November 25, 2001 -- Phoenix, Arizona -- Greg Gorden took his second USSS victory in a row, by capitalizing on a rare mistake by 2001 USSS Champion Ken Petrie, in the "Thanks to America" Indy Car Grand Prix, Sunday at Firebird International ...
November 25, 2001 -- Phoenix, Arizona -- Greg Gorden took his second USSS victory in a row, by capitalizing on a rare mistake by 2001 USSS Champion Ken Petrie, in the "Thanks to America" Indy Car Grand Prix, Sunday at Firebird International Raceway, on a rare cold, rainy day in Phoenix.
"When my tires were still cold, it got real twitchy coming out of turn 12 and I almost looped it there once, but we kept beating on Ken and beating on Ken, and when he made a mistake, we were right there," said Gorden, from Colorado Springs, Colorado, "I am proud to say this is the now the third time we have won on a road course with this IRL-style Indy car, which was originally built as an oval track car. My crew chief Joe Wanninger has worked hard to give me a great car on both road courses and ovals and I think we have proven now, with our track record and with our wins, that the G-Force can be very competitive on any track. It's just ironic that all our wins in this car have been on road courses."
Gorden started his #37 Pikes Peak International Raceway G-Force-Oldsmobile Aurora on the pole for the second time this season, with a new Firebird track time of :55.97 on the 1.6-mile road course. He shaved almost four seconds off Petrie's pole time from the first USSS Firebird Indy Car Grand Prix. Yet Petrie, from Parker, Colorado, quickly passed him mid-way down the long front straightaway on the first lap to take the lead for the first half of the race.
"I knew when he opted to start from the inside as the pole, that I could get him on the first lap. That's what I picked when I was on the pole in September and Phil (Erickson) almost got me on the outside that time, because that's where everybody had been running in practice and qualifying. There was no rubber on the inside line and I knew how slippery it was going to be for Greg. So I was ready for the start," said Petrie.
Gorden demonstrated just how slippery the track was on lap five, when he got into the throttle coming out of the last turn onto the long dragstrip straightaway. The car slid sideways and he fought to recover, as Petrie opened up his lead. Then going through the "S" turns on lap eleven, it was Ken's turn to spin, a rare occurrence for the veteran Indy car driver with more than 30 wins in his #95 Precision Industries March-Chevrolet.
"I just mistimed in the corner and got off line into the loose stuff. It was a heck of a ride. Greg was very competitive today and I have to congratulate him for the win. But I think I would have had to settle for second even without my spin. My engine blew on that last lap and I was just barely able to nurse it across the finish line," said Petrie.
Gorden took advantage of Petrie's miscue to open up his Oldsmobile Aurora engine and had built up a ten second-lead over his longtime rival before his Chevrolet engine let go.
Behind the two frontrunners, it was a battle for third between Phil Erickson, of Phoenix, in the #7 Erickson Companies Lola-Buick and Jim Webb, of Van Nuys, California, who was making his first USSS start of the season in the #2 Arrow Auto March-Chevrolet, recently purchased from Petrie. Webb simply got faster with each lap, as he became accustomed to the car, and slowly reeled in fourth-place qualifier Eric Koselke, of Indianapolis, in the #17 Lennon and Associates Lola-Chevrolet. Then he went after Erickson's turbocharged car, going to the outside to make a tight pass as the pair came up on slower traffic.
Webb was able to claim his first podium finish by keeping Erickson behind him in fourth, while Koselke continued his string of top five finishes. Russell Reeves, of Suwanee, Georgia, had hoped to repeat his third-place position at September's Firebird event, but had to settle for sixth in the #19 Precision Shooting Equipment Lola-Buick; followed by Mike Lee, of Florissant, Colorado, in seventh, driving for Loophole Racing in the #9 Hilton Valdoro Resort Lola-Buick. John McDonald, of Winchester, California, came home in eighth in the #15 Slover's Porting Services March-Chevrolet.
Coming into the season championship final race, Petrie had clinched the inaugural USSS Championship on the strength of his five victories this season. He finished with 178 points, over Erickson at 143 and Koselke at 125. The USSS Team Championship went right down to the wire, with Loophole Racing, owned by David and Bud Hoffpauir, leading through most of the season; but it was consistency on the part of McDonald Motorsports that finally earned that title for the team of John McDonald, Eric Koselke, Mark Swigart, and Jim Webb. They finished just 5 points ahead of the multi-car Loophole team. The top USSS rookie was Mike Koss, of Bronson, Michigan, in the #9 Koss Klassic Boats Lola-Buick, on the strength of his third-place finish at the Dodge City Indy Car Showdown and his fourth at the Sandia Indy Car Shootout II.
The USSS "Thanks to America" Indy Car Grand Prix was held in conjunction with the Arizona Chapter of the National Auto Sport Association, with the legendary Bob Bondurant as Grand Marshall of the event. USSS and NASA will be back at Firebird International Raceway in September, 2002, as one of eight USSS races slated for next season. The full USSS 2002 Championship schedule will be released in early December.