IRL: Hornish earns historic win at Phoenix

PHOENIX, Sunday, March 18, 2001 -- Sam Hornish Jr. was only 16 years old and a high school student when 24-year-old Buzz Calkins won the first Indy Racing League race at Walt Disney World Speedway in January 1996. Sunday Hornish, now 21,...

PHOENIX, Sunday, March 18, 2001 -- Sam Hornish Jr. was only 16 years old and a high school student when 24-year-old Buzz Calkins won the first Indy Racing League race at Walt Disney World Speedway in January 1996. Sunday Hornish, now 21, became the youngest winner in series history and probably the youngest in major North American open-wheel racing history as he dominated the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. He scored his first victory in only his ninth Indy Racing Northern Light Series race. Hornish, driving his first race for the Pennzoil Panther Racing team, took the checkered flag in his yellow Pennzoil Panther Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone car 1.3786 seconds in front of A.J. Foyt driver Eliseo Salazar, who is the league's oldest driver at 45. Hornish earned a check for $124,300 check from a total purse of $1,077,500. Finishing behind the front two were Lazier, Sharp and Billy Boat, all completing 200 laps. Felipe Giaffone was the top finishing rookie in sixth. In recent racing history, the late Greg Moore of Canada won a CART race at Milwaukee at age 22. Also, the late Troy Ruttman won the Indianapolis 500 at 22 in 1952 and is the youngest winner there. Hornish stepped into the Pennzoil car after 40-year-old Scott Goodyear departed the team at the end of last season. Goodyear ended on a winning note, capturing the 2000 season finale at Texas Motor Speedway. On Sunday at Phoenix, Hornish grabbed the lead from MBNA Pole sitter Greg Ray in the first turn of the initial lap and wound up running up front for 140 of 200 circuits on the 1-mile desert oval. He averaged 125.072 mph. "This is great," Hornish said. "What else could you ask for? To come to the first race and get all the jitters gone, it's great. I hope we have a lot more of these." Hornish admitted Saturday that he became "chicken" in Turn 1 during qualifying after spinning in that turn during practice. He certainly showed no fear in that turn when the green flag dropped to start the race. Starting on the outside of the front row, Hornish roared right around and away from Ray in the first two bends. That's when he knew he had the car to beat. "I think about Lap 1 when I got in the lead by passing on the outside," Hornish said of when he thought he was the driver to beat. "I knew we were going to have a good day. "I was trying as hard as I could to concentrate (in the closing laps). The Pennzoil crew gave me a great car all day long." Hornish, a native of Defiance, Ohio, joined the circuit last season as a 20-year-old. His family's business, Hornish Brothers Trucking, provided early sponsorship as he drove for PDM Racing. His best finish was third at Las Vegas. He also showed lots of ability, especially at Kentucky Motor Speedway by leading 38 laps. "We were a little bummed out after our race at Pikes Peak last year," Hornish said. "Didn't do so well (19th), and heard that John Barnes (Panther Racing co-owner and team manager) was interested in talking with us. I gave them a call, went down there and met with them, went and did our test. Everything went really good. "I kind of progressed from there. It took a little while to get everything done, come to the first race and get all of the bugs out, the jitters gone. If this is the learning stroke, hopefully we're going to have a lot more of these this year." Salazar hung among the leaders throughout the race that was marked by five cautions and three accidents. He worked his way up to second but could not close the gap on Hornish over the final laps. "I told my wife that I've finished every place but second," Salazar said. "I had to get second. That's nice enough." Hornish pulled out to a comfortable lead through the first quarter of the race, leading the first 68 laps. But then Ray caught back up and flew by Hornish in Turn 1 to finally take the lead. Nine laps later, Jeret Schroeder hit the rear end of Roger Penske driver Gil de Ferran's car as de Ferran slowed to make his pit stop. This carried both of them into the Turn 4 wall, also collecting Mark Dismore. de Ferran had led laps 74 through 77, and teammate Helio Castroneves led the next four before Kelley Racing driver Scott Sharp moved to the front. This period proved critical for Hornish. During the flurry of pit stops, Hornish wound up behind the Pace Car in fifth but nearly a full lap behind leader Castroneves. But a new rule announced Saturday allowed all cars in front of the leader and behind the Pace Car to circle the track and attach to the end of the pack. Ray was back charging away on Lap 82, but 37 circuits later coasted into the pits with smoke pouring out of his engine. That handed the lead to Frenchman Stephan Gregoire. Gregoire's good fortune disappeared nine laps later when Indy Racing and race defending champion Buddy Lazier had trouble shifting gears entering Turn 2, causing Gregoire to spin to avoid hitting him. He hit the wall instead. That turned the lead back to Hornish on Lap 128, and he never wavered the rest of the way to the finish. ""I think the track changed twice, once at about 40 laps when it got loose and then at 180 when I started feeling every twitch in the car," he said. "The track just kept getting greasy. I think my advantage is I was the best in traffic. I could put my car anywhere I wanted." The Indy Racing Northern Light Series now moves to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami presented by Americatel on April 8.


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Buzz Calkins , Felipe Giaffone , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Stephan Gregoire , Scott Sharp , Billy Boat , Mark Dismore , Scott Goodyear , Helio Castroneves , Jeret Schroeder , Roger Penske , Greg Moore , John Barnes , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing