RICHMOND, Va., Saturday, June 30, 2001 -- Virginia, the birthplace of patriots, statesmen and presidents, is now the new home of Indy car racing. Buddy Lazier became the first driver to win an Indy Racing League event in the commonwealth when he...
RICHMOND, Va., Saturday, June 30, 2001 -- Virginia, the birthplace of patriots, statesmen and presidents, is now the new home of Indy car racing. Buddy Lazier became the first driver to win an Indy Racing League event in the commonwealth when he finished 4.88 seconds ahead of Sam Hornish Jr. in the inaugural SunTrust Indy Challenge tonight at Richmond International Raceway. It was the second straight win for the reigning Indy Racing Northern Light Series champion, who prevailed two weeks ago at Pikes Peak International Raceway.
The first championship of the season was also determined tonight as Lazier's victory mathematically clinched Oldsmobile's fifth consecutive IRL Engine Manufacturers championship. With seven victories in seven races, Oldsmobile has an insurmountable lead over Infiniti.
"When Oldsmobile entered open-wheel racing under the leadership of former general manager John Rock, our goals were to win races and to bring the proud tradition of Oldsmobile's motorsports heritage to a new arena," said Debra Kelly-Ennis, Oldsmobile general manager. "We have done just that, winning every IRL race but one, winning the Indianapolis 500 five straight years and starting on the pole in every IRL event since 1997. Winning our fifth consecutive Manufacturers Championship puts an exclamation point on Oldsmobile's unprecedented record of success in Indy Racing competition."
Lazier dominated the 250-lap contest on the shortest track on the IRL tour, leading a total of 224 laps. He took the point on the first lap when he passed his younger brother Jaques, who started on the pole. Buddy led 187 circuits before relinquishing the lead when a fogged helmet visor obscured his vision and he missed his pit box. Running third, Lazier reclaimed the lead for good when race leader Eliseo Salazar and second-place driver Eddie Cheever Jr. tangled on lap 213.
"It was a very demanding race physically," said Lazier, who survived withering heat and humidity to score his record-tying sixth career IRL victory. "I had an awesome car all night and I was going to give it everything I had to get around those two. I saw it coming when those two went in there. It was a close call for me."
With his fifth Top Four finish of the season, Hornish now leads the championship race by a 50-point margin over Lazier. "The biggest thing is to keep getting points and bringing the car home," said Sam. "We've finished all but five laps this year. Panther Racing does an awesome job of giving me cars that stay together for the entire race -- and they give me a fast car, too."
Galles Racing teammates Al Unser Jr. and Didier Andre finished third and fourth respectively as the 3/4-mile "Action Track" lived up to its billing. "I had a great time out there," Unser exclaimed after his best finish of the season. "This was a really, really fun race for me. This was the tightest and smallest racetrack I've been on in years. We could run high, we could run low, we could run anywhere we wanted to."
Lazier's Hemelgarn Racing Oldsmobile Dallara averaged 97.435 mph and turned the fastest lap of the race at 154.896 mph. Oldsmobile engines led all 250 laps, swept the first eight finishing positions and powered nine of the ten cars running at the finish.
IRL Aurora V8 engines prepared by Speedway Engine Development of Indianapolis powered the winner and runner-up for the second straight race. Speedway-prepared Oldsmobile racing engines have now won four of seven IRL events this season.
"The inaugural event on the Richmond short-track highlighted a different aspect of the IRL Aurora V8's performance," said Joe Negri, GM Racing IRL/Road Racing Group manager. "Midrange torque and the engine's ability to accelerate quickly out of the corners took precedence over absolute horsepower because of the range of engine speeds that is required on a small oval."
There will be no rest and relaxation over the Fourth of July holiday for IRL teams as they travel to the new Kansas Speedway 1.5-mile oval next weekend for the inaugural Ameristar Casino Indy 200 on Sunday, July 8. The race will be televised on ABC at 1 p.m. EDT.
Track: Richmond International Raceway, .75-mile oval Winner: Buddy Lazier, Hemelgarn Racing Oldsmobile Dallara Margin of Victory: 4.8828 seconds Average Speed: 97.435 mph Pole: Jaques Lazier/Oldsmobile, 160.417 mph (track record) Fastest Lap: Buddy Lazier/Oldsmobile, 154.896 mph
Top Five Finishers Pos./Driver/Engine/Laps 1. Buddy Lazier/Oldsmobile, 250 laps 2. Sam Hornish Jr./Oldsmobile, 250 3. Al Unser Jr./Oldsmobile, 250 4. Didier Andre/Oldsmobile, 250 5. Scott Sharp/Oldsmobile, 249
Manufacturer Results Laps Led: Oldsmobile 200, Infiniti 0 Starters: Oldsmobile 18, Infiniti 2 Running at Finish: Oldsmobile 10, Infiniti 1
Championship Standings After 7 of 13 events
Driver/Engine/Points (victories in parentheses) 1. Sam Hornish Jr./Oldsmobile, 269 (2) 2. Buddy Lazier/Oldsmobile, 219 (2) 3. Scott Sharp/Oldsmobile, 201 (1) 4. Eliseo Salazar/Oldsmobile, 191 5. Felipe Giaffone/Oldsmobile, 185
Manufacturer/Points (victories in parentheses) 1. Oldsmobile, 70 (7) 2. Nissan, 49 (0)
Next Race July 8, 2001, Ameristar Casino Indy 200, Kansas City, Kan., 1.5-mile oval TV: ABC, 1:00 p.m. EDT
E-mail from: Rick Voegelin, 30-Jun-2001