IRL: Kentucky: Indy Racing League notebook 2003-8-16

SPARTA, Ky., Saturday, Aug. 16, 2003 -- Sam Hornish Jr. won the MBNA Pole Aug. 16 for the Belterra Casino Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway Castroneves turned a lap of 24.2608 seconds, 219.614 mph in his No. 4 Pennzoil Panther ...

SPARTA, Ky., Saturday, Aug. 16, 2003 -- Sam Hornish Jr. won the MBNA Pole Aug. 16 for the Belterra Casino Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway Castroneves turned a lap of 24.2608 seconds, 219.614 mph in his No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone

MBNA POLE QUALIFYING NOTES:

Sam Hornish Jr. earned his first MBNA Pole of the season and the third of his career. His other MBNA Poles came at Chicagoland and Homestead in 2002. He won both of those events. His previous best qualifying effort in 2003 was third at Homestead and Richmond.

Greg Ray qualified fifth, tying his best qualifying effort of the season. His previous best was fifth at Richmond.

The 20-car field is separated by .5367 of a second, the closest starting field by time in IRL IndyCar Series history. The previous closest field was in 1999 at Atlanta. The 25-car field was separated by .620 of a second.

Sam Hornish Jr. won the pole with a Chevrolet engine. It is the first pole this season for a Chevrolet engine.

MBNA POLE QUALIFYING QUOTES:

BUDDY LAZIER (No. 91 Delta Faucet/Life Fitness Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): About his optimism because of his past success at Kentucky:

"It is probably a little misguided because you cannot just jump into a new race engine. There are some guys who have 1,000 miles-plus (on their engines), so we have to be somewhat realistic with the expectations that we put on ourselves. We need to win a race before these last five races are out. That has to be our goal, and this place (Kentucky) would be a great place to do it. The potential is awesome. We can now go and race to win. It doesn't mean that we are going to win. It just means that we can."

SARAH FISHER (No. 23 GMAC/AOL/Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone):

"It feels great. We are very excited. We are still working on our race car. Chevy can give us all of the horsepower that they want to, but we have to have a car that can match that. We are just trying to get our program together. We have a new engineering staff, so we are just working on all of the little problems. It takes time. There are still some things that we need to do. There are still some ideas that I've got floating in my head right now of things that I want to do in the warm-up. We'll just have to start out from here tomorrow. We are in race trim right now, so it's not like we have to switch over anything. We just want to have a good race car tomorrow."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone):

"It is extremely important to be consistent and patient to be successful. We did exactly the same lap time from the morning practice. I thought that we could get a little bit faster, but now it is too late. On the second lap, we got a lot of push on the steering. I think that it was a pretty good run, so we'll just have to go out now tomorrow and race."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone):

"We worked on the race setup all weekend. We knew this morning that I couldn't be very competitive, so I just adjusted to go in the race setup. It seems to be working for us, so we'll see what's going to happen tomorrow. We're just going to go for it and try to move to the front."

GREG RAY (No. 13 TrimSpa Special Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone):

"On the first qualifying attempt, we had a valve-stem failure. We normally expect the air pressure to come up about 45 pounds, and when I came in, it was at 32 pounds. A huge problem. I was pretty lucky. I thank the big Lord upstairs because it was close to a crash. We came back in, threw a set of tires on it, put fuel back in it, and we were pleased. I think we would have been quicker on the second lap, but all in all, we were happy with that."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone):

"Not quite enough, I guess. I don't know. The car was pretty good. I was surprised, actually, at the speed we had for that first lap. I was thinking we were going to be more around (2)18.8 or (2)18.5 (mph). We seemed to find a little more in the car. Team Target did a great job all weekend. I don't know where that Cosworth (Chevy) came from. It was pretty fast. I think the track conditions were pretty similar. Of course, it may have been a little hotter this afternoon. The track may have had a little more grip, but most of the field stayed pretty close to their times, fairly close to what they did in the morning. We seem to have the speed this year, but St. Louis was going fairly well when, with 40 laps to go, the gearbox quit. I think we have a strong car, we just need to pick up some points. That has been the problem this year so far. I think if you change too much, that is when you start to suffer. We just want to start at the top, try to win races and try to win the maximum amount of points. We have done that since the start of the year, try our best. You look at the races we didn't finish in, and we were leading. I think we will just keep doing the same thing we have been doing. We need to concentrate on this year. We still have a long way to go."

About Hornish's qualifying run:

"That was impressive. I think it is good for the competition. I think we made the right choice at the start of the year. Honda and Toyota have been very strong, and Chevrolet wasn't very far behind."

