two-time IRL champion started 10th on the grid, but moved to the front for the first time on Lap 43 with passes on both the high and low lines. He took the lead for good on Lap 186 with an outside pass around rival Scott Dixon and then stretched his advantage to .3563 seconds at the conclusion of 200 laps.

Hornish will go into the season-ending Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Oct. 12 in fourth place in the title race with 448 points, 19 behind leaders Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves, who are tied with 467 points. With a maximum of 52 points on the line in the season finale, Hornish is still in contention to win a third consecutive title.

"Everyone on this team wants to win and we are committed to doing the best we can," Sam declared. "That's what made my decision (to leave) so hard because these guys give 110 percent all the time. We're going to keep working away at it. We don't know if it can be done, but we're sure going to try for it."

Hornish scored the 103rd win for the Chevy Indy V8 in open-wheel competition and Chevrolet's 17th victory in the IRL IndyCar Series.

"With the heat and unrelenting pace, today's race was the toughest test yet for the Chevy Indy V8," said Doug Duchardt, Director of GM Racing. "The Chevrolet engines ran strong all day and our fuel economy looked good with the No. 4 (Hornish) and the No. 52 (Alex Barron) cars. There has been a lot of development work done on fuel efficiency, and it's starting to pay off.

"When we introduced this engine package we had to be a little conservative, but now you can see the progress that's been made," Duchardt noted. "The Panther Racing team put a great car under Sam, and he took it to the front again."

Alex Barron posted his second straight Top-10 finish for Red Bull Cheever Racing, finishing 10th in his second start with the Chevy-powered team. Vitor Meira returned after sitting out three races with a broken wrist, finishing 11th in Team Menard's Chevrolet Dallara. Robbie Buhl moved up from 22nd at the start to 12th at the finish with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, while rookie Ed Carpenter came home 13th with PDM Racing's Chevrolet Dallara. Sarah Fisher was 19th and Richie Hearn 21st in his first outing with Hemelgarn Racing.

The 2003 IRL season will conclude at the Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Oct. 12. The final event of the year will be televised live on ESPN at 3:30 p.m. Eastern and broadcast on the IMS Radio Network.

"The Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is going to be a shootout," predicted GM Racing IRL program manager Joe Negri. "Our competition threw a little more at us at this event, but we were up to the challenge. We hope to have a little more for them at the next one."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Robbie Buhl , Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Richie Hearn , Alex Barron , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing