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Hornish Rises from the Ashes
by Esteban Morales

March 19, 2005

     With threatening skies looming in the near distance Bryan Herta promptly led the field to the start of the XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 after picking up his first career IRL pole. One of the more unforgiving ovals on the schedule, the Phoenix International Raceway leaves few if any margins for error. This didn’t seem to hinder Dan Wheldon as the young Britton made a dash for the lead on the opening lap while teammate and defending champion, Tony Kanaan, remarkably made up twelve positions on the same lap after starting 21st due to an engine change.

     While the Andretti Green crew had the race in control Rahal Letterman Racing’s Buddy Rice added a second DNF to his season’s tally after backing his loose Panoz G-Force into turn 2 on lap 12. The yellow threw a wild card in the midst of the race with some electing to pit for fuel and hoping the event would not run its full distance. Wheldon funneled the grid into turn 1 on the lap 26 restart and easily retained domination of the event. Within an additional 25 laps, the Andretti Green Racing foursome of Wheldon, Herta, Dario Franchitti and Kanaan all found themselves within the top-five; 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th respectively.

     Keeping true to its short track layout, Phoenix always provides plenty of action with leaders routinely catching traffic. Wheldon was no exception to the rule after encountering a heavy dose of lapped cars leading to Franchitti taking command of the event on the 73rd lap. A few circuits later however, Franchitti was to lose his hard fought lead when the yellow flew just as he entered pit lane. Rookie Tomas Enge’s brush with the wall played right into the hands of new leader Helio Castroneves. At the drop of the green the event became a Penske drag race as the Brazilian’s teammate, Sam Hornish Jr., pressured the leader up to the half-way point until the race was slowed by yet another rookie, Ryan Briscoe, brushing a wall. Castroneves led the field into and out of the pits, under the restart however, he went ahead and lost his lead to a very hungry Hornish; a pivotal point in the race.

     Castroneves went on to fall further back as Franchitti stormed back to the front and blew past Hornish on lap 129. Franchitti almost fell victim to traffic as did Wheldon earlier in the event but kept his lead until the final set of pit stops were completed after which Hornish emerged as the leader. With only 8 laps remaining, Franchitti was given one last shot after Tomas Scheckter put the second Panther Racing entry out of contention by making contact with the turn 4 SAFER Barrier. As the green flag flew with just 2 laps to run Franchitti tried a desperate move on the outside of turns 1 and 2 on cold tires. Unfortunately for Franchitti, his Dallara didn’t stick allowing Hornish to easily sprint to the finish with Castroneves just one second behind. Although only the second race of the year, Hornish went on to establish himself as a serious championship contender once again after picking up his first win in over a year along with the points lead.

Results:

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