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone):

"We really did a lot of testing today as far as setup. We weren't really sure where we going to qualify. We knew we had a setup that would probably put us in the top five, but we didn't know if it was going to be fast enough for the pole. We're pretty happy about the way things turned out. It's a good day for myself and the Pennzoil Panther team. It's also a good day for Chevrolet. It's their first pole of the year. We're really looking forward to making up that four feet that we lost by at Michigan. We've worked so hard this year to keep ourselves seventh in points, and while that doesn't seem very good to where we've been at throughout the last two years, we're still mathematically in it to win the points. We gained 27 points on the leader at Michigan, and by my calculations, we can still win this thing by a couple of points. We knew at the beginning of the year that we weren't playing with as good of a hand as we needed to win, but we had to do the best that we could without it. We really worked on our setups and made sure everywhere we went to that the focus was on the setups. We knew once we had the horsepower, we had to have the car handling good. You can go 300 mph down the straightaway, but if you can't turn when you get to the turn, you're not going to win the race. That's how we finished as well as we did at a lot of races. We didn't sit around and complain that they had more horsepower than us for the first 10 races of the year. You deal with what you have at the time and make the best of it. The only thing that stays the same is that everything changes. We had to do the best that we can with what we have got. This is a great racetrack for me to come to. It is three hours away from home. We have probably more family and friends come to this race than we do Indy. Michigan is an exception with it being only an hour away from home, so everybody comes up there. This is the first track that I led a lap at, the track where I tested with P anther, the race that Panther decided to hire me. I have had some great races here at Kentucky. (In) 2001, we finished third here. Last year, we finished second. There is only hopefully one way to go. I've got some of the best guys out there."

During the second IndyCar Series practice session, Vitor Meira, driver of the No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, made contact with the outside retaining wall in Turn 2. The car suffered moderate damage to the right side. Meira climbed from his car with assistance from the IRL Safety Team.

Meira suffered a fracture in his right wrist and has not been cleared to drive, according to Dr. Henry Bock, medical services director for the Indy Racing League. He will be re-examined when he returns to Indianapolis.

VITOR MEIRA:

"It's kind of bittersweet because we were good, and we were quick. The Johns Manville/Team Menard crew did a great job putting everything together for the Gen IV Chevy V8 engine. We were right there in second or third, doing our final qualifying simulation. I just spun. I was trying hard and just spun. Sometimes that's the way it goes."

Rookie Jeff Simmons won the Kentucky 100 Infiniti Pro Series race. The race was slowed once due to caution when Tom Wood, driver of the No. 9 Trailblazer Drilling/Savanna Energy Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, and Brandon Erwin, driver of the No. 99 Raymond James & Associates/SSM Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, made contact on Lap 52 while battling for second. Wood made heavy impact with the outside retaining wall in Turn 3.

Wood, from Calgary, Alberta, was transferred by air to University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington, Ky. According to Dr. Henry Bock, director of medical services for the Indy Racing League, Wood is in stable condition and has fractures to his middle back, right knee, right foot and both ankles. He has full feeling in his extremities and will undergo surgery this evening for stabilization. Further updates on Wood's condition will be provided when available.

Kentucky 100 pole sitter and IRL Infiniti Pro Series points leader Mark Taylor did not compete in the Kentucky 100. According to team officials, Taylor was suffering from dehydration as a result of possible food poisoning. Taylor received fluids in the infield medical center.

KENTUCKY 100 POST-RACE NOTES:

Jeff Simmons won his second consecutive Infiniti Pro Series event. He won the Aug. 9 event at Gateway. Simmons has two career Infiniti Pro Series victories.

Simmons led all 67 laps of the Kentucky 100, marking the fourth time in series history that a driver has led every lap. Ryan Hampton led all 80 laps at Gateway in 2002 and Mark Taylor led all 100 laps at Phoenix and all 77 laps at Nashville in 2003.

KENTUCKY 100 POST RACE QUOTES:

MARK TAYLOR (No. 4 Fulmar Panther Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): About missing the race:

"Luckily, we have had such a good year that I can afford this. I was just not feeling well enough; not 100 percent. We don't know what it is, food poisoning perhaps, but I was not feeling well enough to go race, and the decision was made to sit out this one. We will move on."

ED CARPENTER (No. 14 Futaba/Delphi Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone):

"It wasn't what we were looking for. We had a really good final practice this morning, and the car felt really, really good and really racy. I was expecting to come to the front a little quicker than we did. We picked up more of a push than I expected, and that made it hard racing in traffic, especially down in (Turns) 1 and 2 where the bumps are. It is basically a one-groove track down there. We finished in the top five. That's a pretty good race. It wasn't what I was looking for, but we'll have to get it next year."

BRANDON ERWIN (No. 99 Raymond James & Associated/SSM Dallara/Infinit/Firestone): About contact with Tom Wood:

"I was just trying to make a move on my teammate there. I was going to the inside, and he was kind of trying to protect his line a little bit. It caught my right-front wing and his left-rear tire. It looks like it cut his tire, and that's what sent him to the wall. I felt him touch me, and I was hoping that I wasn't the one that sent him into the wall, but it was the cut tire that sent him there. I just feel bad for all of the Sam Schmidt Motorsports team. We were just running hard, and I was trying to make a move underneath because that's where I felt that I had to make the move."

JEFF SIMMONS (No. 20 Western Union Speed Team Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone):

"Those guys were able to get some pretty good runs on me. I was very close to losing the lead at one point on the backstraight, and I knew that if the guy didn't get completely in front of me, I could get back by him. As soon as he noses ahead, you can actually get close enough to him to get a pretty good draft off him. I was trying to help certain guys out by where I positioned my car. When guys were running side by side, I tried to help the guy on the high side for part of the lap and help the guy on the low side for part of the lap, so that neither one of them would be able to get ahead of one another. I would be able to keep a bit of distance in the front of the pack and give us a better chance there at the end. The day was actually a bit of a long one. The first time that I came on the radio and asked how many laps were left, they said 25. I was like, 'Wow, we are going pretty quick.' Meanwhile they had said, like, 45. It was a great day for the Western Union Speed Team. We got that second win in a row and made up basically all the points that we could this weekend. (Mark) Taylor, with him not being able to start, it is unfortunate, obviously, for him, and I hope that he feels better. Hopefully, we can keep this momentum going, and there are a few more bad races for him. Maybe a couple mistakes or a little bit of misfortune, and we could get right back in there in the points chase."

Do you think you have found the right formula?:

"I think we have had it pretty much all year long. The mistake I made at Homestead looms much larger now. We could have won that race, or at the very least finished second there, and we would be right in the points chase right now. We just had to get over that hump. We were close to winning some races, and we just needed to get a little good fortune on our side instead of having misfortune. We finally got that last weekend in a big way, and it carried through to this weekend."

About his rookie season:

"We have been up front all year long. We have qualified in the top five every single race. We could have won other races, and we have just had little things happen here and there. Homestead was my fault. At Kansas, we had a wire fall off the alternator, and we were up in the top three with a great chance to win. In Michigan, we had an engine problem on the restart or we would have won there. There are other races, too. At Pikes Peak, we finished second. We have been waiting for that, to get over that hump. I was surprised it took that long to get the first win. We knew that once we finally got it, it was going to carry forward. The whole team had more confidence, and we knew that we could win. This is my first year with Keith Duesenberg Racing. Most of the guys have been together for several years now, so I was hoping that once they realized that I could get the job done for them, the whole team would step up."

CORY WITHERILL (No. 92 WSA Healthcare Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone):

"It was awesome. In this morning's warm-up, we were the fastest. I just knew that I'd just have to hang in there. It's a long race. It's tough conditions in Turns 1 and 2 with the bumps down there, and with the heat, it makes these cars push out a little more. For the most part, the Hemelgarn/Johnson Delta Faucet/Life Fitness/WSA car was awesome the whole race. We had just a little bit of a push, but for the most part, we just hung in there and helped me finish up at the top which we did. Hopefully, our luck is turning around for us because that's two second places in a row."

About contact between Wood and Erwin:

"Those guys were pretty much driving erratic the whole race. It was just a matter of time before they were going to take each other out. Down the back straightaway going into (Turn) 3, the two of them touched, and I believe it was Brandon Erwin's wing that went flying over me. They straightened out, and then they went into (Turn) 3. I guess Brandon hit Tom Wood, just broke him loose, and then he went right into the wall. He either hit him or it looked like his (Wood's) car just snapped on him real quick, so I don't know. Maybe the wing cut his tire, and it went flat on him because the thing just spun around real quick on him. The next thing I knew they went into the wall and I was dodging parts and cars. This year, we kind of started off very slow. We struggled at Homestead, and then at Phoenix, we were running well, but we spun out on some oil and had a not so great a finish there. Indy was great, but we just really haven't had that luck. Racing is probably 60 percent team and driver and 40 percent luck. Last year, we had probably 50 percent luck, but this year probably none just until these last two races. It's kind of turned around for us. It's been a struggle."

TOMORROW'S SCHEDULE: 7:30 a.m. IndyCar Series garage opens

9:30 a.m. Final IndyCar Series practice

2 p.m. Belterra Casino Indy 300 (200 laps/300 miles) ABC-TV & IMS Radio Network (live)

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Mark Taylor , Greg Ray , Brandon Erwin , Sam Schmidt , Ryan Hampton , Tom Wood , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , Sam Hornish Jr. , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing