Target Team Puts Up Great Fight On Mean Streets of St.Petes St. Petersburg, Florida-- Sunday, April 3rd, 2005--Palm trees swayed gently as the Florida sun shone down on the waterfront and streets of St.Petersburg, Florida, but once the green...
Target Team Puts Up Great Fight On Mean Streets of St.Petes
St. Petersburg, Florida-- Sunday, April 3rd, 2005--Palm trees swayed gently as the Florida sun shone down on the waterfront and streets of St.Petersburg, Florida, but once the green flag dropped, the city was anything but calm and relaxing as all three Target Toyota Panoz cars and the rest of the IndyCar field roared by fans to take their first right turn into Indy Racing League history.
It was to be a wild 100-lap contest around the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg, 14-corner temporary street circuit for the three Target Chip Ganassi Racing drivers who, following Saturday's single-lap qualifying attempts would have their work cut out for them. Ryan Briscoe was the highest qualifying team entry putting the #33 Target Pioneer Toyota in 10th spot on the grid. Scott Dixon's #9 Target car took the start in 11th spot, while Darren Manning started from the 8th row after problems in qualifying relegated the team much further back than expected.
It wasn't long before differing pit strategies and a few gambles with Firestone tires put the Target team up front on several occasions culminating with rookie Briscoe and teammate Manning leading the field on lap 81. The Target team looked poised for a podium finish when, following a restart on lap 82, a hard charging Tony Kanaan would push his way past Manning and then make a charge to challenge Briscoe for the lead. With just 9 laps to go heading into turn 10, Kanaan made contact with the #33 Target Pioneer Toyota sending the young rookie into the tire barrier and ending his hopes of a top 5 finish.
"We had a truly amazing race where the Target Team did absolutely everything right." said Briscoe who led on three occasions for 43 laps, the most of any driver. "We struggled all weekend long and ended up 10th on the grid but from there the Target Toyota was perfect. We had the perfect strategy, the Target crew had perfect pit stops, we led laps and were up front fighting for the win and that was awesome. For it to end this way is very disappointing. In the drivers meeting we were told by Brian Barnhart that if you make a move to pass you have to do it before the apex. Coming off turn 9 and going into the kink, I honestly made sure to break late but I took a look and Kanaan wasn't there. I was very surprised by the move because that was a risky passing zone and he simply threw his car into the turn and you can see the result. I was the leader and we were fighting for the win, and I was up for the challenge and I held my line so I guess we'll call this a racing incident."
Darren Manning, who from the start of the race was hampered by no radio communication with the team, drove a stellar run to the front and led three laps. Contact with Kanaan and lack of grip ended up relegating him back to ninth place finish.
"That last yellow really killed our race," said Manning, who now holds seventh place in the driver standings with 74 points. "We took a gamble on our last stop to not get fresh tires and with the yellow it ended up costing us. My hot tires ended up picking up a lot of the marbles and it took a few laps to get rid of them. I didn't have any grip and by the time we got up to speed, with the others on newer tires, it didn't work in our favour. If it had stayed green I think we would have been alright. As for Kanaan, You can't really see beside you in the corners. I knew he was close and I gave him room but had no where to go. It was light contact but without more grip on my tires I didn't have much chance to save it. It was a great effort by the Target team."
Scott Dixon, who also took a gamble on tires by remaining on the set he originally started on until the final pit stop on lap 62, had made his way up the field to as high as second place but also had several contacts on track.
"The Target team did a great job preparing what should have been a top 3 car today but we took a gamble that didn't quite pay off," said Dixon who recovered to take a sixth place finish. "We stayed on the Firestone tires that we started with until the last stop and they really held up. But the Target Toyota had a lot of understeer especially on cold tires and that really killed our last stint. I was fighting with Manning and he was struggling with grip at that point as well, when (Kosuke) Matsuura got into the mix and we made contact and that dropped me way back. It's a little disappointing because I feel like we had a much better finish in us but it was a hard fought battle."
"The Target Team had what was the makings of a great day today," said Target team owner Chip Ganassi. "All three of our guys worked hard out there. We were out front and battling as we always expect to do. Ryan showed his mettle today and he was holding his own out there. Tony Kanaan has often been in that position himself and gotten the short end of the stick. It was a good battle. He's a veteran and a champ but I don't know that he had to do that to go for the win."
Dan Wheldon was the eventual race winner, his second victory of the season, as he slipped past his teammate Kanaan following the altercation with Briscoe. They were joined by fellow teammate Dario Franchitti on the podium in third spot, in what would end up being the first 1-2-3-4 finish by a team in series history
Target Chip Ganassi Racing will be firing on all cylinders as they prepare to head overseas for the Indy Japan 300 at Motegi, Japan. Prior to departure the team has plenty of events on tap; Target Chip Ganassi Racing will be hosting a media dinner at its Indianapolis race shop facility on Wednesday, April 6th. Meanwhile, Scott Dixon will also be taking part in a three day Firestone test this coming week (April 5-6-7)at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, then the following week (April 12-13) all three Target drivers and cars will be at the road course test at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California.
The team will be back on track in three weeks time as the Indy Racing League returns to Japan's Twin Ring Motegi track for the fourth race of the 17-race IndyCar Series. Target fans can tune in to watch the Indy Japan 300 on ESPN2 at midnight (EDT) Saturday, April 30th or they can listen in on the IMS Radio Network. Throughout the 2005 season, fans are invited to follow the team's progress by logging onto their official website at targetracing.com for news, features, photos and much more.