IRL: Homestead: Season opener race report

Welcome aboard: Dixon wins in IRL IndyCar Series debut. HOMESTEAD, Fla., Sunday, March 2, 2003 -- The Target Chip Ganassi Racing magic continues to rub off on new drivers to the IRL IndyCar Series. Scott Dixon became just the third driver to...

Welcome aboard: Dixon wins in IRL IndyCar Series debut.

HOMESTEAD, Fla., Sunday, March 2, 2003 -- The Target Chip Ganassi Racing magic continues to rub off on new drivers to the IRL IndyCar Series.

Scott Dixon became just the third driver to win in his first IndyCar Series start, holding off Gil de Ferran to capture the Toyota Indy 300 on March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The last driver to win in his debut was Juan Montoya, winning the 2000 Indianapolis 500 for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Buzz Calkins was the first driver to achieve the feat, winning the inaugural IndyCar Series race in January 1996 at Orlando, Fla.

Dixon, who started 12th, edged a charging de Ferran by .5752 of a second for the victory in his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone. He averaged a race-record 153.710 mph in an event slowed just four times by caution periods and earned $106,000.

Through Dixon's victory, Toyota also won in its IndyCar Series debut.

"It was a great race," Dixon said. "The car was good from the start until we got caught on one of the restarts there and had a few cars get by us, but the car in traffic was great. We started to struggle a little at the end of the race with rear grip especially in traffic.

"So Gil was getting hot on our tails, but we were lucky enough that we could hold them off. I was just hoping that the race was going to be over soon. I think I probably pushed it a little hard to start with on the first few laps, cooked the tires and sort of paid for it toward the end. But it's over now, and we won. So it's good."

Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves finished third in his No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone. MBNA Pole winner Tony Kanaan was fourth in his No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone.

Dixon, 22, from Auckland, New Zealand, took the lead for the first time and for good during a pit stop on Lap 148, beating Castroneves and de Ferran out of the pits. Dixon led by more than two seconds with 15 laps remaining in the 200-lap race, but de Ferran put his No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone into overdrive to try to gain the lead.

Two-time CART champion de Ferran trimmed Dixon's lead from 2.0251 seconds on Lap 185 to just .4704 of a second on Lap 189 as both sliced through lapped traffic on the 1.5-mile oval.

The gap see-sawed between one-half second and a second for the next seven laps as de Ferran poured on the pressure. But Dixon calmly held de Ferran at bay over the final four laps, as de Ferran never closed to within closer than one-half second at the start-finish line.

"I got to find a way to beat this guy," de Ferran said of his thoughts with 10 laps remaining. "I'm trying everything I know to get close to him and eventually get by him. He was, for sure, strong.

"Overall, it was a very positive result for us. A great result for Toyota, finishing one-two-three in their first-ever IRL race. We come out of here with a second place; we've got our heads up, and we're looking strong."

Kanaan and Andretti Green Racing teammate and co-owner Michael Andretti controlled most of the first quarter of the race in their Team 7-Eleven cars. Andretti took the lead from Kanaan on the first lap, with Kanaan seizing it back on Lap 14 and holding it until passed by de Ferran on Lap 47.

But Kanaan regained the lead on Lap 58 before making his first pit stop on Lap 61, ceding the top spot to 1998 series champion Kenny Brack.

"For my first race, I don't think it's too bad of a performance," Kanaan said. "Team 7-Eleven had great power, and we tried to dial the car in throughout the race, but we didn't quite get there.

"We made a little mistake changing the wings. But we went back, and the car was great again. I think it was pretty good near the end. I was running sixth and finished fourth, so I think we have everything to be proud of."

Marlboro Team Penske then dominated the middle of the race. de Ferran led from Laps 62-91 before losing a race out of the pits to teammate and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves. But de Ferran retook the lead on Lap 97 before finally surrendering it to Dixon for good in the pits on Lap 148.

de Ferran led a race-high 92 laps. Dixon was second by leading the last 53 laps.

Two-time defending series champion Sam Hornish Jr. finished 10th in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, one lap down. Hornish won this event in 2001 and 2002.

The next IndyCar Series race is the Dial Purex Indy 200 on March 23 at Phoenix International Raceway. For tickets, call (602) 252-2227 or visit www.phoenixintlraceway.com.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Buzz Calkins , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Kenny Brack , Chip Ganassi , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing