RICHMOND, VA, June 28, 2003 - After leading 206 laps of a scheduled 250 in the SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway, Scott Dixon took combined red and checkered flags in his ...
RICHMOND, VA, June 28, 2003 - After leading 206 laps of a scheduled 250 in the SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway, Scott Dixon took combined red and checkered flags in his #9 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota for the Kiwi's second straight win in the IndyCar Series. It was the first wire-to-wire victory in the eight-year history of the Indy Racing League.
An elated Dixon said the race for him was "a lot of fun. This is an awesome place to race. We had the fastest car all weekend and hardly worked on it at all. I've got to give credit to the engineering side for giving me a consistent and fast car. This team puts together great cars and that makes my job so much easier."
Team Target knew going in that the weather could be volatile. "We just wanted to make sure we were leading after the halfway mark." To prepare for the cooler temperatures from Friday afternoon, "we just took a little front wing out, but that's about it."
At the true end of the race, lap 199 when the caution flew as rain inundated the .75-mile D-shaped oval, Dixon had a 3.6-second lead over Helio Castroneves' #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota who, in turn led by a near-two-second gap on his teammate Gil de Ferran in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota.
"We learned a lot from last year," Castroneves admitted. "We knew how to set up the car to deal with the conditions at this track, in particular the changes with different rubber from the USAC Silver Crown cars. I had lots of close calls tonight," Helio continued, "but when you're running like we were, the track can't wait and you have to go for it."
De Ferran, who hounded Dixon in the early laps was passed in the pits by his teammate on the final stop and settled for third place. "The track keeps changing here and I thought it got better as the night went on," he said. "Scott had a very consistent car tonight and it seems that, from the start of his IndyCar career, he's very mature and doesn't put his nose in the wrong place. We were pushing like qualifying those last few laps. It was very, very tight."
Sam Hornish Jr., who had started fourth finished in that spot, albeit with trips from the front to the back and again to the front of the field in his #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet. For Hornish, it was an eventful evening, particularly on his first pit stop at lap 58. As he exited his stall, Felipe Giaffone was trying to enter his own for service on the #21 Hollywood Panoz G Force/Toyota. The duo made slight contact and Hornish returned to his pit box for a quick look and a top-off of fuel, putting him down to 14th place.
Hornish, the Indy Racing League champion of the last two seasons produced some of the best action over the latter quarter of the race as he picked off cars one after the other in pursuit of a good finish. On lap 181, he passed Giaffone for fifth; on lap 183 he blew by Tony Kanaan for fourth. "We really had a good handling car and kind of some of that luck that we haven't had this year. We were doing the right things on the track and it's fun to go out there and pass people. Sooner or later, we're going to get there [to Victory Lane]."
Point leader Kanaan finished fifth in the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda to retain his lead over Dixon, 247-220. The Brazilian, driving a purple- accented car for a tie-in with the new movie "Hulk" kept fourth place until demoted by Hornish late in the green flag going. "Tonight was tough," he exhaled. "I think I chose the wrong setup and I couldn't really tell my engineer what I needed so we struggled a bit during the race. To get out of here with a top five is not too bad."
Giaffone earned sixth place in the contest despite a bunch of close calls, including the one with Hornish. "We had great pit stops tonight and improved the car on both stops. At the beginning of the race," Giaffone explained, "the car was pushing really badly in some places and loose in others. We made the car a little more balanced on the first stop, then a little more on the second. I just wish I could have started the race with the car as good as it was when we finished."
Kenny Brack, who had qualified the #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda in 14th place improved to seventh on what he termed a "good luck and bad luck night." A radio problem meant he could hear his team but they couldn't hear him. "That was probably good for the team since I was yelling a lot tonight. That was some pretty wild racing," he exclaimed. "At the end we got a break because the right front tire was going flat and we would have had to pit."
Rookie Dan Wheldon earned eighth place, the highest finishing IndyCar first- timer at this Richmond oval. "It was really difficult to pass out there and when Sam got by me, I lost some time and Brack was able to get by me as well. The car was good," the Briton stated, "and the crew did a good job, so that made it a good day. It was good to get a finish," he said.
The fact that only two cars fell out of this hotly contested sprint said much about the parity of competition in the IndyCar ranks today. While there were five cautions in the 206-lap race, there was plenty of action throughout the field that kept the 50,000-plus fans on the edge of their seats, if they sat at all.
Vitor Meira retired the #2 Menards Dallara/Chevrolet against the Turn 2 wall on lap 55, bringing out the first yellow. He admitted the incident "was my fault. There was traffic inside of me and this track is very tough because it is very intensive here."
The only other retirement was that of A.J. Foyt IV, who had shown signs of maturity this evening, prompting praise for his fast driving. But then, on lap 129 Foyt lost it. "Coming out of Turn 2, the car in front of me checked up. I saw a chance to pass and I got on the gas too quickly. I was having a lot of fun out there, but did radio in a few laps earlier to let the guys know the car was getting loose."
There was another problem tonight that had nothing to do with competition. During the cleanup for Foyt's incident, race organizers noted a small portion of the track's lights went off momentarily.
The race remained under caution until the track became fully illuminated once more and officials said the power company reported a tree near the circuit fell on a power line, disrupting power to one of the track's three sources. "Even though the power was affected for only seconds, the lights needed approximately 10 minutes to get back to full capacity," they said.
What happened to Sarah Fisher, whose front row start was in jeopardy after she hit the wall in final practice? Apparently, the six-seven hours her #23 GMAC/AOL Dallara/Chevy crew spent making repairs was in naught as her ill-handling car had the IRL veteran back to 21st place within the first 30 laps. "We are obviously disappointed. Our tire pressures went away and it made the car real loose. We chased it all race and just couldn't find the solution," she said after finishing 19th.
Buddy Rice has finished all of the 12 IndyCar Series races he's run to date, and took ninth place today in the #52 Red Bull Dallara/Chevrolet, "fairly happy with our finish tonight. It took a little bit to get our car going which kind of hurt us on restarts. Other than that I think the car handled reasonably well. It's too bad the race stopped early but you know it's a bad sign to see spray coming off the tires on an oval track," he quipped.
Al Unser Jr. earned tenth place in the #31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota, who gained places on his pit stops. "Unfortunately, Scheckter spun in front of me and clipped my wing. That put me at the back of the queue, and then we just never could get the car back again." Tomas Scheckter ended up in 18th spot after making a change of nose cone on the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota.
Rookie Roger Yasukawa took 11th in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Dallara/Honda and thought his first run on this track "went fairly well. I'm happy to have the finish and we'll go on to the next one at Kansas City."
Greg Ray looked racy throughout the event but a spin on the restart following the Foyt incident and the lights debacle relegated the #13 TrimSpa Panoz G Force/Honda to 12th at the close. Having lost position on his final pit stop, "I had a pretty good run on them on the inside, turned the wheel and spun it." No excuses: "I made a mistake and it cost us."
Winner Dixon was pleased to gain some points on Kanaan tonight. "We've been fast everywhere and now we've got some consistency, a couple of wins in a row. It's good to be ahead of the game," he smiled, "but we've still got some work to do on the mile and a half ovals. Quite frankly," Dixon noted, "I'd rather be the 'chasee' than the chaser!"
Next weekend the IndyCar Series reconvenes at Kansas Speedway next Sunday, July 6th for the Kansas Indy 300. Can Dixon make it three in a row?