Points chase closer than ever; Rice making most of opportunity. MADISON, Ill., Monday, Aug. 26, 2002 -- The race for the Indy Racing League championship was juggled again as the top three drivers swapped positions in the series points standings...
Points chase closer than ever; Rice making most of opportunity.
MADISON, Ill., Monday, Aug. 26, 2002 -- The race for the Indy Racing League championship was juggled again as the top three drivers swapped positions in the series points standings after the Gateway Indy 250 Aug. 25 at Gateway International Raceway in St. Louis.
Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, entered the race as the points leader, followed by Marlboro Team Penske teammates Helio Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, and Gil de Ferran, driver of the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.
de Ferran, a two-time CART champion, passed Castroneves for the lead on Lap 184 and never looked back, scoring 50 points for his victory at Gateway and landing in second place in the standings. Castroneves, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, came home with 40 points for his second-place effort and also two points for leading the most laps. The two points were enough to give Castroneves a one-point lead over his teammate, 437-436.
If there was one negative for de Ferran, it's that he wasn't able to make a move on Castroneves earlier in the race, as Castroneves led only four more laps than his teammate.
Meanwhile, Hornish, the defending Indy Racing League champion, fell from first to third in the championship after a fifth-place finish that earned him 30 points. He has now amassed 429 points and trails Castroneves by eight points and de Ferran by seven.
Castroneves, de Ferran and Hornish have been the only drivers in the top three in points all year and the largest gap between first and third being 61 points when de Ferran was first, Castroneves second and Hornish third after the Radisson Indy 225 in June at Pikes Peak International Raceway. The eight-point gap between first place Castroneves and third place Hornish is the tightest the top three has been all year.
"We still have to keep our heads down here," de Ferran said. "I mean, the championship is open to anyone."
That closeness is reflected in the average number of points each driver has earned through 13 races this season.
Castroneves has averaged 33.615 points per race, while Castroneves has averaged 33.538 points per race, and Hornish has averaged exactly 33 points per race. To put the number in perspective, 35 points are awarded for a third-place finish, 32 for a fourth-place finish and 30 for a fifth-place finish. The only bonus points are the two points for leading the most laps.
"What's been happening between three of us, even Felipe (Giaffone), we always been having one position ahead of each other," Castroneves said. "And I guess I don't think it's going to be different on the last race, especially for the guys that battle for the championship. So I'm sure it's going to be like that. I have no idea how it's going to be for the next race. Let's see what's going to happen."
That's Hornish's attitude, too.
"Being eight points behind is not a huge amount," Hornish said. "You've just got to keep heading in the right direction."
The final two Indy Racing League events are the Delphi Indy 300 Sept. 8 at Chicagoland Speedway and the Chevy 500 Sept. 15 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Rave reviews for Rice: Buddy Rice got a call in July from Eddie Cheever Jr. about driving a third Red Bull Cheever Racing car in the Michigan Indy 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Since then, a lot has happened. Rice started second and finished second behind Red Bull Cheever Racing teammate Tomas Scheckter at Michigan, then came home a respectable 12th at Kentucky.
Then things really began to get interesting before the Gateway Indy 250 on Aug. 25 near St. Louis. Scheckter and Cheever, who had a sometimes-strained relationship this season, saw their relationship on the rocks again when Scheckter failed to show up for the race in St. Louis.
"After not showing up for a scheduled technical briefing (Friday), we called and were informed by Tomas (Scheckter) that he was not going to participate in the race this weekend," said Cheever on Saturday. "He did not offer any further details."
Cheever then withdrew the No 53 car he had entered for Rice, instead moving Rice to Scheckter's now-vacated No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, which Rice brought home fourth. It's the first time this season that a driver from Red Bull Cheever Racing has finished three consecutive races.
"He took a car that should have finished eighth and finished fourth," Cheever said. "Three races and three finishes. That is a new record for Red Bull Cheever Racing. We are pleasantly surprised with Buddy. He will continue with the team at Chicago and Texas, and we are currently talking about 2003."
