Scheckter Finishes Fifth in Chevy Debut HOMESTEAD, Fla., Feb. 29, 2004 - Chevy fired the opening volley in an American revolution today in the season-opening IRL IndyCar Series event at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Although a Chevy-powered driver...
Scheckter Finishes Fifth in Chevy Debut
HOMESTEAD, Fla., Feb. 29, 2004 - Chevy fired the opening volley in an American revolution today in the season-opening IRL IndyCar Series event at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Although a Chevy-powered driver wasn't on the podium, the Bowtie brigade led laps, raced at the front, and demonstrated that the 2004 season will be a battle between the three competing engine manufacturers.
South African Tomas Scheckter was the top-finishing Chevrolet driver in his debut with Pennzoil Panther Racing. Scheckter started third and finished fifth with Chevy Indy V-8 power, leading 22 laps and contending for the win. Robbie Buhl turned in a sterling performance, finishing 10th after running as high as second with his Team Purex/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet Dallara. Rookie Ed Carpenter experienced an entire season in one race. After overcoming electrical gremlins, he ran as high as fifth, make a quick spin on the pit entry, and then made up his lost lap to finish 12th, the final driver on the lead lap.
Penske Racing teammates Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves posted a 1-2 finish in Toyota-powered Dallaras.
Accidents eliminated rookie driver Mark Taylor and the Menards/Johns Manville Chevrolet Dallara on the 39th lap and veteran Alex Barron's Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara on the 126th circuit. Neither driver was injured.
"I'm happy," Scheckter declared after his debut with the championship-winning Panther Racing team. "We got a little unlucky with a yellow flag that caught us out in the beginning, and it was tough getting by people when they were racing side by side. But the team had unbelievable pit stops, and I have to thank Chevy for doing a great job. We got some points on the board in the first race, and we'll be back in Phoenix.
"I tried going low, I tried going high, but there was no way I was going to pass them if they were running side by side," Scheckter explained. "If we want to win a championship, we have to finish in the top five continuously, and we came back from 15th early in the race to get some championship points."
While Robbie Buhl's run to the front was derailed by a balky gearbox, the team served notice that it will be frontrunner in the 2004 season.
"The gearbox stuck in sixth gear after the last pit stop," co-owner Dennis Reinbold reported. "From there on we were battling with other guys and we just couldn't finish the pass. That hurt us the last 16 laps."
"We'll get better," Buhl promised. "We let people know we're here to race. We finished tenth, and should have been a little better than that. I'm happy with the race, but I'm less happy with the black-and-white result. We're going to gain momentum, and get better. After all, it's all about Indy.
"It's the most fun I've had in a race car in the past year," said Buhl. "Tenth is tenth, it's not winning, but Chevy's worked hard and our guys have worked hard and I think we showed that today. We needed this as a team, and we just need to keep the momentum going."
Ed Carpenter experienced the highs and lows of racing today in his first race with Red Bull Cheever Racing.
"We started off and didn't really have the best race car, but that's why we have in-car adjustments," said the rookie driver. "We finally hit the sweet spot and when we got the car working we went to the front. It was a great car to drive, and it was terrific up top. I had great Chevy power and the guys had great strategy to get me back on the lead lap after being a lap down. When I got back on the lead lap, it renewed my vigor and we were going to the front.
"The when I pitted for my last stop, I made a classic rookie mistake and slid off the track," Carpenter conceded. "We lost touch with the lead pack, and that cost us a chance for a top finish. Those are things I have to learn the hard way as a rookie. That's what the three races leading up to Indy are for - to get everything perfected and make a good run at Indy."
The second race of the IndyCar Series event will take place on a classic 1-mile oval as the IRL goes to Phoenix International Raceway on March 21 for the Copper World Indy 200. The second round of the 16-race series will be televised live on ABC at 4 p.m. EST.
CHEVY DRIVER QUOTES:
MARK TAYLOR, Menards/Johns Manville Racing Chevrolet Dallara, qualified
sixth, finished 19th (accident on lap 39):
"At this point we're not really sure what happened out there today. We had a great race car all weekend. The Panther Racing guys really proved that we can qualify at the front and that we can move our Menards/Johns Manville car up the grid during the race. This isn't how we wanted to finish the race, obviously, but this team had a great weekend."
ALEX BARRON, Red Bull Cheever Racing Chevrolet Dallara, qualified
second, finished 16th (accident on lap 126):
"It was the same thing with Darren Manning and I. He entered in too wide, and the next thing I know, his car just started coming up the track. He hit me and put me in the wall. You've got to hold your line."
March 21, 2004, Copper World Indy 200, Phoenix International Raceway
TV: ABC, 4 p.m. EST