FT. WORTH, TX, June 7, 2003 - Al Unser Jr. was finally the survivor in a typical Texas shootout of tonight's Bombardier 500K, race ...
FT. WORTH, TX, June 7, 2003 - Al Unser Jr. was finally the survivor in a typical Texas shootout of tonight's Bombardier 500K, race #5 in the IndyCar Series 16-event 2003 season, beating Tony Kanaan to the checkered flags in a single lap shootout of the 200-lap dash. Unser Jr., driving the #31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota avenged his loss to Jeff Ward here last June by less than two/thousandths of a second by taking victory over Kanaan's #11 Team 7- Eleven Dallara/Honda by .0810 seconds.
In fact, Toyota-powered cars led all but one lap of the 200-tour contest around this 1.5-mile 24-degree banked Texas Motor Speedway oval. Polesitter Tomas Scheckter led 145 laps before a pit fire, subsequent drive- through penalty and, finally, a nasty crash on the 174th crash caused by broken right front suspension took him out of the race. Unser led 54 laps and Kanaan led one.
"My car was very good so I was secure with what I was doing. In the last four races here," Kanaan reminded, "the winner won on the outside so I went to the outside. This race speaks for itself as it was a great race. I was quicker than Al in turns 1 and 2 but he was better in turns 3 and 4. Racing against Al was great because we raced clean first lap to last lap."
Of the 22 entrants at the green flags, 15 were still running at the end. Tora Takagi took third place in the #12 Pioneer Panoz G Force/Toyota despite his involvement in the final caution. Takagi tapped Scott Sharp's #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota as Sharp, Felipe Giaffone (#21 Hollywood Panoz G Force/Toyota) and Takagi battled for third place. Takagi said he was pushed to the white line in turn 3 on lap 191, because "I was already pushed to the right," he said in halting English.
Kenny Brack finished fourth in the #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda and sighed, "At least we rolled the car back on all four wheels tonight. I just barely missed everything (in the final caution). My car took a while to get up to speed on the restarts, so we lost ground each time," he said. "I saw some pretty dangerous driving out there tonight."
Bryan Herta was fifth in his first race substituting for Dario Franchitti and, despite tapping wheels with Helio Castroneves' #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota at the same time as the Sharp/Giaffone/Takagi mess, brought the #27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda home in one piece. "I'm the fifth happiest guy tonight," Herta said while pretending to slash his arm across the Scotsman's back post-race. "I saw some of the best racing I've seen and some of the stupidest moves I've seen tonight."
Castroneves had to make a stop on lap 198 as his left rear tire was damaged in the tap with Herta, recovering to take seventh at the checkered flags, last on the lead lap. "It was the smart thing to do," he said regarding his late stop, "and we only lost one spot. It's always better to be safe than sorry."
2003 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner Gil de Ferran had his own miseries in Texas. "It was really a 'finish and collect points' day for us. The car was handling okay early in the first stint," de Ferran said of his #6 Marlboro Team Penske Panoz G Force/Toyota, "then all of a sudden it developed a big push. I came in early (on lap 29) but found nothing wrong. We made changes and improved the car a bit, but we weren't handling well in traffic." He settled for eighth at the close, a lap down.
Rookie Roger Yasukawa earned ninth place in his #55 Panasonic/ARTA Dallara/Honda in his first night race on this tricky Texas track. "It was a fun race, actually. You were always with someone and, when you are in the draft you get to play around with a lot of cars. Everything is about experience, and this was my first time here."
Showing why he has been the Indy Racing League's champion for the past two years, Sam Hornish Jr. brought the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet home tenth from his 16th starting spot. Hornish looked extremely racy out on the track tonight, despite having to make early pit stops - as did all drivers running Chevrolet motors. "My goal was to finish on the lead lap, but we didn't do that. We came pretty close and we did the best we could do."
This was a clean race by Texas standards, with only four caution periods. It was also a fast race of 1 hour, 43:47.8051 seconds, with an average speed of 168.213mph. Giaffone had the fastest race lap (#162) of 221.343mph, while Scheckter turned the fast lap as leader 220.368mph, on lap 87.
For Sharp and Giaffone, it was an unfortunate end to an exciting race. The duo had battled throughout the contest with one another, Scheckter, Unser Jr. and Kanaan. Giaffone was unsure, after the race of what actually occurred but said, "When I watched on TV I think Tora tried to make a move below sharp, not a nice move, and there was nothing I could do. I am a little sore, but I will be OK."
Sharp was "obviously depressed. We worked hard on the car all night and made it better, so it was a disappointment [not to finish]. I tried to make a pass on Tony and couldn't do it, so I'd settled in and planning on riding out a third-place finish. Felipe got on the outside of me," he recounted, "and we had a good battle going. Tora dove on the inside and I was thinking 'this is not good' because I knew how much room was there. You get on the apron here and it just shoots you up the track. Tora hit me and I got into Felipe. It was really disappointing."
There will be plenty of talk about the outcome of this Bombardier 500K race for about a week, as the IndyCar Series has a short hiatus before next Sunday's Honda Indy 225 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. Thankfully, all involved in the accidents and in Scheckter's pit fire were okay, but the bruised egos suffered in the incidents might need some mending.
Kanaan retains his point lead with 177, Unser Jr. is second with 151 points while Castroneves holds third and 149 points. Brack holds 135 4th place points and de Ferran is 5th with 132 points. Despite his accident, Sharp is 6th holding 130 points, while 7th belongs to Dixon with 116. With five winners in five races, this IndyCar Series title should go down to the wire right here at Texas Motor Speedway in October.