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The Right Run
by Esteban Morales

Homestead Miami Speedway
photo: Doug Garner

     The Indy Racing League opened its ninth season of competition at Homestead Miami Speedway with plenty of new faces and surprises. Possibly the biggest piece of news throughout the off-season was Sam Hornish trading his familiar Panther Racing yellow for new Marlboro red and white. Along with this news came a plethora of changes ranging from controversial rules affecting designs to a number of new drivers. In addition, came a brand new track surface as well; drivers and teams were forced to experiment with all new setups in order to cope with twenty degrees of progressive banking which saw speeds jump about twenty miles per hour over previous years which were greatly affected by the traditional six degrees of banking seen at Miami.

     Once the green flag was dropped Team Rahal’s Buddy Rice had the honor of leading the season’s first lap. He held onto the lead of the race until the first set of pit stops which came about due to a caution for debris in turn 2. Emerging in the lead were the two Marlboro Team Penske cars being led by Helio Castroneves while last year’s champion, Scott Dixon, followed in third. Soon after however, rookie Mark Taylor spun into the wall between turns 3 and 4 under cold tires bringing out the second caution of the day.

     Castroneves led the grid to the green flag on lap 49, Dixon however, was not going to wait in the wings any longer as he took the lead the following lap. Castroneves responded and the two battled wheel to wheel for a few laps until he regained the lead once more followed by his teammate Sam Hornish.

     Lap 88 saw Tony Kanaan head for his second pit stop of the day with all other leaders soon following. While attempting to reach the pits under the desired speed limit, reigning champion Scott Dixon lost control of his Target Chip Ganassi Racing G-Force and made heavy contact with an attenuator at pit entrance bringing out a third yellow flag. The field was given the green flag once again on lap 102 with Castroneves assuming the lead followed closely by Buddy Rice. Three laps later Andretti Green Racing’s Dario Franchitti and rookie Kosuke Matsuura made contact bringing out another caution period.

     Buddy Rice led on lap 115 as the field went green and held on for about 10 laps until Dan Wheldon took command of the race. Meanwhile, Sam Hornish continued to stay within striking distance in his Penske machine. Lap 126 brought out the fifth yellow of the day as Alex Barron spun into the wall between turns 3 and 4 after making minor contact with TCGR’s, Darren Manning. The coming set of pit stops moved Bryan Herta into the lead of the race with Scott Sharp following in second. Sharp soon began to fall back through the field while Panther Racing’s Tomas Scheckter steadily worked through the field until he led on lap 152.

     Now the race began to take an interesting turn as Sam Hornish began to challenge for the lead once more. He and Scheckter fought wheel to wheel for a few laps until Hornish took the race lead followed by his teammate, Helio Castroneves. Both teammates left each other little room on the racetrack as they continued their furious battle until Castroneves regained the lead on lap 175 as the two worked through the speedway’s back straightaway. 2 laps later, the last pit sequence of the day was brought under way as Scheckter and Robbie Buhl headed for tires and fuel. Once the leaders pitted, they were beaten out by Dan Wheldon. Both Castroneves and Hornish passed Wheldon on lap 188, Castroneves assumed the lead of the race.

Sam Hornish Jr. Takes the Checkered Flag

photo: Doug Garner

     Hornish lurked behind his teammate for about the last 10 laps of the race; Castroneves appeared to have the best of him until the white flag was dropped. Hornish dove to the inside of turns 1 and 2 and battled wheel to wheel with his teammate coming out with the lead and the win of the race in exciting fashion; he surely left a lasting impression at Marlboro Team Penske and especially with Castroneves. When asked how he got the job done, Hornish coolly responded, “got the right run at the right time and…made the right decision.”

Results:

1. Sam Hornish Jr.
2. Helio Castroneves
3. Dan Wheldon
4. Tora Takagi
5. Tomas Scheckter
6. Darren Manning
7. Buddy Rice
8. Tony Kanaan
9. Scott Sharp
10. Robbie Buhl
11. Kosuke Matsuura
12. Ed Carpenter
13. Bryan Herta
14. Greg Ray
15. A.J. Foyt IV
16. Alex Barron
17. Dario Franchitti
18. Scott Dixon
19. Mark Taylor