Rice indicated before the race he just wanted to produce solid finish for Red Bull Cheever Racing, and he did precisely that.
"Once we moved to the front, we sat there and waited for someone to make a mistake and then got on by," Rice said. "We tried to capitalize on mistakes that others would make since our car was so good. We are working on finishing out the season at the next two rounds with solid performances for the Red Bull Cheever Racing team."
Blair, Barron continue to emerge: Alex Barron and the Rayovac Blair Racing team have continued to quietly prove they are one of the top units in the Indy Racing League, despite being new to the series.
Barron, driver of the No. 44 Rayovac Blair Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, was in position to score his second win of season Aug. 25 when he led 29 laps in the middle of the Gateway Indy 250 and was second on the final restart. However, on that Lap 151 restart, Barron attempted to pass leader Helio Castroneves, when he took his No. 44 Rayovac Blair Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone too far into Turn 1, got high on the track, lost momentum and fell to fifth place. Barron recovered to come home an impressive third but never was able to challenge for the lead.
"Helio gives me room, I give him room," Barron said. "We were racing clean. I went in there pretty hot. I knew cold tires were going to be a bit of an issue. I think more than anything, when you go in hard, you drift up a little bit.
"I think the shavings on the track were starting to get pretty severe. At the same time with the cold tires, moved up a little too far. Took too long to get it back down. It was unfortunate. Obviously, we lost the momentum we needed to go for the win."
Castroneves was impressed by what he saw from Barron and let him know about it in the post-race press conference.
"Let me tell you, this guy did well," said Castroneves, who was sitting next to Barron. "He was very strong today. You were on rails today. I was wondering, 'Are you going to brake?' What happened there? What are you going to do? Where are you going? Track is this way.'"
Barron, the soft-spoken California native, humorously responded, "You said you were going to wait for me."
Barron has reason to be happy. He's fifth in the championship and scored his first win of the season in July at Nashville.
"This year has been an extraordinary experience," Barron said. "I think things are going to go better from here on out. We got a lot of guys on our team that have a lot of experience, they push very hard. You know, having Rayovac on board, and Indy and getting (Bank One) co-Rookie of the Year.
"It's been a lifelong dream. It's taken me a long time to get here. I'm trying to take full advantage of it and really enjoy myself."
Giaffone struggles at Gateway: In 26 Indy Racing League events, Felipe Giaffone has finished outside of the top 10 only five times. However, two of those finishes have come at Gateway International Raceway. Giaffone finished 20th at Gateway during his rookie year in 2001, and finished 21st this season after engine failure.
Despite the poor finish, he remains in fourth place in the championship. But he trails third place Sam Hornish Jr. 429-391, with only two races remaining.
"It was the first failure we've had all year," Giaffone said. "It should be all right. For sure, it hurts, but we still have two races to go. Now we have to depend on the other guys and see how good they do."
Gateway Indy 250/Gateway 100 facts and figures:
*The Gateway Indy 250 was Gil de Ferran's second career Indy Racing League victory. He also won from the MBNA Pole in June at Pikes Peak.
*The Gateway Indy 250 marked the third time this season that Marlboro Team Penske teammates Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves have finished 1-2. Castroneves won and de Ferran finished second in March at Phoenix, and de Ferran won and Castroneves finished second in June at Pikes Peak.
*The Gateway Indy 250 marked the fifth time this season that the winner has won from the MBNA Pole. Sam Hornish Jr. did so at Miami, Helio Castroneves at Phoenix, Gil de Ferran at Pikes Peak and Gateway and Tomas Scheckter at Michigan.
*Ryan Hampton scored his first Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series win in the Gateway 100.
*Ryan Hampton led all 80 laps in the Gateway 100, becoming the first driver in Infiniti Pro Series history to do so. No Indy Racing League driver has led every lap in a single race.
*Arie Luyendyk Jr. finished second in the Gateway 100, tying his career best. His previous best finish was second in July at Nashville and Michigan.
*Ryan Hampton became the third Infiniti Pro Series driver this season to win from the pole. A.J. Foyt IV did so at Kansas and Kentucky.