IRL: Kudos to Kanaan at Phoenix

IRL: Kudos to Kanaan at Phoenix

Tony Kanaan made it two in a row at the tricky Phoenix International Raceway mile oval today, winning his second consecutive Indy Racing League IndyCar Series Copper World Indy 200 here in searing heat on the second day of spring. Tony...

Tony Kanaan made it two in a row at the tricky Phoenix International Raceway mile oval today, winning his second consecutive Indy Racing League IndyCar Series Copper World Indy 200 here in searing heat on the second day of spring.

Tony Kanaan.
Photo by Helrigel.
His #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda led 2003 IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon's #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota to the flags by .5344 seconds - an eternity in most IRL races - after a late race caution ended on lap 192. "This was a great team effort," Kanaan explained with a grin. "We had a long, long conversation after Homestead. I was not happy with the car then but we came here confident we could do the job.

"The car went off after about 50 laps - it was so hot out there - and we had to work to keep it balanced. It may have looked easy out there but it wasn't," he said. "I knew Scott had a good car but I don't worry about the guy behind. He had to find a way to pass me!"

Dixon wasn't able to pass Kanaan and settled for second place. "I wanted green the whole way," the Kiwi noted. "Then we might have had a chance. The combination of the heat today and the lower downforce on our cars contributed to make it difficult to pass people out there. It was hard to get close enough to make a move, but then it's always difficult to pass on the mile ovals."

Polesitter Dan Wheldon finished third in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda, 6.9959 seconds in arrears. Kanaan passed Wheldon on the first lap and he never did lead a single lap during the contest. "Everything I touched made the car worse today so we reset it to how we started the race and I had a better car" to carry him to the close. This finish marked Wheldon's second straight third place finish; he took P3 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the season opener.

Amazingly, Kanaan led 191 of 200 total laps en route to his dominating victory. Only three other drivers led during the pit stop rotation on this extremely hot day when temperatures reached the 96-degree airborne level and the track sizzled at 123 degrees. A good wind came up about a third into the race to add another wrinkle to the proceedings.

Alex Barron hoisted himself from 17th starting spot to take fourth at the checkered flags for the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet team, their best result since 2002. "I'm quite happy overall," the laconic Californian said. "We were a little bit conservative at the end with the pick-up on the tires. I struggled a bit this weekend, but the engineering staff and the guys put together a good car for me."

Darren Manning in only his second IRL start in the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota earned fifth place and led four laps in the process. The Briton was "pretty pleased. I didn't want to make any silly mistakes and I had a really fast car in the second half of the race. On my own," he advised, "I was really storming."

Helio Castroneves battled a "really loose" #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota and was in 10th place at the end of 50 laps. "We made a wing adjustment on the first stop that was a huge improvement." On his final pit stop Castroneves' crew helped him get back on the lead lap and he finished sixth.

Bryan Herta ran with his three teammates much of the day and brought the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda to the flags in seventh place, giving Andretti Green Racing three cars in the top seven finishing spots. His was the final car on the lead lap.

Tora Takagi had a mid-pack day and finished eighth in the #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota from Mo Nunn Racing, calling the contest "a very long and hot afternoon. The track was especially slippery after the USAC Silver Crown race, but my team did a great job adjusting the car and improving our position."

Buddy Rice persevered in an understeering #15 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Panoz G Force/Honda to earn ninth place, two laps down after starting 12th. "The car just wanted to push to the wall, but I think that was the case for many guys. By lap 20, it was all I could do to hang on and turn the car."

Greg Ray came from 11th grid slot in his #13 Renovac Panoz G Force/Honda to finish tenth, while rookie Kosuke Matsuura earned 11th place in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda, but wasn't terribly pleased with the finish after brushing the wall. "I don't think I did well today," he said. "I was able to practice the draft but a lot of times I almost crashed." Another rookie, Mark Taylor finished 12th in the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet in his second IndyCar Series race.

There were three more drivers running at the close. Scott Sharp was three laps back of the leaders, 13th in the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota after starting 19th. "The guys made good changes and gave me great pit stops," the veteran noted, "but it's tough when you leave the grid" at the blunt end of the standings. A.J. Foyt IV took 14th in the #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota, but didn't appear to be the moving chicane he was here last year.

There were three caution periods for accidents - and no resulting injuries - in the 200-lap race and two of those were for single-car contact with the SAFER barriers installed last year here at PIR. Initially Sam Hornish Jr. did a slow, rear-end spin into Turn 2 on Lap 81 and needed to replace the rear wing of his #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota; he would finish 15th, completing 195 laps.

Hornish did lead four laps during the first pit stop exchange and thought that, from the start he had "a real fast race car. I could move in and out of traffic with a little bit of a push in Turn 2." Once the team swapped tires, though, "the car got really loose after the first stop and it caught me by surprise" when it stepped out on him.

Ed Carpenter caused the second yellow when he executed his own spin at Turn 1 on lap 134, coming to rest about half a car-length from the wall between Turns 1 and 2. It was the rookie's second forced error in as many races after running within the top 12 in his #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet.

With Takagi and Ray mixing it up on Lap 133 Carpenter "tried to take advantage" of their attempts to lap Scott Sharp. "I tried to turn in a little too hard and just pinched it off and spun out. It was just impatience on my part; it's my mistake and it's unacceptable."

The final caution on Lap 184 came for two reasons: initially Robbie Buhl spun in Turn 4 after a rear wing endplate detached, coming to rest in his #24 Purex Dallara/Chevy on the front straight after a miserable weekend here in Phoenix.

Tomas Scheckter had been behind Buhl and checked up the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet from third place. Dario Franchitti, at that time fourth didn't realize Scheckter had slowed and rammed him from behind. "I heard 'yellow, yellow, yellow' and I slowed down and got hit from behind," Scheckter explained.

The Scot's #27 Arca/Ex Dallara/Honda was the final car to exit the race. Franchitti found it "obviously a difficult track out there today. I had a couple of runs at Tomas; one time he blocked me and one time we drove side-by-side for a lap and that was pretty interesting," he remarked. "I came up behind him and no one told me it was a yellow and I tried to slow down but took both of us out. It's very frustrating."

First out of the fray was Adrian Fernandez, making his Indy Racing League debut after joining the series less than two weeks ago. Gearbox problems stopped the #5 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex from even taking the green flags. The Mexican blamed himself: "This was a big part of not being familiar with the car. I made a mistake on the downshift prior to the start," because of the difference in throw distance.

With two races complete in a 16-event campaign, Kanaan has taken a six-point lead over Castroneves heading into the important Twin Ring Motegi round on April 18th in Japan. Wheldon lies third, one point behind Castroneves.

The race has extreme meaning for Honda, which built the 1.5-mile oval (which has several road course configurations as well) to showcase its American racing success. Yet the company has not won an American-style event at home, something that weighs heavily on them.

"Honda has been working so hard," said Kanaan of the engine maker, looking forward to giving them another good result at home. Between now and then, though, the entire Andretti Green Racing crew will be preparing four cars for the team - which is now being called "Animal House" due to the lighthearted nature of the group. "I never thought much about it but it's nice we have fun like that," said team co-owner Michael Andretti. "I guess you could call [IRL senior vice president of racing operations] Brian Barnhart our 'principal'," he laughed.

Racing isn't normally a laughing matter, but at Andretti Green Racing, there's joy in the air these days.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Mark Taylor , Darren Manning , Greg Ray , Robbie Buhl , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , A.J. Foyt IV , Adrian Fernandez , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Kosuke Matsuura , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter , Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske