Copper World Indy 200
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"We're back, like last year!"
by Esteban Morales

     Round two of the IndyCar Indy Racing League, the Copper World Indy 200, was held at the famed Phoenix International Raceway under sweltering conditions. Although this was the second race of the season, announcements concerning the IRL were far from over. One of the bigger surprises coming into the weekend was the defection of former CART owner and driver, Adrian Fernandez. Due to rising uncertainty surrounding the rival series, Fernandez announced he would opt to compete in the IRL. Not only did the IRL benefit from the acquisition of a famed driver with a loyal fan-base but also gained an additional team, Fernandez Racing. Following this unexpected turn of events came the longtime rumored announcement of former Indianapolis 500 winner, Al Unser Jr., teaming with U.E. “Pat” Patrick to tackle this years’ Indy 500 as well as the remaining events of the season; Unser and Patrick will be using Chevrolet power, a chassis has yet to be announced.

     Once the grid was given the green flag, pole-sitter Dan Wheldon, driving for Andretti Green Racing led the twenty car field into the first turn. Teammate Tony Kanaan however, had other plans in mind as he drove around the outside of Wheldon and took the lead on the opening lap. Meanwhile, Adrian Fernandez coasted into the pits with transmission woes. Behind Kanaan and Wheldon continued the rivalry between the two Marlboro Team Penske teammates, Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish. Before the race was even ten laps old Hornish took third place from Castroneves; while Hornish began to move up through the field, Castroneves began to lose position after position with an ill handling racecar. By lap 46, a string of cars including Red Bull Cheever Racing’s Alex Barron, moved around Castroneves and dropped him to 11th, Barron was notably working through the field after starting 17th.

     Race leader Tony Kanaan began to encounter difficulties with lapped traffic about a quarter of the distance into the race. This gave Hornish who had moved into 2nd place the opportunity to begin to place some pressure on the leader. Kanaan however, managed to hold on to the lead until he made his first pit stop under green conditions on lap 68. A few laps later the rest of the field began to cycle through their first pit stops until Kanaan again assumed the lead of the race over Hornish. Surprisingly Sam Hornish brought out the first caution of the day while trying to catch the leader; Hornish made a very uncharacteristic mistake when he spun his car and lightly grazed the wall in turn 2 with enough force to damage the rear wing.

     The field was restarted on lap 88, Tony Kanaan led over Scott Dixon and Tomas Scheckter. Half way through the race Kanaan continued to put on a dominating performance as he still kept himself in the lead of the race seemingly unchallenged. 30 laps later Dixon began to work on Kanaan closing the gap between the two cars to under 2 tenths of a second. The second yellow of the day was brought out by rookie Ed Carpenter, on lap 133; Carpenter made contact with the SAFER Barrier in turn 2. This caution gave way to the second pit stops of the day which were rather uneventful as the leaders kept their same positions into the restart on lap 141.

     Kanaan once again began to extend his lead over Dixon eventually building a gap of about one and a half seconds until the third and last yellow flag of the day was brought out as a result of Robbie Buhl making hard contact in turn 4. Unfortunately Scheckter and Dario Franchitti who had been battling for 3rd place were involved as well; Scheckter slowed for the yellow, Franchitti did not anticipate the caution and slammed into the rear of Scheckter’s car sending the two sliding into Buhl’s machine.

     The final restart of the day came with 8 laps left in the race. Kanaan pulled a gap on 2nd place Dixon and crossed the checkered flags in dominating fashion over Scott Dixon, teammate Dan Wheldon and Alex Barron who had an impressive run which saw him move from 17th up to 4th. This was Kanaan’s second straight IRL win at Phoenix which catapulted him into the series points lead.

Results:

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