Toyota Indy 300/Western Union 100 Postscript. Homestead race better than ever; new formula very reliable. HOMESTEAD, Fla., Monday, March 3, 2003 -- The wheel-to-wheel excitement and close competition that has been the hallmark the IRL IndyCarÃ”...
Toyota Indy 300/Western Union 100 Postscript.
Homestead race better than ever; new formula very reliable.
HOMESTEAD, Fla., Monday, March 3, 2003 -- The wheel-to-wheel excitement and close competition that has been the hallmark the IRL IndyCarÔ Series since its first race in 1996 was a constant theme of the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Scott Dixon, driving the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, defeated Gil de Ferran, driver of the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, by .5752 of a second. That was the 28th race with a margin of victory of less than one second in the 72-race history of the series.
Dixon, driving in his first IndyCar Series race, took note of the tough competition in America's premier open-wheel series.
"There's a lot of great guys out there," Dixon said. "It's just a very strong competition over here now. I think if you want to go racing, this is the series you want to go racing because it's so tight."
The 2003 Homestead event was the most competitive that the IndyCar Series has put on at the 1.5-mile oval.
The margin of victory -- .5752 of a second -- was the closest at the facility for IndyCar Series events, besting two-time IRL IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr.'s winning margin of 1.8701 seconds in 2001. In 2002, Hornish had lapped the field before four caution periods in the last 39 laps and the ensuing pit stops bunched the field and allowed drivers to return to the lead lap. The race also finished under the yellow flag.
Six drivers led at Homestead-Miami in 2003, more than the previous two years, and they swapped the lead eight times, one more than in 2002 and just one shy of the nine lead changes in 2001.
There were only four caution periods for 32 laps, the lowest number of yellows in IndyCar Series history at Homestead. The 32 caution laps tied the event-low number set in 2001.
While only three cars were on the lead lap in 2001 and 2002, eight cars were on the lead lap at the end of Sunday's race. And the percentage of cars running at the finish also was an all-time high for IndyCar Series racing at Homestead, with 85.7 percent of the cars still on track when Dixon took the checkered flag. That compares to 73.1 percent in 2001 and 61.5 percent in 2002.
The average speed also was a race record, with Dixon completing 300 miles at an average speed of 153.710 mph, topping the previous record of 148.508 set by Hornish in 2001 by more than 5 mph.
New formula shows reliability: Any questions about reliability with the new IndyCar Series chassis and engines that will be used from 2003-2005 were erased when 85.7 percent of the field was running at the finish of the Toyota Indy 300.
Only three cars failed to finish and they were all due to single-car accidents. It was only the third time in IndyCar Series history that a race ended with no mechanical failures. There were no mechanical failures in races at Pikes Peak International Raceway in June 1997 and June 1999. But neither of those events were the first race of a new equipment formula like the Toyota Indy 300.
That fact was not lost on Brian Barnhart, senior vice president of racing operations for the Indy Racing League.
"The Indy Racing League is extremely pleased with the performance of the new package in this first race of the season," Barnhart said. "Chassis, engines, gearboxes and the Firestone tires worked flawlessly all weekend long, especially on race day in a 300-mile event. We didn't have a single mechanical failure in the race. We're just extremely pleased with the reliability of the package."
Barnhart also was happy about the competitiveness of Panoz G Force and Dallara chassis, as well as the Chevrolet, Honda and Toyota engines.
"It was a really good show," Barnhart said "We had eight lead changes, the cars handled well, and everybody looked competitive. We're excited about heading to Phoenix (March 23) and continuing a good start to the season.
"In the mid-part of the race, I commented in race control that we had both chassis manufacturers and the three engines represented in the top five. So, I think the package is extremely competitive, and we're in for a great season of competition."
Firestone handles hot day flawlessly: Unusually high temperatures posed no problems for the Firestone-equipped field in Toyota Indy 300. With ambient temperature reaching 94 degrees and track temperatures hitting 118 degrees, the Firestone Firehawks, the exclusive tire of the Indy Racing League, turned in an impressive performance with no wear issues or problems reported by any IRL IndyCar Series team, according to Al Speyer, executive director of Firestone Racing.
"It was another very hot day and another extreme test for the Firestone Firehawks," Speyer said. "Homestead is a relatively flat track, and the cars don't have a lot of downforce here so the cars want to slide around more than normal. But even under these demanding conditions, the Firehawks held up really well, and one of the key reasons for Scott (Dixon's) victory was the way he and his team maintained a high level of grip and control throughout the entire race."
Dixon also was impressed with the tire performance.
"The tires were great all day," Dixon said. "We struggled a bit with understeer in the car initially and really cooked the front tires. Then we worked on the balance and went a little too far and started cooking the rears. But the tires were good, very consistent all day."
Toyota scores first win: Scott Dixon had the honor of giving the Toyota engine its first win in IRL IndyCar Series competition in the manufacturer's series debut. Toyota also powered Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves to second and third, respectively.
"To earn a 1-2-3 Toyota finish was a great way to begin our participation in the Indy Racing League," said Jim Aust, Toyota vice president of motorsports. "We had a great performance from everyone involved -- drivers, teams and our staff at TRD. It was a great team effort. There are still 15 races to go, though, and it's going to be a tremendously competitive season."
Toyota joins Chevrolet, Ford Cosworth, Infiniti and Oldsmobile as engines that have won an IRL IndyCar Series race since the series began in 1996.
Infiniti Pro Series rookies impressive: The rookie crop of the Infiniti Pro Series was very impressive at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the season-opening Western Union 100.
Rookie Mark Taylor, driver of the No. 4 Fulmar Panther Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, led 56 of the 67 laps en route to victory. He defeated fellow rookie Thiago Medeiros by 1.2860 seconds.
"It's a great result for us, start of the year," Taylor said. "We thought we might be struggling in the beginning because my experience on ovals, this is my first oval race. To win your first oval race is a great achievement for the team. I have to say they nurtured me through the testing this winter and made sure that I didn't make too big a mistake too early, made sure that we got the car right, how I felt comfortable in it."
Medeiros, driver of the No. 36 Genoa Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, was fastest in all three practice sessions and captured the pole position for the race.
"I'm very happy," Medeiros said. "It's my first race in the oval superspeedway. I did some mistakes in the restart. I tried to shift the gears up flat, but I couldn't. The engine hit the limiter, and I lost speed, Mark overtook me.
"On the last lap, my car was still pushing a lot because we were using the small wing kit on the front. It was pretty difficult. But I'm pretty happy. The season is long; we have 11 races. Nice place to start the season."
Another rookie, Jeff Simmons, led 11 laps after starting fifth. An accident in Turn 2 ended his day while leading.
Toyota Indy 300/Western Union 100 facts and figures:
*Scott Dixon won the Toyota Indy 300 in his first IRL IndyCar Series event. The only other times a driver has won the race in his first start was when Juan Montoya won the 84th Indianapolis 500 in 2000 and when Buzz Calkins won the inaugural series event in January 1996 at Orlando, Fla. Montoya was driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, as was Dixon at Homestead-Miami.
*Helio Castroneves has been running at the finish in his last 17 IRL IndyCar Series events. He fell out of his first IRL IndyCar Series race with engine trouble in 2001 at Phoenix. He has finished in the top five in 14 of his 18 IRL IndyCar Series starts.