Sam Hornish Jr. and Oldsmobile Shine in the Valley of the Sun PHOENIX, March 18, 2001 - Panther Racing and Oldsmobile's IRL Aurora V8 roared today in the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. Sam Hornish Jr., a ...
Sam Hornish Jr. and Oldsmobile Shine in the Valley of the Sun
PHOENIX, March 18, 2001 - Panther Racing and Oldsmobile's IRL Aurora V8 roared today in the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. Sam Hornish Jr., a 21-year-old sophomore sensation in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, came of age when he won in his first appearance with the Panther Pack. Hornish dominated the 200-lap race, leading 140 laps and scoring Oldsmobile's 38th IRL victory.
"This is a great way to start the season," said Hornish, whose best previous finish was third in Las Vegas in April 2000 with the PDM Racing team. "I wouldn't say it was easy - there was a lot of competition out there. Panther Racing gave me a great car and Speedway Engines gave me the power to get past those guys. They made it look easy."
Oldsmobile engines dominated in the Arizona desert, winning the pole, sweeping the top ten finishing positions and leading every lap. IRL Aurora V8s powered 25 of the 27 starters and extended Oldsmobile's record to a perfect 5-0 at PIR.
"After a full year with 3.5-liter engines in 2000, the independent Oldsmobile engine builders worked up new specs and new packages for this season," said Joe Negri, GM Racing IRL/Road Racing Group manager. "The builders are certainly pushing the limits, especially in the area of fuel economy. Overall the IRL Aurora V8 engines ran very strong, as they have for the last four years. It appears that at this point we have more than enough to handle Nissan's new 35A engine."
Eliseo Salazar finished third in A.J. Foyt's Oldsmobile Dallara carrying Foyt's trademark No. 14. Buddy Lazier, the reigning IRL champion and defending race winner at PIR, was third in spite of losing fifth and sixth gear in Hemelgarn Racing's Oldsmobile Dallara.
"We raced the last third of the race in fourth gear," Lazier explained. "The engine was bouncing off the rev limiter lap after lap. My hat's off to Speedway Engines - it was unbelievable that motor lived. How I can complain? This is a great way to start the season in defense of the championship."
Penske Racing's debut in the IRL series produced mixed results. Drivers Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves led a total of seven laps, but de Ferran was eliminated in an accident on lap 78 and Castoneves had an apparent engine problem on lap 141. The pair will be back for the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend.
With back-to-back victories in the season-ending race in Texas with former driver Scott Goodyear and the season-opening event in Phoenix with young gun Hornish, Panther Racing has emerged as a top contender for the IRL title. "They did everything right today," conceded Salazar, "but I think we can beat them next time."
The next opportunity for rival IRL teams to tame Panther Racing will be on April 8, 2001, when the IRL series stages its inaugural event at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the Grand Prix of Miami.
<pre> Race Summary Track: Phoenix International Raceway, 1-mile oval Winner: Sam Hornish Jr., Pennzoil Panther Racing Oldsmobile Dallara Margin of Victory: 1.379 seconds Average Speed: 125.072 mph Pole: Greg Ray/Oldsmobile, 177.663 mph (track record for naturally aspirated IRL cars) Fastest Lap: Billy Boat/Oldsmobile, 168.769 mph
Top Five Finishers: Pos./Driver/Engine/Laps 1. Sam Hornish Jr./Oldsmobile, 200 laps 2. Eliseo Salazar/Oldsmobile, 200 3. Buddy Lazier/Oldsmobile, 200 4. Scott Sharp/Oldsmobile, 200 5. Billy Boat/Oldsmobile, 200
Manufacturer Results: Laps Led: Oldsmobile 200, Infiniti 0 Starters: Oldsmobile 25, Infiniti 2 Running at Finish: Oldsmobile 12, Infiniti 1
Championship Standings: After 1 of 13 events Driver/Engine/Points (victories in parentheses) 1. Sam Hornish Jr./Oldsmobile 50 (1) 2. Eliseo Salazar/Oldsmobile, 40 3. Buddy Lazier/Oldsmobile, 35 4. Scott Sharp/Oldsmobile, 32 5. Billy Boat/Oldsmobile, 30
Manufacturer/Points: (victories in parentheses) 1. Oldsmobile 11 (1) 2. Nissan 7 (0)
</pre> Next Race: April 8, 2001, Grand Prix of Miami, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Homestead, Fla., 1.5-mile oval TV: ESPN, 1:00 p.m. ET
-GM Racing Communications