BROOKLYN, Mich., Aug. 1, 2004 - If the Indy Racing League awarded championship points for style, outright speed and dogged determination, Tomas Scheckter and the Pennzoil Panther Racing team would have been the big winners in the Michigan Indy...
BROOKLYN, Mich., Aug. 1, 2004 - If the Indy Racing League awarded championship points for style, outright speed and dogged determination, Tomas Scheckter and the Pennzoil Panther Racing team would have been the big winners in the Michigan Indy 400. After starting 13th, Scheckter drove his yellow Chevrolet Dallara through the field, gaining positions with every lap until he was racing the leader. As he entered the Panther Racing pit stall for fuel on the 36th lap, Scheckter was hit by another car, sending crewmen flying and damaging his race car.
Rejoining the race in 20th place, the South African again knifed through the pack to regain his lost lap. An ill-timed caution period negated his determined effort, but he continued the fight and ran as fast as the frontrunners. As he pushed to catch the yellow flag he desperately needed, the fuel cell ran dry, leaving Scheckter to coast into the pits. He ultimately finished 19th, but proved that his car and engine were the equal of any on the 2-mile superspeedway.
Scheckter's teammate Townsend Bell was again Chevy's top finisher, eighth across the stripe in Panther Racing's Menards/Johns Manville Chevrolet Dallara. Bell was on the lead lap after 200 laps and 400 hard miles of racing. Red Bull Cheever Racing teammates Alex Barron and Ed Carpenter finished 11th and 14th respectively. Felipe Giaffone lost a gamble on fuel and finished 16th in the Team Purex/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet Dallara. Jaques Lazier was 18th for Patrick Racing. Buddy Rice scored his third victory of the season in a Honda G Force.
"We were fast from the beginning, and our Chevy was the car to beat today," said Scheckter after his standout performance. "I could drive around people, and when other drivers lifted, I didn't. We just had one of the great setups that Panther has given me so many times this year.
"We were running second, and the team behind me sent their car out and hit us," he explained. "It's just one of those things. I went through the field a couple of times and we showed that we've got a really strong package. We could have been in the top three in this race. We'll come back strong for the rest of the season."
Panther Racing crewman Steve Namisnak sustained a fractured right tibia in the pit lane accident and was transported to Indianapolis for treatment.
Bell ran a different strategy on the high-speed oval and delivered another top-10 finish for Chevrolet.
"Tomas was the rabbit and I was going to be patient and wait for the end," Bell reported. "We did all that fine, but unfortunately I didn't have the balance to push hard at the end. We had good power and I felt that we could run with those guys.
"The car was at its best in the middle of the race," he noted. "We had another top-10 finish and we were on the lead lap, so I'm happy about that."
Alex Barron wasn't able to repeat his victory last year at MIS, but his 11th place finish showed why he is one of the IndyCar Series top drivers.
"We missed our race setup by a little bit, but were able to fix things throughout our pit stops," Barron said. "Overall, my car had a really good balance and was good in traffic, but we just couldn't keep up with the front pack. By the end of the race my car was running great, but we were still pretty far behind. It's not a race win like last year, but it's still good points for the team.
Barron's rookie teammate Ed Carpenter also ran a clean race and brought his Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara home in 14th.
"It was a really long day," Carpenter said after finishing his second 400-mile race. "We were struggling quite a bit throughout the whole race, but we stuck with it and kept digging. Our first goal was to finish the race and get some points, so we accomplished that. We initially put too much downforce on the car and had to keep making changes when we came into the pits."
The Red Bull Cheever Racing team will conduct a test with Firestone at MIS on Monday to continue to work on their speedway setups.
Felipe Giaffone lost radio contact with spotter Robbie Buhl and the Dreyer & Reinbold pits. Hampered by communication difficulties, the team gambled on a late-race caution to gain track position.
"We tried a different strategy at the end with the pit stops," said Giaffone. "It maybe cost us a couple of spots, but it was the right call. It was the only way for us to gain spots because we really wanted a top-10 finish.
"It was a frustrating day with the radio because I could hardly hear. It didn't cost us anything, but it was hard to hear the spotter and the team. I was concerned around people when we were three-wide because I couldn't hear Robbie and I was just going by my mirrors."
After three races in three weeks, the IRL IndyCar Series will take a break next weekend. The competition will resume on Sunday, August 15, at Kentucky Speedway. The Belterra Casino Indy 300, the 11th round of the 16-race IndyCar Series, will start at 3:30 p.m. EDT and will be televised live on ABC.