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IRL: Kanaan uses skills to win in Sonoma

IRL: Kanaan uses skills to win in Sonoma
Aug 31, 2005, 5:32 AM

Tony Kanaan used his road racing genes to secure the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series' first checkered flag on a natural road circuit. Driving to a 1.1826-second victory over Buddy Rice in the inaugural Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix on ...

Tony Kanaan used his road racing genes to secure the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series' first checkered flag on a natural road circuit. Driving to a 1.1826-second victory over Buddy Rice in the inaugural Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix on Infineon Raceway Sears Point's 2.26-mile road course,

Kanaan kept his famous big nose clean when others faltered to gain his second win of the 2005 season. On a beautifully sunny day with light breezes and temperatures in the low 80s, Kanaan prevailed and then did 11 push-ups in Victory Lane, showing off his fitness level after an 80-lap contest that was supposed to be the most physically demanding race ever held in the League's 10-year history.

Kanaan led the most laps of five lap leaders, 33, from lap 53 to the checkered flags. "I think we raced pretty smart when people were racing so hard for the front, and I just think we saved a lot of fuel and that was going to help us win the race. I had a very consistent car, the team did a great job and I'm ready to do it again," he exulted.

It was a perfect day for Kanaan's Andretti Green Racing team co-owner Michael Andretti, whose son Marco won the Menards Infiniti Pro Series race earlier that morning by leading from start to finish. "I think it was pretty much scripted right away," for Kanaan's side of AGR's four-car squad. "They did the opposite of the leaders and the gambles fell right for Tony."

Kanaan watched the four caution periods and with engineer Eric Cowdin his team plotted their strategy to avoid others' mishaps. "Once in the lead I could control the pace. I would push one lap and then relax the next. I knew the car beneath me was good enough to win so I just saved fuel and here we are," he revealed.

Rice, whose luck in 2005 has been a polar opposite to last season, was relieved to finally have another podium result. "We stayed right there but we couldn't close the gap any more to Tony. Like everybody we were chasing the fuel a little bit but that was also part of the deal. I think everybody was just marking off each other and I was surprised how fast the pace was," he said.

"It was a lot cooler today than it was the last couple of days and I think that was a little bit of a help," with regard to the fast race pace. "We had a good game plan coming into this weekend and this is a good rebound for us," taking his best result of the year.

Alex Barron started the 80-lap contest from 10th grid spot and remained in that area through the first three caution periods. He began to make his charge at mid-race and was up to fifth by lap 34. Making a final call on the pits at lap 50, the Californian bounced to third place and never relinquished the spot. "We've been solid all weekend," he reminded.

Barron's team made a chassis adjustment on his second pit stop "and we were able to hang on to third. We didn't have quite enough to make a run on the leaders, though. I could catch Buddy and sustain it, but I wasn't able to be offensive. We're really happy with the podium; it's positive for our team."

Despite having to deal with a malfunctioning water dispenser in his cockpit, Patrick Carpentier came home fourth with the team car to Barron's from his 12th place starting spot. The French Canadian was on a different fuel strategy from Barron's squad and although "the car was pushing there at the end and it wasn't as strong as it was early in the race, it's amazing we finished so well. You can really see the improvement we have made lately," as he secured his ninth top-10 result.

Tomas Enge led 13 laps and finished fifth despite a self-induced spin that wiped out his 7-second advantage to nearly nothing. It was the Czech national's best career IndyCar Series result after his sixth place finish last weekend in Colorado. Having to make an extra stop for fuel with a different strategy from his teammate and after his spin, "We had a bit of a vibration but I was still trying to push as much as possible."

Twelve cars finished on the lead lap and, in fact 15 were still running at the close. A good deal of carnage was expected in this inaugural permanent road course contest and the bulk of it came from the front of the field. The first driver to cause a caution was Sam Hornish Jr., who went off- course at turn 7 on the first lap. "After that something went wrong with the clutch" and he stopped short of the pits, necessitating a tow-in.

Hornish's team fixed the problem and brought him back on the track where he "was able to pick up four spots and one more point, but more importantly, it gave me more seat time on a road course." Hornish ended up 17th and was 24 laps down.

The second yellow came out for Ed Carpenter, who spun in turn 11 and then dropped the tow rope, necessitating extra time to get him back to the pits for a re-start. The sophomore would complete 77 laps and was classified 15th.

The "big one" came on lap 20 when the bulk of the field had completed their initial pit stops. At that point Helio Castroneves beat polesitter and early leader Ryan Briscoe out of the pits and the duo were trying to make their way back to the front.

At turn 7, Briscoe got a bit overanxious and went inside fellow rookie Danica Patrick just as Castroneves tried her on the outside. Braking later than he should have, Briscoe got into the dirt, rammed Patrick who cascaded into Castroneves. All three were out on the spot.

Point leader Dan Wheldon brought out the final caution on lap 52 when his fuel pump drive broke, paving the way for Kanaan to make up a few points on his teammate, who now leads the standings 517-438 with three races remaining. Wheldon's first pit stop had been a disaster when the fuel probe would not engage and he had to make a return visit to pit road. He was clearly disappointed after racing to the top three.

Kosuke Matsuura finished sixth and thought it "was a really good race even though my car wasn't perfect. I was able to hold my position the last 25 laps which was a little bit difficult in meeting my fuel mileage number," Matsuura stated. Scott Dixon believed his car was better than a seventh- place finisher, yet that's where the 2003 champ stood after 80 laps of competition.

Dario Franchitti came from 21st and last to take eighth at the close despite a car that wasn't to his liking. "The warmup yesterday threw us off because the cars changed from Friday's practice. We had some pretty horrendous understeer," he related.

Vitor Meira's ninth place result "doesn't really represent how good a car and how fast we were. The team did a great job dialing in the car but we risked the lead on a strategy decision and it just simply didn't pan out the way we thought it would."

Substituting as a "road course expert", Jeff Bucknum finished tenth in A.J. Foyt Jr.'s Chevy-powered entry, in only his second Indy car race. "We had to stay clean and out of trouble," the second-generation driver admitted. "We had a couple of incidents but they didn't hurt us too bad. I could see guys dive-bombing and dust flying as everyone was running qualifying laps out there. That's what this series is all about and that's what makes it fun."

Roger Yasukawa, Scott Sharp and Bryan Herta were the other finishers, while Giorgio Pantano was the final driver to retire when he and Meira got together two laps from the close coming out of the first turn.

The Indy cars have a two-day test this week in preparation for the September 11th Chicagoland Speedway contest, race #15 of 17 on the docket. Wheldon and Kanaan pace the point chase, while Hornish Jr. falls to third (421), Franchitti is in fourth with 395 and Sharp rounds out the top five with 366 points.

Due to his participation in the front-row debacle that removed his car and that of Briscoe and Patrick from competition, Castroneves holds 360 sixth place points and Meira retains 349 seventh place points.

To beat his teammate Kanaan must win all the remaining races and Wheldon has to have lousy luck. While he was tired at the end of the day, Kanaan admitted this race was a lot of fun for him. "I had a blast. I'm sitting here, I won the race so obviously it's fun. We should do more of this," he challenged the sanctioning body.

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