By David Reininger â€“ motorsport.com Madison, Ill (August 26, 2001) â€“ Al Unser Jr. won the Gateway Indy 250 at Gateway International Raceway, scoring his first Indy Racing League victory since winning at Las Vegas in April of last year. A...
By David Reininger – motorsport.com
Madison, Ill (August 26, 2001) – Al Unser Jr. won the Gateway Indy 250 at Gateway International Raceway, scoring his first Indy Racing League victory since winning at Las Vegas in April of last year.
A combination of hard charging, great pits stops and a final segment in fuel conservation mode, paid dividends as Unser claimed $134,200 for his second IRL career victory.
When a caution period for debris on lap 52 sent the field to the pits for their first scheduled stop, quick work by Unser’s crew gained him several positions, putting him back on track in second place behind series points leader, Sam Hornish.
When shown the green flag, pole sitter Hornish, found himself in the wrong gear. As his engine hit the rev limiter, Unser made a pass for the lead, holding it for the next 49 laps.
“Big mistake on my part,” Hornish said. “I had it in third gear instead of second, and that’s how Al got by me.”
Hornish pressured Unser for the lead several times, pulling even in turn one but Unser was able to hold off all bids for the lead.
A second round of pit stops allowed Airton Dare and Mark Dismore to take turns at the point, but once the pit stop shuffle was completed, Unser returned to the lead. The ensuing race segment continued the fierce battle between the veteran Unser and sophomore driver Hornish, with the Indy racing drivers proving that two and three wide racing at the narrow Gateway track was possible.
The third caution period of the day, to tow Eliseo Salazar back to the pits, allowed the front-runners to pit with 67 laps remaining. Robbie Buhl, who was out of sequence with Unser and Hornish, led the field to the restart, taking the point until he was forced to pit 39 laps later.
Hornish pulled around Unser on the restart, setting his sights on Buhl for the lead. As Buhl and Hornish battled at the front, Unser switched to fuel conservation mode, circulating in third place.
When Buhl reported to the pits, Hornish assumed a 10 second lead over second place Unser. Unfortunately, Hornish’s hard charging style required one more fuel stop to complete the race.
With ten laps to go, Hornish dashed into the pits from the lead, taking on fuel only in a 4.4 second stop. Despite a 10 second lead and a four second pit stop, Hornish was relegated to third by the time he returned to the track.
“We didn’t have enough fuel to make it all the way,” said Hornish. “We were running hard trying to get out front, and hoping that everyone had to make a pit stop there at the end. We were going to run out between five and three laps from the end, so there was no discussion about whether or not we were going to be able to make it,”
Unser, who capitalized by conserving fuel during the last segment of the race, sailed across the finish line 1.18 seconds ahead of second place Mark Dismore.
Unser’s team owner, Rick Galles, who was credited with today’s race strategy said, “I was either going to head for the motor home and hide or I was going to join the celebration but there wasn’t going to be any in between. We weren’t bringing him in.”
The Indy Racing League’s next event is the Delphi Indy 300 on September 2 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois. It will be the Indy cars first appearance on the brand new 1.5-mile speedway.
Despite his first non-finish of the season, Felipe Giaffone clinched the Rookie of the Year award over Didier Andre. Giaffone, fifth place in championship point standings, leads Andre 275-156.