Sharp leads Chevy 1-2-3 sweep in Nazareth. NAZARETH, Pa., April 21, 2002 -- Scott Sharp's prayers were answered when race leader Gil de Ferran ran out fuel two turns from the finish line at today's inaugural Firestone Indy 225 at Nazareth ...
Sharp leads Chevy 1-2-3 sweep in Nazareth.
NAZARETH, Pa., April 21, 2002 -- Scott Sharp's prayers were answered when race leader Gil de Ferran ran out fuel two turns from the finish line at today's inaugural Firestone Indy 225 at Nazareth Speedway. Sharp passed de Ferran and scored his seventh career IRL victory, leading a Chevy 1-2-3 sweep in the first Indy Racing League event on the tough 1-mile oval.
"I've got to thank the man above," exclaimed Sharp. "I just kept the hammer down because it's so hard to pass here. All of a sudden Gil ran out and I gassed it."
On a bitterly cold and overcast day in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, Sharp edged runner-up Felipe Giaffone by .4969 seconds, while de Ferran coasted across the line to finish third. Penske Racing's gamble on fuel strategy nearly paid off as the 35-gallon tank in de Ferran's Marlboro Dallara finally ran dry after his Chevy Indy V8 completed 130 laps without a pit stop. Running on a different pit strategy, Sharp had plenty of methanol in Kelley Racing's Delphi Chevrolet Dallara and pushed de Ferran hard in the closing laps.
"In the last few laps, it was tough to pass Gil," said Sharp after scoring Chevrolet's fourth straight victory. "I'd get a run on him and the front end would wash out. I saw him lift in the corners to save fuel, so I knew he had to be close. When I saw the white flag, I figured that was it. I kept the hammer down, he slowed in Turn 2, and I jerked the car to the right. I slammed fifth gear and stood on it. I think I would have crashed before I lost the race."
Sharp ran 98 circuits on his final fuel load after his last stop on lap 127. The 98.798 mph average speed for the 225-lap race was slowed by seven caution periods. The Corvette pace car led the most laps as 116 circuits were run under the yellow flag due to four accidents and moisture on the track.
"It was the right call," said de Ferran of Penske's gamble. "The sky looked dark and the race could have been called at any moment. With that situation, you've got to stretch it as long as you can. We were very, very close to getting it right. We had a great car all day, very fast. I'm disappointed not to have won, but overall I'm happy with the day."
De Ferran and his Penske Racing teammate Helio Castroneves, who led 51 laps and finished fifth, had a much better day than IRL points leader Sam Hornish Jr. On the 38th lap, Hornish made hard contact with Buddy Lazier in Turn 3; Lazier was out of the race, and the Panther Racing team had to replace the damaged front suspension on Hornish's Chevrolet Dallara. Sam finished 49 laps behind the winner, but maintained a five-point lead (154-149) over de Ferran in the championship standings. The Panther team's pit work extended Hornish's streak of consecutive finishes to 17 straight races.
Chevrolet engines powered 18 of the 23 starters and 13 of the 17 finishers. Chevy engines prepared by Ilmor Engineering of Plymouth, Mich., first, second, third and fifth.
"Ilmor has been doing a great job with the IRL engines," said de Ferran, who led a total of 86 laps. "Their engine is typically very reliable and very powerful. This track is not really a horsepower track, but I think we had a good engine today."
The Firestone Indy 225 was the final rehearsal for the Indianapolis 500. Practice for the 500-mile classic begins on May 5.
"Today's victory marked another significant step in the development of the new Chevy Indy V8 engine," said Glenn Tayler, GM Racing IRL marketing manager. "The first three races of the season demonstrated the performance and reliability of Chevrolet engines, and today's event showed the package's exceptional fuel efficiency.
"Chevrolet is continuing its winning tradition in open-wheel competition with four straight victories since our return to Indy car racing," Tayler added. "We congratulate Kelley Racing and Scott Sharp on their performance. A 1-2-3 finish for the Chevy Indy V8 boosts Chevy's momentum as we prepare for the Indianapolis 500, the crown jewel of the Indy Racing League series."
Jaques Lazier, runner-up at the preceding race in Fontana, Calif., was involved in an accident with Tomas Scheckter on lap 122. Both drivers were reported to be awake and alert, and were airlifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital for tests and evaluation. No other drivers were injured in the seven accidents.
IRL teams will take a one-week break before starting preparations for the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 26.