IRL: Fontana: Honda race report

Victory for Fernandez, Title to Kanaan A thrilling last-lap shootout between Honda-powered competitors Adrian Fernandez and Tony Kanaan was decided in favor of the former Sunday at California Speedway, as Fernandez edged his rival by just the ...

Victory for Fernandez, Title to Kanaan

A thrilling last-lap shootout between Honda-powered competitors Adrian Fernandez and Tony Kanaan was decided in favor of the former Sunday at California Speedway, as Fernandez edged his rival by just the length of a nosecone to win his third Indy Racing League IndyCar Series race of the year, and second consecutive event.

Although he came up 18-thousandths of a second short of a victory, second place was more than enough for Andretti Green Racing's Kanaan to clinch the IndyCar Drivers' Championship with one race remaining in the 2004 season. Kanaan's season has been a marvel of both speed and consistency, with the Brazilian winning three times, coupled with six more top-three results and completing every possible race lap this season.

A late-race caution set up the final lap fireworks. When the green and white flags waved at the start of Lap 199, Kanaan led from Fernandez and Team Penske's Sam Hornish Jr. Kanaan held the low line throughout the final lap around the 2.0-mile super speedway, but Fernandez was able to use the draft and power past his rival around the outside of Turn Three, and hold his advantage to the finish. The victory for Fernandez, owner/driver of the Fernandez Racing team, was Honda's 14th consecutive win this season. Honda clinched the Manufacturers' title at Kentucky Speedway -- the site of Fernandez's first win -- in August.

Dan Wheldon, the sole remaining challenger to Kanaan at the start of Sunday's 200-lap run, made a sensational last-lap charge up from seventh to third at the checkered, giving Honda its eighth 1-2-3 sweep of the season. Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Rice and Dario Franchitti gave Honda five of the top six finishing positions. Rookie Mark Taylor rounded out the top 10 for Access Motorsports, his second-best result for the team since joining it at mid-season.

Super Aguri Fernandez Racing's Kosuke Matsuura ran 13th today, and can clinch Rookie of the Year honors with an 11th or better finish at the 2004 season finale, October 17th at Texas Motor Speedway.

Adrian Fernandez (#5 Telmex/Quaker State Fernandez Racing Honda) Started 4th, finished 1st, third IndyCar win of 2004, second consecutive victory, moves to fifth in the points standings: "I'm so excited about these past five races. I can't believe this; it's my best season ever. I have to give credit to a great team led by Tom Anderson and Gustavo Del Campo. This win is very significant, especially battling Tony Kanaan. Tony is a great competitor; I couldn't be happier for him. He will be a great champion, and to fight with him for the last few laps, and actually beat the champion, is a privilege. No one can take this one away from us. Coming into the last lap, Tony and I were running together. I knew I couldn't lift, I had to stay right beside Tony and when I called on the car, the speed was there."

Tony Kanaan (#11 7-Eleven Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 21st, finished 2nd, clinches 2004 IRL Drivers' Championship: "I don't think it [winning the championship] has sunk in yet, it's been such a long weekend for us. I tried not to get down after our [mechanical] problems yesterday, I knew I had a good car and could pass out there. On the last lap, I wanted the win and did my best. I raced Adrian [Fernandez] hard, but gave him room, and he gave me room. I held on to the inside line, but he was stronger today. The best moment of my life was when we crossed the [finish] line and then all four of us [the Andretti Green team] did the doughnuts."

Dan Wheldon (#26 Jim Beam/Klein Tools Andretti Green Racing Racing Honda) Started 13th, finished 3rd, remains second in the points standings: "I think 'TK' [Kanaan] will be the best champion in the history of the IRL. It's a great credit to the entire Andretti Green organization that, all year long, we've had four equal cars that are all quick, race-in and race-out. It's an incredible result for the team and I'm proud of the part I played in it. On the last lap [moving up from seventh to third], I don't know what happened. I just knew I wanted to get to the front!"

Buddy Rice (#15 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Rahal Letterman Racing Honda) Started 6th, finished 5th, remains third in the points standings: "The car was pretty good today. We could hang in there with Tony [Kanaan] and Helio [Castroneves] for the most of the day. But when you have a one or two lap shootout [at the finish], people come out of nowhere that have been in the back of the pack most of the day. Some guys really make their cars wide too. Our plan was to run with leaders, and get the car ready for the last 20 laps. But I don't think we had the speed that we needed at the end. We just missed a little bit on the setup for today. I think it is cooler today than we thought it would be."

Mark Taylor (#13 University Lofts Access Motorsports Honda) Started 11th, finished 10th: "The car was good, but pitting out of sequence early cost us. We never had a drafting partner all day, and it steadily cost us track position. But it's our second top-ten result, and a great finish for all the guys at the shop. That was a pretty big crash we had at [the previous race] Chicago, but they were able to completely rebuild the car in just the couple of weeks since then. So this is a bit of a reward for them."


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Mark Taylor , Adrian Fernandez , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Tom Anderson , Kosuke Matsuura , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske