Marlboro Team Penske Pit Notes March 4, 2003 IT'S DÃ‰JÃ€ VU FOR MARLBORO TEAM PENSKE IN MIAMI Marlboro Team Penske began its second full season in the Indy Racing League (IRL) IndyCar Series this past weekend in Miami at the Toyota Indy 300...
Marlboro Team Penske Pit Notes
March 4, 2003
IT'S DÉJÀ VU FOR MARLBORO TEAM PENSKE IN MIAMI
Marlboro Team Penske began its second full season in the Indy Racing League (IRL) IndyCar Series this past weekend in Miami at the Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. While the final result was exactly the same as in 2002 the manner in which it was reached was very different.
Two-time CART champion Gil de Ferran and 2001 & 2002 Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves were able to bring their identical Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyotas home in second and third respectively as they did in the 2002 season-opener. However, the biggest difference was that both drivers were in the lead pack throughout the day with de Ferran leading a dominating 92 of 200 laps.
Last year, Sam Hornish Jr. started on the pole and led an unprecedented 166 laps on his way to victory, while de Ferran and Castroneves were the only other two drivers in the 25-car field on the lead lap as they finished second and third respectively. While they may have played "catch-up" last season in Miami, this year was a completely different story.
De Ferran, who started fifth, took the lead on lap 47 where he would remain for the next ten laps. Over the course of the following 50 laps, there would be several lead changes, until de Ferran resumed a commanding lead for the next 50 consecutive trips around the 1.5-mile circuit on laps 97-147. Unfortunately, Scott Dixon assumed the lead after the final round of pit stops, during which he beat de Ferran out of pit road. De Ferran maintained his second place position, trailing Dixon across the finish line by a mere 0.5752 seconds.
"It was a very good day for Marlboro Team Penske with Helio and I finishing second and third and for Toyota with a one-two-three finish in their IRL debut," said de Ferran. "We had a great race car and ran strong all day. Unfortunately, (Scott) Dixon just beat us out of the pits on our last stop (lap 147). We were running about the same pace and once he got in the lead we just couldn't get by him. I was trying everything I could to pass him. Every single time he caught a backmarker I closed the gap and thought okay this could be it but he did a great job working the traffic and didn't make any mistakes. While it was a good result, it is only the first race and we need to keep our focus and get ready for Phoenix."
De Ferran continued his streak of strong season openers by adding one more top-two finish for a total of three career top-two finishes at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Marlboro Team Penske teammate, Castroneves also recorded a solid start to the season by repeating his third place finish at Miami from one year ago. Starting from fourth, Castroneves led five laps while following behind teammate de Ferran for most of the day. "I'm very happy to have finished third this afternoon," said Castroneves after the race. "It's a great result and I'm glad we're starting the season off on the right foot. At the beginning of the race, the Marlboro Team Penske car was handling very well and was really strong. Towards the end of the race, the wind began affecting the set-up of the car and I just focused on keeping up with the leaders. Fortunately, I was able to hold on and bring the car home in third. The Team did a fantastic job on all of our pit stops and this was a good way to begin the year. Now we have to work hard to make sure we carry this momentum through the season and remain competitive."
GIL DE FERRAN WINS THE FIRST MARLBORO LAP LEADER AWARD OF 2003
Marlboro Team Penske driver Gil de Ferran led the most laps this past weekend; after being at the top of the leader board for 92 of the 200 laps on his way to earning a second place finish. De Ferran earned two extra points for leading the most laps and is second in the IRL Championship point standings, just eight points behind series leader Scott Dixon. De Ferran will be presented with his Lap Leader Award check for $7,500 during the pre-race ceremonies at the Purex Dial Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 23rd.
In addition, Jim Pedley of the Kansas City Star was this season's first winner of the Marlboro Lap Leader Award Media Contest. During each IRL event, journalists have the opportunity to enter an on-site contest to predict who will lead the most laps, and how many that driver will lead, in a given race. Pedley, who guessed that de Ferran would lead 90 of the 200 laps in the race, won a Maurice Lacroix Swiss Watch.
DE FERRAN EARNS FIRESTONE PERFORMANCE AWARD
Marlboro Team Penske driver Gil de Ferran earned a $10,000 bonus check from the Firestone Racing program, because he was leading at lap 72 in the Toyota Indy 300 on Sunday. The award celebrates Firestone tires being in all 72 Indy Racing League events conducted since the first competition in 1996. The check will be presented to de Ferran during the pre-race ceremonies at the March 23rd Purex Dial Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway.