Dixon dominates; Equipment damage minimal RICHMOND, Va., Monday, June 30, 2003 -- With 31 of the 77 IRL IndyCarTM Series events since the series' inception in 1996 having a finishing margin of less than one second, it's safe to say that...
Dixon dominates; Equipment damage minimal
RICHMOND, Va., Monday, June 30, 2003 -- With 31 of the 77 IRL IndyCarTM Series events since the series' inception in 1996 having a finishing margin of less than one second, it's safe to say that dominance is rare in the IndyCar Series.
However, every once in a while, a driver completely rules a race weekend. Scott Dixon was that driver at the SunTrust Indy Challenge.
Dixon, 22, from Auckland, New Zealand, may want to call Richmond, Va., home considering the success he has enjoyed at Richmond International Raceway in the last month.
He showed up at the IRL Open Test on May 29 and said he though he'd pulled into a go-kart track. But he quickly posted the fastest speed during the rain-shortened test. The team came back May 30 to finish the test, and once again Dixon put his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone on top of the speed charts.
When Dixon returned to Richmond on June 27, he was fastest in the first two practice sessions and then won the MBNA Pole despite running out of fuel on Lap 2 of his run between Turns 3 and 4.
He then led the final 30-minute practice session that evening and headed into race day with plenty of confidence.
The SunTrust Indy Challenge was no different than testing, practice or qualifying. Dixon jumped from the MBNA Pole, led all 206 laps of the rain-shortened race and won his second consecutive IRL IndyCar Series event and his third of the season.
Dixon, the only driver with multiple victories this season, became the first driver in IRL IndyCar Series history to lead every lap of an event.
So despite never seeing the track before the May 29-30 IRL Open Test, Dixon came, saw and dominated.
"I think generally that's where my strong point is, adapting to circuits fast," Dixon said. "I think the big thing is the team has supplied great cars. That's what made Tomas (Scheckter's) and my job easier everywhere we have gone. We might have been off a little at some places, but the majority of the time we have a fast car."
Dixon set an IndyCar Series record for most consecutive laps led over two races. He led the last 84 laps June 15 en route to victory at Pikes Peak and all 206 laps at Richmond for a total of 290 consecutive laps led over the last two races.
Safe night in Richmond:
The first two IRL IndyCar Series events at Richmond International Raceway were slowed by several caution periods, including nine cautions for 89 laps in 2001 and eight cautions for 94 laps in 2002. Seven cars were eliminated by accidents each year.
But the talented and skilled IndyCar Series drivers put on a smooth and relatively clean show June 28 at the tight, .3/4-mile Richmond International Raceway.
Twenty of the 22 cars were running at the finish of the race, which ended 44 laps early due to rain. There were only two accidents, each only involving one car. Vitor Meira crashed in Turn 2 on Lap 56 and A.J. Foyt IV crashed in Turn 2 on Lap 130.
There were only five cautions for 58 laps, and several of those laps were due to a small power outage that affected the track lighting system from Laps 135-154. Nine laps also were conducted under caution at the end of the race when rain started falling.
Brian Barnhart, senior vice president for racing operations for the Indy Racing League, was happy with the safe race and low number of cautions.
"I was very pleased," Barnhart said. "The drivers did a good job of giving and taking considering the small confines of Richmond. They're were very considerate of each other yet raced very hard and fair. They've got to keep that up at Kansas and the rest of the season."
A rare night:
Scott Dixon becoming the first driver to lead every lap of an IndyCar Series event wasn't the only rare item of interest during the weekend of the SunTrust Indy Challenge on June 27-28.
For the first time in series history, other than Indianapolis 500 qualifying when qualifying is contested over three days, MBNA Pole Qualifying was interrupted by rain and then continued. Fourteen drivers qualified before a downpour halted qualifying for one hour. The remaining seven qualifiers, included MBNA Pole winner Scott Dixon, qualified after the track dried.
While light rain has interrupted qualifying for a few minutes, never before had a qualifying session been halted for a long period of time and then resumed.
Also rare was the race ending early due to rain. The SunTrust Indy Challenge was ended after 206 of the 250 laps due to rain at Richmond International Raceway. It was only the second time in series history that a race had been cut short due to rain. Eddie Cheever Jr. won at Walt Disney World Speedway in 1997 when the race was ended on Lap 149 of the scheduled 200 laps.
Dixon, who has won two consecutive races, can accomplish a rare feat at the Kansas Indy 300 on July 6. Should he win the event, he would become only the second driver to win three consecutive IndyCar Series events. Kenny Brack won at Charlotte, Pikes Peak and Atlanta in succession en route the 1998 IRL IndyCar Series championship.
Hornish again climbs through field:
For the second consecutive race, Sam Hornish Jr. climbed his way through the field after a problem early in the race. On June 15 at Pikes Peak, Hornish ran out of fuel and went a lap down and out of the top 10 early in the race before finishing fifth.
At Richmond, Hornish started third and was running fourth when he made his first pit stop on Lap 61. When he left his pit box, his No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone made contact with Felipe Giaffone's No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone.
The contact caused Hornish to have to pit again on Lap 64 and Lap 72. The car suffered minimal damage, but Hornish reported that his steering was knocked slightly off line.
"I got waved (out of the pits)," Hornish said. "I couldn't see (Felipe) Giaffone. They told us too late. I hit the brakes, but we bumped wheel to wheel and bent the right front tie rod and the wing a little bit. We figured that we'd just go out there and keep pushing it hard. It took a little bit of the balance away from the car, but we were still running pretty fast, so we were happy about that."
On Lap 100, Hornish was 14th, the last car on the lead lap. By Lap 135, he was up to ninth and by Lap 163, he was in seventh. On Lap 173, he passed Dan Wheldon for sixth, then passed Giaffone for fifth 10 laps later. On Lap 185, Hornish made his final move of the night, passing points leader Tony Kanaan for fourth. On Lap 199, the yellow flag came out for rain, and the race was ended on Lap 206.
"We had a really good-handling car and kind of some of that luck that we haven't had this year," Hornish said. "We were doing the right things on the racetrack. We haven't had the best of luck in the pits this year. It's kind of one thing after another."
"The Pennzoil Panther team, we all work together and try to do the best we can, and we'll keep trying to win these races. It's fun to go out there and pass people, but sooner or later, we're going to get there."
SUNTRUST INDY CHALLENGE NOTES:
Buddy Rice has now been running at the finish in all 12 of his career IRL IndyCar Series starts, dating back to his debut in July 2002 at Michigan. Sam Hornish Jr. holds the record for most consecutive races running at the finish with 18.
By winning $63,400 for his fourth place finish in the SunTrust Indy Challenge, Sam Hornish Jr. became just the third driver in IRL IndyCar Series who has earned $6 million. Buddy Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2000 IRL IndyCar Series champion, is the top career earner, with $8,649,159, while 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. is second with $6,265,893. Two-time defending IndyCar Series champion Hornish is third with $6,053,455.