IRL: Rice reels in Kanaan for Michigan win

IRL: Rice reels in Kanaan for Michigan win

In another barn-burner of a race on the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway oval, Buddy Rice won his third Indy Racing League IndyCar Series event of the year in the ...

In another barn-burner of a race on the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway oval, Buddy Rice won his third Indy Racing League IndyCar Series event of the year in the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda.

Buddy Rice.
Photo by Loran Hygema - KOZ DPI.
With his third 2004 victory Rice ties the man he chased - as did most everyone else all afternoon - Tony Kanaan's #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda, taking the checkered flags by a margin of .0796 seconds. This Michigan Indy 400 was the fourth fastest event in IRL history at 182.123mph.

"These long races are mental races," Rice maintained. "We've concentrated on being super strong on running in the pack during races and haven't been overly concerned with qualifying. When we needed to run full rich we could and we pulled away," he said. Rather than leading easily, as did Kanaan, "I needed to stay where I was at. Fuel wasn't going to be an issue for us. When it was time I went to the high side and drove around Tony."

Kanaan needed to cede to the Arizonan after being at the front of the field for 183 of 200 laps. Rice took the lead on the 190th lap and stayed in front for the win.

Tony Kanaan.
Photo by Chris Jones - IRL.
Kanaan was visibly disappointed after having the best car on the track since he unloaded on Friday. "I had a fun car to drive today and did my job," he said sullenly. "Somebody got by. Of course it hurts right now but I couldn't have made it [to the checkered flags] on fuel. Today we were smart, but the other team was smarter than us."

Fuzz-headed Dan Wheldon finished third with the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda after staying in the lead pack all afternoon from eighth on the grid. "This was a very fast, intense, amazing race," Wheldon declared afterwards. "For the most part it was very clean, too. This was a reasonable result for us but I'm disappointed our team didn't win today. Any podium finish," he said, "bodes well for the balance of the season."

Sam Hornish was fourth with his #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota, with Toyota's stepped up engine. The 2001-2 IRL champ "gave it all we had today and at least we were able to bring it home fourth. We had a good handling car and were able to run in the top five most of the day."

Vitor Meira took fifth in the #17 Team Centrix Panoz G Force/Honda despite any number of incidents. "We had a flat tire, we had a bent front wing and we had an accident in the pits. Everyone changed the tire and the wing real quick and that's what I call teamwork. I was really pushing, but everybody was pretty crazy there in the last ten laps, which is normal" for Michigan.

Bryan Herta drove a strong race from ninth on the grid to take sixth in the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda. While he never led the race, the Michigan-born driver rarely exited the top ten in the standings today.

2003 IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon earned seventh in his #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota and, while he struggled at the start, "I had a very decent car on the last stint and we ran strong at the front. We have a lot of positives to take from this weekend and build on that."

Dan Wheldon.
Photo by Chris Jones - IRL.
Another good showing for Townsend Bell landed the IRL newcomer in eighth place at the close in his #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet this afternoon. "Another consistent finish and we ran well on the lead lap." Although he struggled at the start of the race, "moving around a lot in traffic," the middle section was when "we felt the best in traffic. It's great to have Panther as the top Chevrolet again."

Ninth went to Scott Sharp who started the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota back in 18th place today. "It was nice to finally put a race together that we feel good about and with a strong finish," Sharp admitted. "We didn't have the speed of the front running cars, so to be able to find a way to bring it home ninth is nice."

Helio Castroneves, who began the race in 20th position after changing the engine on his #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota following qualifying (where he was second fastest), finally ended up in tenth place, the final car on the lead lap. "It's a shame we weren't able to finish in the top five," after running at the front much of the day. "Unfortunately, there were a couple of incidents in front of me towards the end of the race. The good news is we took big steps this weekend and our car was competitive."

There was only one retirement after 400 miles of hard racing today - Dario Franchitti's #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda suffered from overheating and was forced to withdraw.

Incredibly there was no contact on the 2-mile Michigan oval but there sure was plenty in the pits. In a race that actually did not begin until the cars had completed one parade, two pace and two caution laps (for improper alignment), the first incident came during green-flag pit stops on laps 35-6.

Tomas Scheckter (#4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet) and Tora Takagi's #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota touched, causing Scheckter to spin, make contact with the pit wall and one of his crewmen, fueler Steve Namisnak. A fractured right tibia will likely keep Namisnak out of action for a while.

There was a five-lap yellow for debris following that incident, but once they went green again, Kanaan pulled away once more, seemingly able to pull out leads of half a second without any trouble.

After pitting on lap 81, Kanaan regained the lead and held it when debris was reported at the pit entrance, causing the second yellow of another five laps. On lap 123, debris was reported on the backstretch when Castroneves and Meira touched, bunching up the field once more.

Most of the leaders came in for fuel and Firestone tires on lap 125 and there was contact in the pits a second time, this time between Meira, Adrian Fernandez' #5 Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda and Wheldon's right-front tire changer. No injury was reported by the IRL. At that time Castroneves' team supplied him with a new nosecone, damaged by the contact with Meira.

During that caution, Darren Manning was the leader in his #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota. He ran strongly throughout the day in fact and, until the penultimate lap it looked like the Briton would finally see a good finish.

That wasn't to be, thanks to Tomas Scheckter. Battling back after his pit road incident, the South African ran with the leaders in the latter stages of the race. Receiving the blue "move over" flag countless times, Scheckter chose to race nonetheless and impacted the finish in doing so.

Trying to regain laps he battled Kanaan and, when he ran too far, Scheckter depleted his supply of methanol, bringing out the caution on lap 156 for a tow-in.

That final caution also set the scene for the last pit road incident, as Fernandez spun and made contact with the right front tire changer on teammate Kosuke Matsuura's #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda! In addition to that ignominy, he was meted a stop-and-go penalty once the track went green for the final time.

Scheckter continued to run with the leaders under green while Matsuura pitted on the 188th lap to replace his nose cone, pushing the hapless rookie down to 17th at the close.

Tomas Scheckter wasn't done though and, on the white flag lap he was battling with Dixon, Wheldon, Hornish and Manning. Pushing one into another, contact resulted in Manning losing part of his front wing and pushing him down to an unlucky 13th place after racing in the top ten all day long. Scheckter was listed in 19th place.

As the teams exited the Irish Hills of Michigan to head back to their shops, Kanaan continues to lead the point standings with 400, while Rice creeps up with 343 points. Wheldon rebounded with his third place finish to hold 311 third-place points, Castroneves is fourth with 280 and Hornish holds fifth with 267.

The 11th race in this 16-event campaign, the Belterra Casino Indy 300 takes place in two weeks at Kentucky Speedway. Can it get any more exciting than this?

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Darren Manning , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Adrian Fernandez , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Townsend Bell , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Kosuke Matsuura , Chris Jones , Jim Beam , Sam Hornis , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske