IRL: Texas II: Season finale postscript

Chevy 500 Postscript De Ferran goes out on top; Dixon takes first championship FORT WORTH, Texas, Monday, Oct. 13, 2003 -- Gil de Ferran nearly did the impossible. Coming into the Chevy 500 Oct. 12 at Texas Motor Speedway, de Ferran was 30 ...

Chevy 500 Postscript
De Ferran goes out on top; Dixon takes first championship

FORT WORTH, Texas, Monday, Oct. 13, 2003 -- Gil de Ferran nearly did the impossible.

Coming into the Chevy 500 Oct. 12 at Texas Motor Speedway, de Ferran was 30 points out of first place in the championship and needed to win the race and lead the most laps to earn 52 points in order to have any chance of winning the championship.

Even by doing that, he needed Tony Kanaan to finish no better than sixth, Helio Castroneves to finish no better than ninth and Scott Dixon to finish no better than 10th.

It almost happened.

de Ferran, who retired following the Chevy 500, closed his incredible racing career in storybook fashion by starting from the MBNA Pole, leading the most laps and scoring a victory in the Chevy 500.

The victory came despite de Ferran having to drive through the grass to avoid an accident in the middle of the race and having to make several pit stops in order to ensure the car was OK to continue in the race.

Kanaan and Castroneves touched late in the race, causing both of them to pit for new tires. Kanaan ended up 14th, while Castroneves finished 13th. Sam Hornish Jr., who was fourth in points, had engine problems on Lap 176 and finished 17th.

Dixon finished second to win the IndyCar Series championship with 507 points.

However, de Ferran vaulted from fifth to second in the championship and finished the season with 489 points, five points ahead of teammate Castroneves who was finished third in points.

Amazingly, de Ferran, driving for Marlboro Team Penske, competed in one less race than the other four drivers eligible for the championship. He missed the Motegi event in April after he suffered a minor fracture of the lower back and a concussion in a collision with Michael Andretti in March at Phoenix.

After missing the Motegi event, de Ferran went on to score three wins and finish in the top five eight times. He was also running at the finish of every event after Motegi.

There aren't too many better ways to end a career. De Ferran's resume includes a victory in the 2003 Indianapolis 500, two CART championship, a third- and second-place finish in the IRL IndyCar Series championship and 12 wins.

It's not the stats that define de Ferran's career.

"I guess the highlights of my career, as I see it, they are not really the results," de Ferran said. "The highlights of my career, as I see it, is the people that I have worked with and the people that came into my life over the years. I would say that that's the highlight of not only my career, but of my life. I've been very fortunate that some very nice and great people have come into my life and have helped me shape into what I am. And, have helped me as a professional and as a person."

***

Dixon perseveres for championship: Despite finishing 15th or worse in five of the 16 races in 2003, Scott Dixon fought his way to the IndyCar Series championship.

Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, scored three victories and finished second five times en route to his first major auto racing championship.

"It's been a strange year," Dixon said. "I think we've had lots of ups and downs, and I think we could have tied it up quite easily if we didn't have small, nagging little problems with the DNF when we were leading races. Championships are made to be very difficult to win and that's the way it played out. I'm extremely happy that it went our way this time."

Dixon lead 14 races and 748 laps, more than any other driver. He joined drivers Jimmy Vasser (1996, CART), Alex Zanardi (1997-98, CART) and Juan Pablo Montoya (1999, CART_ as drivers that have won championship for Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

"The thing I like about Scott as a driver he's got a great sense of humor, but at the same time he's all business," said team owner Chip Ganassi. "He's all business when he's out at the track and in the car. We've had flamboyant drivers, and I don't think flamboyant is a word you would use for Scott. But, at the end of the day, he's all business when it's time to get in the car like the other champions we've had. I would rank him right up there at the top whether it was with Montoya, Zanardi or whoever, Jimmy."

As part of his championship tour, Dixon will appear on the "Late Show With David Letterman" on CBS-TV Oct. 14.

***

Tough ending for Hornish: Sam Hornish Jr. led twice for 12 laps in the Chevy 500 before spray from his No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone ended his day on Lap 176. Hornish finished 17th in the race and fifth in the championship.

"We had a great race," Hornish said. "The Pennzoil Panther crew did an awesome job as they usually do, it just didn't make it to the end. We had a really good car. With the car we could move in and out of traffic. We could pass where we wanted to. We just had a great car. We came off of that last pit stop, and we just couldn't get back up to speed. We're not really sure what happened, but we were spraying a little bit of oil so they made us come in."

When Hornish, who won the last two fall races at Texas, climbed from his car, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

The fans witnessed the end of one the great driver-team combinations in the history of Indy-style racing. Hornish will compete in 2004 for Team Penske. Panther has hired Tomas Scheckter for 2004.

Since joining Panther in 2001, Hornish and the team have won two championships and 11 races.

"These guys deserve to get another championship, but we got two out of three," Hornish said. "I was emotional before the race started, but the way that I look at it is, I've been blessed to be able to do what I've always wanted to do, and that's to race Indy cars, and hopefully one of these days win another championship."

***

Kanaan, Castroneves championship hopes dashed: On a Lap 179 restart, the Chevy 500 standings had Gil de Ferran leading, followed by Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Tomas Scheckter.

Had the race ended that way, Castroneves would have won the championship.

However, after the restart, Castroneves' No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone and Kanaan's No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, touched while racing and both were forced to the pits for new tires. The contact ended both of their chances for a championship.

Ironically, Kanaan and Castroneves are close friends and grew up racing against each other in Brazil.

"Well, it's a shame," Castroneves said. "Neither of us wanted to finish like that, especially having a chance to win. When he went to pass, we touched and, all of a sudden, the cars touched. It was close, very close. It is a shame. Everything was close. It was not the way it was supposed to be." Kanaan was equally disappointed.

"I felt something from behind me, but I don't know what happened. I was on the outside, and I gave him plenty of room, and we touched. I don't know what happened, but it's unfortunate. I had a run on him, I passed him, I was ahead of him. It's a shame to lose a championship like that after the race that we did. The team did a great job. I need to thank the guys for awesome pit stops. Unfortunately, it wasn't our day today."

***

Wheldon wins Bombardier Rookie of the Year: Rookie Dan Wheldon finished a career-best third in the Chevy 500 and wrapped up the $50,000 Bombardier Rookie of the Year title 312-301 over Roger Yasukawa.

"It's fantastic. It's great for Team 7-11. The Klein-Tools/Jim Beam guys have been fantastic; that car was very good. I wouldn't say overall, on my own, that I had the fastest car. I had a very good car in traffic, and I am just very thankful to (Andretti Green Racing co-owners) Michael (Andretti), Kim (Green), and Kevin (Savoree) for giving me this opportunity"

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing