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IRL: Hornish secures lucky 13th win at PIR

IRL: Hornish secures lucky 13th win at PIR
Mar 22, 2005, 5:32 AM

Sam Hornish Jr. played the patience game in today's XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 Presented by Argent Mortgage. Hornish drove his ...

Sam Hornish Jr. played the patience game in today's XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 Presented by Argent Mortgage. Hornish drove his #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone Indy car to Victory Lane for his 13th career Indy Racing League IndyCar Series victory - the most of any driver in the League's 10-year history.

The 2001-2 IRL champ began the 200-lap contest in sixth place, hounded late leader Dario Franchitti and forced the Scot into an error on the final green-white-checkered restart to lead teammate Helio Castroneves' #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota to the line by 1.0408 seconds.

After qualifying on Friday, Hornish declared the race would come down to track position and strategy. It played out well for the double champion who "knew what to expect at the end." It had been more than a year since Hornish last visited Victory Lane (in the 2004 season opener at Homestead- Miami Speedway) and this result was "a relief.

"It was a great race between Dario, Helio and me and traffic played a large role. I knew Dario was better on fresh tires and ours had 65 laps on them. I also knew," Hornish revealed, "that the bottom was the best place on this track to be so I made Dario take the high side" and the Scot got into the marbles and lost any chance at victory after leading 52 laps.

The Marlboro Team Penske duo are working in tandem for the 2005 season, far more than they did in their initial year together. "I had a great battle with Sam," Castroneves stated. "I had a lot of fun today and I'm so glad the weather held up so we could go racing. I could go high or low on the track and Sam and I were so equal," the two-time Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner said. "We're working together and it shows."

Reigning IndyCar Series champion and two-time Phoenix International Raceway winner Tony Kanaan took third place in his #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda, more than two seconds back after starting 21st in the 22-car field. It was the Brazilian's second third-place finish in a row this season and the first words from his mouth were, "I'm tired."

Kanaan passed half the field on the first lap and looked like he'd never fall to the rear again, but on his first pit stop the fuel probe failed and Kanaan got only half a load of methanol in two tries. He elected to run hard to the next yellow flag stop and the team was able to effect repairs.

"You have to have a very good car to pass like I did and [team co-owner] Michael [Andretti] told me a secret to that. On the yellow I kind of cleaned the outside line because that was where I wanted to go to get past the other guys and make it back to the front," Kanaan stated.

Franchitti, who white-walled his #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda in turn 2 on the final restart recovered to finish fourth. The Scot was far better than Hornish on cold tires but could not prevail. "I gave it my all on that last restart; I tried the move and it didn't happen so right now, I'm pretty pissed off that we didn't win," the disappointed Franchiit said.

Scott Sharp rounded out the top five in his 100th career IRL start- and 91st consecutive - in the #8 Delphi Panoz/Honda. Hoping to take his ninth career victory, Sharp was still "really pleased" by his run today. "We had a really good car at times and I think, at one time we were the fastest car on the track. We got stuck in some traffic," the veteran continued, "and it just didn't all quite come together like it could, but we got a good top-five finish and we'll go from there."

Held under cool and threatening skies - that never quite yielded rain - the XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 was a thrilling contest that was interrupted four times for caution. The first yellow occurred on lap 16 when Buddy Rice clipped the turn 2 wall in his #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda.

Rice, like teammates Vitor Meira (#17 Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda) and rookie Danica Patrick in the #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda had a very loose car in this morning's warmup. "We went too aggressive on the changes after warmup and I made a mistake with a loose car," Rice admitted. "It's hard to take right now," said the Phoenix native who received a warm welcome from the 20,000-plus in attendance.

The second yellow on lap 75 occurred when rookie Tomas Enge hit the turn 4 wall with his #2 ROCKSTAR Panther Dallara/Chevrolet, fighting a loose condition. Enge had slowed earlier and then got back on pace but was unable to continue after his brush of the wall.

"Something happened after the [first] restart and we lost speed. Everybody was going by me," the Czech explained. "Then there was a lead car coming by and I just wanted to let him by. He suddenly backed off and I had no space to get back on the ideal line. Once I hit the marbles, I was just a passenger."

Another rookie, Ryan Briscoe caused the third yellow on lap 113 when he, too, brushed the turn 4 wall, breaking the right rear toe link on his #33 Team Target Panoz/Toyota. It was the Aussie's second shunt in his first two IndyCar Series starts.

The final caution flags flew on lap 193 when Tomas Scheckter slapped the wall between turns 3 and 4 and rode the SAFER barrier to a stop. His stricken #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet was removed to allow a green- white-checker shootout that saw Hornish prevail. Scheckter blamed the two Red Bull cars, stating one was pitting and other moved up and "put me in the marbles. It's something we discussed in the driver's meeting," the South African complained.

Dan Wheldon led the most laps (72) in his #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda and accomplished that feat by leading to his first pit stop. He never held point again and finished in sixth place, a lap down to the leaders. "The car tended to 'bite' between turns 1 and 2," the Briton explained about his car in traffic, "which gave it a very loose sensation."

Polesitter Bryan Herta had a rather quiet race, failing to lead a single lap and fading to seventh place in his #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda. Although his car was "good, it wasn't as good as it needed to be."

Darren Manning rode with the front-runners throughout the contest and brought the #10 Team Target home a consistent eighth. Manning had "a really great car but we struggled with straight line speed and that made it difficult. We were right there at the end but when I dashed in for a splash of fuel at the end we had a slight problem that cost us a few spots."

Patrick Carpentier, still sore after his wall-smack yesterday that resulted in half a brake rotor hitting the left side of his chest, drove a smart race in the #83 Red Bull Cheever Racing to take ninth place, the final driver one lap down. The French Canadian still was "very happy. We passed some people and moved up" from 20th on the grid. "We saved a lot of fuel and stayed outside longer. We learned so much this weekend," he revealed.

Kosuke Matsuura took tenth place, two laps down in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz/Honda on a track he admits he doesn't really care for. "It was really a difficult race but after 120 laps, I was really competitive and the car was so good. After the third stop we had a tire problem when the right rear lost grip, and the last run was terrible," the Japanese ace said. "I almost spun many times but I saved it. I think we improved a lot on the one-mile ovals."

Meira's ill-handling car relegated the Brazilian to 11th place. "The car was doing the same as Buddy's," Meira said. "It was pretty loose. It wasn't bad when I ran by myself but in traffic it was a handful, explaining why he ran mid field all afternoon.

Scott Dixon's 12th place finish came after a tough run for the Kiwi in his #9 Team Target Panoz/Toyota. The 2003 IRL champ thought that, "All in all it was not that bad. We were loose the first part of each run but the car came around. The cars was great today but we just had no straight-line speed."

Alex Barron's run to 13th in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota from 16th on the grid came mostly in company with Carpentier, but a late stop hurt the Californian, who faded to his final position.

A.J. Foyt IV thought, after the final practice his #14 Dallara/Toyota "would be better than it was, but at least we survived" in 14th, five laps down to the leaders. Rookie Danica Patrick finished 15th and achieved the goal and completing the race, albeit six laps behind the lead pack. "It's a long day on a short oval when the car just isn't right there, but I did what I came here to do this weekend and that was finish the race."

Ed Carpenter was the final driver running in the #20 Vision Racing Dallara/Toyota and it was a long day for the Indiana native. He spent much of the distance trying to figure out how to make the car handle better and to mind his business, staying out of the leaders' way. He was seven laps back.

Roger Yasukawa suffered what was explained as "mechanical problems" and pulled into the pits after completing 174 laps in the #24 Racing for Kids Dallara/Honda.

The Indy cars make their first visit to a road course the first weekend of April with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Although Hornish enters the race in the catbird seat with first place points (thanks to today's win and a second place finish in Florida earlier in the month), he realizes road racing isn't quite his forte.

"It's been a long time since I raced on a road or street course and I know I have to keep a cool head. "If we're halfway competitive it'll be okay," Hornish shrugged. "I worked really hard on the off-season to knock the rust off and get in better shape" in anticipation of road racing this year.

Like all drivers, there are some things Hornish does better than others. "On the mile ovals, you can make up for stuff. Good handling goes a long way on a track like this. That's what I like about oval racing: it requires patience and it's so very mental. Road racing is about not making mistakes."

As Hornish goes to St. Petersburg, he has a 90-84 point cushion over Wheldon. Castroneves and Kanaan are tied for third with 70 points while Manning has 52 fifth place points. The next race should present interesting, even compelling competition for fans of open wheel racing.

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