IRL: Phoenix race report

By Ken Plotkin and David Reininger - Phoenix, AZ (March 18, 2001) -- Sam Hornish Jr dominated the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200, leading 140 laps for his first Indy Racing Northern Light Series victory. At 21 years of age,...

By Ken Plotkin and David Reininger -

Phoenix, AZ (March 18, 2001) -- Sam Hornish Jr dominated the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200, leading 140 laps for his first Indy Racing Northern Light Series victory. At 21 years of age, Hornish is the youngest winner of an Indy Racing event.

Starting from the outside pole position, Hornish took immediate command of the race. He paced the field until Lap 69, when Greg Ray passed him just before the first round of pit stops. Emerging fifth from the pits, Hornish was content to let Greg Ray, Stephan Gregoire, Scott Sharp and visiting CART drivers Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran take turns leading. After the final round of pit stops on lap 128, Hornish resumed the lead for good.

When the checkered flew, Hornish was followed across the line by Eliseo Salazar, Buddy Lazier, Scott Sharp and Billy Boat, all on the same lap. Rookie Felipe Giaffone finished sixth, having stayed on the lead lap until just a few laps before the finish.

Handling traffic was the key to Hornish's victory.

"It was traffic all day long. If there wasn't so much traffic, I would have run away a little bit more. That's part of racing - you have to be able to maneuver and that's what our car could do better than most of the other cars. I could run high or low, it didn't matter where I was at."

During the final segment, Castroneves closed in on Hornish, but "I wasn't really worried as long as I was ahead of him. He wasn't going to be able to go around me on the high side. The only other time I felt real competition was when Eliseo started catching up to me before the last yellow flag. He'd gained some time on me until we got into some traffic. Working though traffic, I was able to put it anywhere, and a lot of guys were not able to go on the high side."

Second place Eliseo Salazar had a more typical Phoenix experience, with traffic playing a factor.

"It was really hard to pass," Salazar said. "The cars were so evenly matched. You really needed a big run. I never thought anyone had a big difference. I was testing Hornish big time just before the last yellow, and I had a run on him. At the end there were three backmarkers in between and I couldn't reel him in."

Salazar noted that, until today, "Out of the top ten, I have finished every place but second. I guess sooner or later we have to get second and it's a good place to do it today with another 14 points."

Third place finisher Buddy Lazier survived driving the last third of the race with his car jammed in fourth gear.

"We didn't have a fifth or sixth gear. Fifth and sixth are our race gears. We raced in fourth gear. We were bouncing off the rev limiter lap after lap. My hat's off to Speedway engines. It's unbelievable that motor lived.

"It hurt us, but at the same time how can you complain? We're on the podium, this is a great way to start the season in defense of the championship."

Scott Sharp's Ilmor engine ran flawlessly all day. His biggest challenge of the day came from the track. "The car was sliding all over the place the last twenty laps, especially between (turns) one and two," said Sharp, who finished three seconds behind Lazier.

Billy Boat's last minute efforts to assemble a team paid dividends today with a solid fifth place finish. "We have to be pleased," said Phoenix resident Boat. "We literally got this car a week ago Thursday, so to do what we've done in that short amount of time says a lot about this Beck Motorsports team."

"This really gives us something to build on. We need consistency, that's the important thing."

Boat set the fastest lap of the race, touring the one-mile desert oval at an average speed of 168.768 mph on lap 94. "If I had the balance all race long that I had during the middle of the race, we could have won this race. My car was awesome in the middle of the race. Right around lap 100, we were faster than anyone on the race track."

Felipe Giaffone drove the Treadway Hubbard Racing Hollywood G Force to sixth place, the highest placing rookie and G Force chassis in the field. "Our goal was to qualify in the top-ten and just finish the race," said the 26-year old Giaffone, who moves to the Northern Light Series from Indy Lights. "I'm really happy with a sixth place finish."

"The crew did a great job, with the car and with the race strategy," said Giaffone, who, at one point, was two laps down to the leader.

"The racing was incredibly close and fast. It took me a while to get use to it, but I was totally comfortable by the end of the race. I'm looking forward to going to Homestead."

Team Penske drivers Gil De Ferran and Helio Castroneves had a mixed day. Running here as a pre-Indianapolis get-acquainted race, both had strong runs, each leading briefly, but neither finishing.

De Ferran's day ended on lap 78, when he checked up at the pit entrance, leading to a three car melee that eliminated himself, Jeret Schroeder and Mark Dismore. "This is obviously not the way we wanted to end the day," said de Ferran, "but we are looking forward to Indy."

Castroneves ran strong, even harassing leader Hornish briefly before pitting on lap 141 with a blown engine. "The engine just let go. Everyone was riding very clean out there with the exception of pit road. I think Team Penske did a good job here and hope we can do better at Indy."

Team owner Roger Penske was satisfied with the results. "I think that we did well. Both cars led the race. We were competitive. Unfortunately, Gil got drilled in the pits. We were right on our strategy, running conservative on fuel. I think we learned a lot. We obviously need to get reliability up to where it needs to be. Hopefully we got our bad luck out of the way today."

Pole sitter Greg Ray had a promising day cut short, leading 43 laps before falling out with a blown engine. "This is really disappointing for Team Menard. It was handling well, and I could run anywhere on the track I wanted. About 30 laps ago, I started to lose power. I think the fuel pressure went low, and I cracked my block."

Stephan Gregoire, who had a strong run in the early stage, leading nine laps, had his day end against the turn 2 wall after contact on a restart. "It was very good for being slippery out there. The car might not have been good enough to win, but it was good enough to lead. It's really a shame. I need a break."

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Stephan Gregoire , Scott Sharp , Billy Boat , Mark Dismore , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Jeret Schroeder , Roger Penske , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske