Wheldon Runs Third at Homestead Season Opener Honda-powered Dan Wheldon, 2003 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, started off the 2004 Indy Racing League campaign with a strong third-place run Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, leading 14...
Wheldon Runs Third at Homestead Season Opener
Honda-powered Dan Wheldon, 2003 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, started off the 2004 Indy Racing League campaign with a strong third-place run Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, leading 14 laps and battling in the closing laps with eventual winner Sam Hornish Jr. and runner-up Helio Castroneves.
After starting on the seventh-row of the grid, Wheldon quickly moved up through the field, leading for the first time just past half-distance in the 300-mile event. Wheldon stalled exiting the pits on lap 130, dropping him to 12th place. But very quick service by his Andretti Green Racing crew at his final stop on Lap 183 returned him to the lead. Five laps later, however, lapped traffic in front of Wheldon gave Penske Racing teammates Hornish and Castroneves the opportunity they needed, as the pair "sandwiched" the Briton high and low to take over at the front.
Pole qualifier Buddy Rice was the second of three Honda drivers to lead today's race, the Team Rahal driver running at the front through the first round of pit stops. But he was forced back into the pits just two laps later to replace a cut tire, falling back to 16th as a result. Rice worked his way back to lead again on Lap 108, but increasing understeer dropped him to a seventh-place finish, just ahead of fellow Honda driver Tony Kanaan.
Making his IndyCar race debut for Super Aguri Fernandez Racing, Kosuke Matsuura ran as high as seventh and was the first of three series rookies across the line at the finish. Bryan Herta was the third Honda driver to lead the race, for a total of 19 laps, before he also encountered a cut tire and lost a lap to the leaders in the ensuing pit stop.
Owner/driver Greg Ray struggled in traffic, but persevered to finish 14th, while Dario Franchitti was eliminated in a crash, but escaped injury, after contact with Matsuura on Lap 104. The 16-race IRL IndyCar Series resumes in three weeks, March 21 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Dan Wheldon (#26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 14th, finished 3rd: "Today was definitely a big team effort. I was pretty disappointed after qualifying yesterday, but after my teammates watched me in the warmup this morning, we made some real improvements in the car for the race. It was an interesting race, it certainly was busy out there! We got to the lead and then I stalled in the pits, making it difficult for us. But [team manager] Tony Cotman and the boys pulled me out of that at the next stop. I don't know how they made it so quick, but they got me out at the head of the field once again. After that, I tried to get a tow off of A.J. Foyt, but before I could do that, the Penskes got a run on me and I was back to third. It's still a great way to start the season."
Buddy Rice (#15 Pioneer/Argent Team Rahal Honda) Started 1st, finished 7th: "I think it was a good start of the season for us. The car was really good for the first half of the race, but later on we picked up a pretty good push [understeer]. Up through the first pit stop everything was going great. Then I cut down a tire just after that and had to come right back in again. There was still a lot of time left in the race, and we were able to work our way back up to the front. But in the closing laps the car was pushing more and more, and all the guys who were 'freed up' more than me were able to roll through the corners a lot faster than we could."
Tony Kanaan (#11 7-Eleven Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 8th, finished 8th: "I had a good car, at least early in the race and for first bunch of laps after a pit stop. But after that I would begin to struggle a bit. I think we need to work a bit more on our setup and get some drag out of the car. So we have some work to do, but it's going to be a long season and this is just the start. We got a top-10 finish out of a less-than-perfect car today, and we know what we have to do to get it to the front for Phoenix."
Greg Ray (#13 Access Motorsports Honda) Started 15th, finished 14th: "The car was great when I was running by myself, but I couldn't hold on to anyone else in traffic. Then I had some contact out there, twice in just a couple of laps. The first time was with [Scott] Sharp and then one of the Red Bull [Cheever Racing] cars, I'm not sure which one. After that the car was pretty loose, but the team did a great job during the pit stops to get it better again."
Bryan Herta (#7 XM Satellite Radio Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 5th, finished 13th: "I had a tire go down and we had to make a green-flag pit stop. I lost a lap to the leaders and never could get it back again. We tried running super lean [on the fuel mixture] to make it to the finish on one less stop, but then leaders came back up on me and I was just trying to stay out of their way at the end."