IRL: Wheldon a winner again, this time at Pikes Peak

Benefiting from teammate Dario Franchitti's misfortune, Dan Wheldon ran away with today's Honda Indy 225 on the 1-mile Pikes Peak International Raceway oval, beating Sam Hornish Jr. to the checkered flags by a massive 12.4763 seconds. It was an...

Benefiting from teammate Dario Franchitti's misfortune, Dan Wheldon ran away with today's Honda Indy 225 on the 1-mile Pikes Peak International Raceway oval, beating Sam Hornish Jr. to the checkered flags by a massive 12.4763 seconds.

It was an ironic finish as Wheldon, who hasn't been to Victory Lane since the 89th Indianapolis 500 achieved one of his season-long goals in matching Hornish's score of five victories this year. Wheldon has now won on 1.5- mile ovals (Homestead, Twin Ring Motegi), his adopted hometown streets of St. Petersburg, the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and now on a short oval.

That kind of versatility, to go with only one DNF in the 13 races held to date (and the balance of his finishes in sixth place or better) have given Wheldon a 97-point championship advantage (505-408) on Hornish, his closest pursuer.

Wheldon "drove like a champion today," said his Andretti Green Racing co- owner Michael Andretti after the race. "This win is very special for Honda and it's a great result," the Briton emphasized. "Taking the most wins in a season is a very special goal for me, and it's great to take another significant victory for Honda."

Saturday marked the tenth anniversary Honda's first American open wheel victory with Andre Ribeiro at New Hampshire International Raceway. Today Honda achieved its 90th win and earned a second consecutive IRL engine manufacturers' title. Wheldon secured the first victory for the engine maker on its home track of Twin Ring Motegi in 2004 - and again this April - and brought the engine maker its second consecutive Indy 500 victory.

"I want to keep winning as much as I can," Wheldon stated as his current goal. "This is a very difficult track but with the right setup you can get to the front. The car was very good and my three teammates pushed me hard. Dario was very strong (and, in fact led 68 of the 225 laps) and I think he was my strongest competitor today."

Lap leader (71)Hornish hasn't given up hope in catching Wheldon for a third IndyCar Series title. "We're doing everything we can but I don't feel we're on equal footing. Even so," Hornish declared, "I'm not ready to give up." He did think the "second set of tires we put on might have been abused in scuffing (in morning warmup) and that allowed them to get ahead of me when I got caught up in lapped traffic."

2004 IRL IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan completed the podium in third, the only other driver on the lead lap and 13.7639 seconds behind teammate Wheldon. "I knew we didn't have the car to win the race, but we had a good enough car to finish as high as second," Kanaan related. "I had a good battle with Sam and we raced hard over the final laps. It was fun racing like that." The duo had the crowd on their feet and wide-eyed.

Polesitter Helio Castroneves was a lap down in fourth and believed, "Ultimately we made the wrong choice on our race setup. We had a tremendous push in turns 3 and 4," Castroneves said. "The corners were the biggest problem; I could barely touch the throttle going through there." Front wing adjustments didn't seem to help but, "All things considered, I'm pretty happy with fourth today."

Vitor Meira took fifth place from his starting position of ninth, moving to seventh from eighth in the title chase. The Brazilian knew the "race conditions changed a lot from warmup to the race" and his car had a lot of oversteer early on. "Later in the fuel stint the car came around and it was very fast and we were able to move through the field."

Tomas Enge showed good form in his second race following a two-race back injury layoff to take sixth, "a great result that we've all been waiting for this season. The car came to me during the race and we were very strong. At the end we had to keep saving fuel and we were still very fast," the Czech explained. He and teammate Tomas Scheckter made their final pit stops before the balance of the field.

Franchitti dealt with a clutch problem that made his second pit stop - from the lead - a disaster with a long restart after a stall, relegating the 2004 Pikes Peak winner to seventh after leading 68 laps. "I was waiting for the car to fill with fuel and had the clutch pedal depressed but the car started to creep forward and the engine stalled," he stated. "Another mechanical problem took us from a race that I feel we had the car to win," said the disappointed Scot.

Danica Patrick had a good run to eighth place, her best short oval result and was two laps down. "We were looking for a good result after we ran strong in the short oval at Milwaukee, but we just ran into a little trouble that cost us." She was stuck in traffic "and it is hard to get around them on the one-mile tracks." She showed maturity and a growing sense of racecraft.

Kentucky victor Scott Sharp was three laps down in ninth. "Fearful that track conditions would change a lot," Sharp didn't expect to be caught out quite as much as he was this afternoon. "We were pretty unlucky with the yellow as we pitted with the leader in front of us when the yellow came out. We ended up going a lap down" and never recovered.

Patrick Carpentier completed the top ten from 17th grid spot. The French- Canadian fought his car that "was sliding around like crazy" at the start of the race. "We made a tire pressure adjustment on the first pit stop and the car was a lot better. The car was fast after that," and Carpentier is pleased to retain tenth place points.

Buddy Rice was 11th with a "car that was just too loose with the heat" of the day. At the start Firestone tire engineers reported ambient temps of 87 degree and a 126-degree track temperature. Bryan Herta finished 12th with an ill-handling car. Kosuke Matsuura had a good run to 13th yet felt his car wasn't quick enough.

Tomas Scheckter had a long day to take 14th with a car that developed chassis troubles late in the warmup that his team couldn't quite cure. Roger Yasukawa's 15th place finish had the Los Angeles native happy "to finish in one piece and see the checkered flags." Scott Dixon had a loose car from the start that relegated the 2003 champ to 16th, six laps down.

Jimmy Kite "had a good car all day, the second best car we've had all year. We just didn't get any breaks." Alex Barron, whose team changed his engine after the Californian had qualified 20th finished in 18th and Ed Carpenter was the final finisher in 19th, completing 217 of 225 laps. Target Chip Ganassi Racing withdrew the #10 entry for Jaques Lazier this morning, giving the fans at Pikes Peak 21 racers to watch.

Only two cars dropped out of the race: A.J. Foyt IV left the competition after 38 laps with an ill-handling car and rookie Ryan Briscoe brought out the sole caution flag on lap 80 when he impacted the outside turn 4 wall.

Briscoe's incident came just one lap after his pit stop and the Australian thought that, at the exit of turn 2 before he crashed "there was a strange moment. It felt like the tire pressure came down on me and in turn 3 I was in fourth gear and the rear just came out on me."

With only four races to go and two of those contests on unfamiliar road courses, Wheldon has a good grip on the title but still feels he's not quite there. "I don't really have the level of experience on road courses that my teammates have and I think Sonoma (next week) will be very, very physical."

Hornish feels "better about Sears Point than I did about St Pete and we were in fifth before we had our problem there," he said. "I do think I'm on top of my game right now and Helio is helping me with the road races." Hornish led the most laps this afternoon, 71.

Kanaan is working to take second place away from Hornish and holds 385 points while Franchitti lies fourth with 371. Castroneves and Sharp round out the top five in points, tied with 348 points and Meira is seventh with 327.

Next week's contest on the very physical Infineon Raceway Sears Point in Sonoma, California has many variables. It is, according to Wheldon a "stop and start track where Watkins Glen International's race is on a more European-style circuit."

The Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix takes place on August 28th at 3:30PM EDT. The race will be broadcast live on ESPN.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Tomas Enge , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , A.J. Foyt IV , Jaques Lazier  , Jimmy Kite , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Ryan Briscoe , Kosuke Matsuura , Chip Ganassi , Andre Ribeiro , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Ed Carpenter , Vitor Meira
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing