IRL: Nazareth: Firestone Indy 225 postscript

Sharp's late push helped ensure victory; Hornish's hot streak finally ends. NAZARETH, Pa., Monday, April 22, 2002 -- Scott Sharp won the Firestone Indy 225 when leader Gil de Ferran ran out of fuel on the final lap April 21 at Nazareth Speedway,...

Sharp's late push helped ensure victory; Hornish's hot streak finally ends.

NAZARETH, Pa., Monday, April 22, 2002 -- Scott Sharp won the Firestone Indy 225 when leader Gil de Ferran ran out of fuel on the final lap April 21 at Nazareth Speedway, but Sharp had a hand in ensuring that de Ferran's tank went dry.

Marlboro Team Penske owner Roger Penske decided to gamble on fuel strategy with de Ferran, keeping him on the track for the final 130 laps of the 225-lap Indy Racing League event without a fuel stop. Penske hoped either rain would end the race early or de Ferran would conserve enough fuel during the lengthy caution periods to have enough to run to the finish.

de Ferran took the lead from teammate Castroneves on Lap 178 during a caution period when Castroneves made his final pit stop. The race stayed under caution due to rain until Lap 206, when Sharp was able to race with full fuel flow to gain time on de Ferran, who was forced to "run lean" to conserve fuel.

"We knew we had enough fuel there at the end," said Tom Kelley, owner of Sharp's No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. "We just told Scott to push Gil as hard as he possibly could. Fortunately, maybe that ate up an extra half of a gallon or whatever it took for him to run out at the end."

Sharp followed orders perfectly.

He trailed de Ferran by .6819 of a second on Lap 212 but sliced that gap to .2171 of a second on Lap 221. de Ferran expanded the lead to .37 of a second on Lap 224, but Sharp already had done his damage to Penske's fuel strategy by chasing de Ferran hard after the restart on Lap 206.

Still, even after passing de Ferran's No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone on the back straightaway, Sharp had to worry about pressure from the No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone of Felipe Giaffone, who trailed just behind Sharp from the restart on Lap 206. Sharp held off Giaffone by .4959 of a second at the finish.

"It was back and forth," Sharp said. "I just had to do whatever I had to do to keep him behind me and still try to keep pushing Gil as hard as possible. They told me to push Gil as hard as you can, let's try to run him out of fuel."

de Ferran had no regrets about Penske's strategy.

"I think it was the right call from many points of view," he said. "At one point, the sky looked pretty dark, so the race could have been rained out at any moment then. I think with this sort of situation, you got to stretch it for as long as you can because that was certainly a possibility.

"Obviously, the second possibility, if rain continued to go on and off intermittently, is we would have enough fuel to get to the end. I think it made sense from two points of view. Certainly we were very, very close to getting it right. But, you know, I think the last thought, at least in my mind, this was a great run for us. We had a great car all day, very, very fast."

***

Hornish's near-perfect streak ends: The incredible streak of consistency posted by Indy Racing League points leader Sam Hornish Jr. since joining Pennzoil Panther Racing before the start of last season ended at the Firestone Indy 225.

Hornish had completed 3,243 of 3,250 possible laps in 16 starts with Pennzoil Panther since last season opened in March 2001 at Phoenix International Raceway. But Hornish collided with Buddy Lazier on Lap 38 while attempting to race four-wide on Nazareth's narrow 1-mile oval, damaging the left-front suspension on Hornish's No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

2001 IRL champion Hornish spent 47 laps in the pits for repairs before returning to the race. He finished 17th -- the worst finish of his Panther tenure -- and was 49 laps down.

"It wasn't what I wanted my race to be," Hornish said. "I got a little anxious at the beginning and got my nose put in somewhere where I couldn't get it back out of. Buddy (Lazier) and I bumped.

"It was one of those things where it was just a lack of room. I was trying to get back out of there, and there was just nowhere to go. I could either run into the outside wall or try to squeeze back in there, but I couldn't. I don't know what else I could do about it. I'll have to look at the replay to see what really happened."

Hornish did continue his league-record streak of running at the finish in 17 consecutive starts with Panther Racing.

***

Fisher impressive in return: Sarah Fisher finished fourth in her first Indy Racing League start since last October, driving the No. 24 Team Purex/Aventis/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing G Force/Infiniti/Firestone. Fisher substituted for Robbie Buhl, recovering from a concussion suffered during the Yamaha Indy 400 weekend in late March at California Speedway.

Team co-owner/driver Buhl provided great advice to Fisher, who recently was released from her contract with Walker Racing after that team couldn't find funding to field a full-time IRL entry for her this season. Buhl recorded four top-three finishes, including two victories, at Nazareth in Indy Lights competition between 1990-95.

That experience helped Fisher, making her first career start on the tricky 1-mile oval.

"Robbie has had such great success here, and his experience was such a tremendous advantage for me," Fisher said. "I've never worked with such an awesome driving coach. One of the reasons it was so great is that he can feel it. You can see it in his eyes."

Fisher also had high praise for the Infiniti engine after her first experience with the powerplant.

"The Infiniti engine gave us the power all day, especially in the last pass," Fisher said. "It's the best low-torque engine I've ever driven."

***

F1 team boss enjoys IRL: OrangeArrows Formula One team principal Tom Walkinshaw was an interested spectator at the Firestone Indy 225 and was impressed by the racing.

Walkinshaw is the chairman of TWR Group, which builds the Infiniti engines used by Indy Racing League teams.

"It's good racing, and we enjoy it," Walkinshaw said. "It's been a big challenge. All the guys really enjoy it, and we're happy to be here."

Walkinshaw and his team will return to the U.S. for the third annual SAP United States Grand Prix on Sept. 29 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

***

Facts and figures: Facts and figures from the Firestone Indy 225:

*Scott Sharp's victory was the seventh of his career, moving him into second place on the all-time IRL win list behind Buddy Lazier, who has eight. Sharp's last victory came in the Casino Magic 500 in June 2001 at Texas Motor Speedway.

*Scott Sharp has now won at least one race in a record six consecutive Indy Racing seasons.

*Felipe Giaffone finished second today, tying his career best. He finished second in the Casino Magic 500 in June 2001 at Texas Motor Speedway. Scott Sharp also won that race.

*Alex Barron's sixth-place finish was a career-best. His previous best was an eighth-place finish at his Indy Racing debut in March at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

*Gil de Ferran earned the 137th career Indy-style pole for Marlboro Team Penske.

*Teammates Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves swept the front-row starting positions for this race. Marlboro Team Penske became the first team to capture the entire front row for an IRL race since August 2001, when Scott Sharp won the MBNA Pole and Mark Dismore started second for Kelley Racing in the Belterra Casino Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Felipe Giaffone , Robbie Buhl , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Mark Dismore , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Alex Barron , Roger Penske , Sam Hornish Jr. , Mo Nunn
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing