IRL: Texas II: Race postscript

Hornish can make history in 2003; Redon wins Bombardier Rookie of the Year. FORT WORTH, Texas, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2002 -- A three-peat? It's rare, but never say never. Sam Hornish Jr. clinched his second straight Indy Racing League title by ...

Hornish can make history in 2003; Redon wins Bombardier Rookie of the Year.

FORT WORTH, Texas, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2002 -- A three-peat? It's rare, but never say never.

Sam Hornish Jr. clinched his second straight Indy Racing League title by winning the Chevy 500 by .0096 of a second over Helio Castroneves in the Chevy 500 on Sept. 15 at Texas Motor Speedway. He became the first driver in IRL history to win two championships.

While the champagne is still drying from their championship season, Hornish and the Pennzoil Panther team can look ahead to 2003 and a chance to make even more history.

Several drivers have won two consecutive Indy-style championships, but only one has won three straight. Ted Horn won the AAA National Championship three consecutive years from 1946-48.

Hornish was in third place in the series standings after 13 of 15 races, eight points behind leader Castroneves. Hornish then scored victories in the final two races by the two slimmest margins in Indy Racing history. He defeated Al Unser Jr. by .0024 of a second Sept. 8 at Chicagoland Speedway, which gave him a 12-point lead over Castroneves, while de Ferran fell to third. At Texas, Hornish's margin of victory of .0096 was the second-closest winning edge in history, and he won the championship, 531-511, over Castroneves.

"It was just a tough race all the way down there because Helio didn't want to lose, and I didn't want to lose," Hornish said. "We were both out there pushing real hard, trying to get a win. Not a better way that I could ask to win a championship than by winning a race, two races in a row. Pretty pumped up about it. You get a streak going. You wish you could continue on to next year. We have a couple months to wait before that happens."

While Hornish has a few months to think about his run at a historic three-peat, he has a few months to reflect on his record-setting season of 2002.

Besides becoming the first driver to win two IRL championships, Hornish also set an Indy Racing League record by winning five races in one season. 2000 IRL champion Buddy Lazier previously held the record by winning four races in 2001. Hornish is now tied with Lazier for most career victories, with eight.

All eight of Hornish's victories have come with Pennzoil Panther Racing, which now has won a league record 11 races, with the other three by Scott Goodyear.

Also of historical significance is that three of Hornish's victories in 2002 where decided by less than one-tenth of a second -- combined. In addition to the final two races of the season, Hornish held of Jaques Lazier by .0281 of a second in March at California Speedway, in what is the fifth-closest finish in IRL history.

Hornish has now been the victor in the first-, second-, fourth- and fifth-closest finishes in IRL history.

***

Redon wins Bombardier Rookie of the Year title: Laurent Redon, driver of the No. 34 Mi-Jack Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, clinched the $50,000 Bombardier Rookie of the Year title Sept. 15 at the Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway with a 10th-place finish. He defeated Tomas Scheckter for the title, 229-210.

"It was a long race," Redon said of the Chevy 500. "We were a little unlucky when the yellow came out when we were in the pits. We had a good, good car. It was a nice race. I'm happy we finished the season with a decent finish."

Redon had a best finish of third in March at California Speedway.

***

Meira's magical weekend: Rookie Vitor Meira, driver of the No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville/Pittsburgh Paints Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, had the best weekend of his young Indy Racing career.

Meira, who drove the final four races of the season for Team Menard, won the MBNA Pole for the Chevy 500 and then went on to finish third in the race.

"I'm enjoying it very much," Meira said about his blossoming IRL career. "It's the best thing I ever did. Also I want to stay on it. It was actually my happiest weekend of my life."

Meira led four rookies who finished in the top 10. Buddy Rice, driver of the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, finished sixth; Tony Renna, driver of the No. 78 Kruse Special Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, finished ninth; and Bombardier Rookie of the Year Laurent Redon finished 10th.

***

Buddy's back on track: Buddy Lazier has eight career IRL victories, tied with Sam Hornish Jr. for the league record. But the 2002 season was not kind to 2000 series champion Lazier and his Hemelgarn Racing team as they are went winless and finished eighth in the point standings.

But Lazier finished the season strongly after finishing outside the top five in the first 11 races of the season. Lazier finished third in two of the last four races in the No. 91 Coors Light/Life Fitness/Tae-Bo/Delta Faucet Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, at Kentucky and Chicagoland. While Hornish defeated Al Unser Jr. by .0024 of a second at Sept. 8 at Chicagoland Speedway, Lazier was in third, only .0596 of a second behind Hornish.

