Toyota Indy 300
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by Esteban Morales

March 6, 2005

Toyota Indy 300 Final Lap

photo: Garner

     With the onset of a new season come a slew of possible surprises. The Indy Racing League has been no exception with a number of changes transforming its image for its tenth season of competition. Spots were left vacant with the exit of veterans “Pat” Patrick, Morris Nunn and Adrian Fernandez among others but were quickly filled with fresh faces and new talent including Canadian ace Patrick Carpentier and the heavily publicized Danica Patrick as well as a new team, Vision Racing, owned by Tony George no less.

     While there was some shuffling throughout the off season, once the green flag fell on the opening day of practice at Homestead Miami Speedway all seemed back to normal with the usual suspects at the front of the pack. One notable surprise was rookie Tomas Enge now driving for Panther Racing picking up the third spot on the grid while teammate Tomas Scheckter took pole for the Toyota Indy 300. Last season’s dismal showings riddled with harsh luck did not dampen Scheckter’s style as he and Meira locked in a wheel to wheel battle on the first lap. As Enge retired in the opening laps with gearbox maladies Scheckter kept the lone Chevy out in front and only slowed once the yellow was thrown after Dario Franchitti’s Honda let go on lap 13. The South African led the leaders in and out of pit lane yet gave up his lead after Bryan Herta and Dan Wheldon opted to stay out on the track.

     As Herta led the field to the green, an overanxious Scheckter jumped the start and immediately slowed to let several cars pass. Just three laps later Herta’s teammate, Wheldon, jumped from second into the lead only to have his race halted by two cautions which saw defending series champion, Tony Kanaan, lead the grid to the lap 46 restart. The lead was again shuffled as Castroneves promptly took command of the event with Penske teammate Sam Hornish following in second. Castroneves kept the familiar Marlboro car out in front for just a handful of laps before Wheldon surged as the frontrunner.

     With Wheldon and Castroneves steadily pulling away, former Formula One test driver, Ryan Briscoe, lost the back end of his Panoz G-Force backing the car into turn 4. Following the drop of the green flag Wheldon jumped into the lead and easily broke away from the pack only to be slowed by yet another yellow as a second Honda engine belonging to Buddy Rice let go. Wheldon stayed out in front following pit stops and the green flag leading midway through the event. Little changed at the front with Wheldon heavily in control of the race until penultimate green flag stops arrived oddly prompting a caution after a fire set off by A.J. Foyt IV’s car erupted on the infield grass. As the track went green and the race was underway once more Kosuke Matsuura lost control of his Panoz G-Force on cold tires prompting the largest shunt of the race. When the dust finally cleared nearly half the field was out of contention due to the carnal accident. Among the victims of the incident was none other than Tomas Scheckter whose season is visibly off to another negative start.

     Wheldon assumed the lead once more on the lap 177 restart following a lengthy caution period which saw the remaining cars pit. In pursuit were Hornish, Kanaan and Castroneves, unable to catch the British leader all three began battling with each other only to fall further behind. With Wheldon furthering his lead Vitor Meira joined in the fray to set up a spectacular three way battle for second along with Hornish and Kanaan. “It’s going to be a good year,” said a very satisfied Michael Andretti as he saw two of his cars finish on the podium with Wheldon taking the win.

Results:

1. Dan Wheldon
2. Sam Hornish Jr.
3. Tony Kanaan
4. Vitor Meira
5. Helio Castroneves
6. Darren Manning
7. Patrick Carpentier
8. Alex Barron
9. A.J. Foyt IV
10. Paul Dana
11. Tomas Scheckter
12. Kosuke Matsuura
13. Scott Sharp
14. Bryan Herta
15. Danica Patrick
16. Scott Dixon
17. Roger Yasukawa
18. Tomas Enge
19. Ed Carpenter
20. Ryan Briscoe
21. Dario Franchitti
22. Buddy Rice