Lazier finished seventh in the season finale at TMS.

"We finished seventh, and that's about all she had today," Lazier said. "But it was a great championship battle, and we finished eighth in the points. Like I say, it was not the season we were looking for at all. It was a strong effort nonetheless. We had to overcome a lot of troubles this year. We're looking forward to getting it on next year."

***

Dream come true: Popular sprint-car driver Cory Kruseman made his Indy Racing League debut with PDM Racing in the Chevy 500 on Sept. 15 at Texas Motor Speedway. He finished 26th after transmission problems ended his day after 74 laps.

Still, it was an experience Kruseman never will forget.

"It was awesome," Kruseman said. "Unfortunately, the gearbox took us out, but it was really a dream come true. It's great for your dream to come true, for an open-wheel dirt guy to actually make it to the IRL. That's just a phenomenal thing, and hopefully there's more of us that will be able to come this way."

***

Al's strong ending: Al Unser Jr. solidified himself as a strong contender for the 2003 Indy Racing League championship with strong runs in the final four races of the 2002 season.

Unser, who drove the No. 7 Corteco/Bryant Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone to seventh place in the points, led laps in two of the final four races and finished in the top 10 three of the final four races, including finishing second in to Sam Hornish Jr. in Chicagoland in the closest finish ever in Indy Racing, losing by .0024 of a second.

Unser, not known as a great qualifier, started seventh, third and second in the final three races of the season. Had he managed to win the MBNA Pole at Texas, where he started second, it would have been his first Indy-style pole since 1994.

***

Close racing: Close racing always has been a hallmark of Indy Racing League competition. The 2002 season is proved no different as the final lead change took place with 11 laps or less left in the race in nine of the 14 races this year.

The lead has changed on the final lap in two races this season (Nazareth and Texas) and the lead has changed on the next-to-last lap in two other races (California and Richmond). In July at Kansas, the lead changed three laps from the end.

The average margin of victory for the 15 IRL events this season was .8045 of a second.

There were margins of victory of less than a second in eight races, including four of the five closest finishes in league history. The top three finishes in IRL history were recorded in 2002.

***

Foyt makes history: A.J. Foyt IV, grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, won the inaugural Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series championship in dramatic style by leading 66 of 67 laps in the BG Products 100 en route to his fourth victory of the season.

Foyt, 18, from Hockley, Texas, defeated Cory Witherill by .0379 of second and won the series championship by defeating Arie Luyendyk Jr., 290-236.

"It was a close race, but everyone drove clean, and I'm just really happy that it turned out like it did," Foyt said. "To win the championship in the inaugural season of the Infiniti Pro Series will never be forgotten, and I'm glad that I'm the one who won it. To win in Texas, where I had a lot of family and friends come out to see this race and to be able to win it in front of them just tops off a great season."

***

Chevy 500/BG Products 100 facts and figures:

*Helio Castroneves finished second in the Chevy 500 and was running at the finish of all 15 Indy Racing League events this season. He is only the third driver in IRL history to accomplish that feat. Buzz Calkins did so in 1999, and Sam Hornish Jr. did so in 2001.

*The margin of victory of .0096 of a second is the second-closest finish in Indy Racing League history. The closest was Sept. 8, 2002 at Chicagoland Speedway when Sam Hornish Jr. beat Al Unser Jr. by .0024 of a second. The Chevy 500 margin of victory was the closest finish out of the 11 Indy Racing events that have taken place at TMS. The previous closest finish was in June 2002 when Jeff Ward defeated Al Unser Jr. by .0111 of a second. This is the seventh Indy Racing League event at Texas with a finish of less than a second.

*The BG Products 100 Infiniti Pro Series race was A.J. Foyt IV's fourth win in 2002. His other wins came at Kansas, Michigan and Kentucky. He won from the pole at Texas and also did so at Kansas and Kentucky.

*A.J. Foyt IV drives for A.J Foyt Enterprises. A.J. Foyt Enterprises won the inaugural Indy Racing League title in 1996 with Scott Sharp, who was co-champion with Buzz Calkins.

*Sam Hornish Jr. has now won the season-ending race at Texas in 2001 and 2002. He won the IRL championship in 2001, as well, although he clinched the championship in 2001 with one race remaining.

-irl-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Buzz Calkins , Al Unser Jr. , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Scott Goodyear , Cory Witherill , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt IV , Laurent Redon , Buddy Rice , Tony Renna , Cory Kruseman , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Vitor Meira , Arie Luyendyk Jr.
Teams A.J. Foyt Enterprises , Panther Racing