Firestone Indy 200 Race Report
Date: July 21, 2003 01:20
Honda Press Release
Wheldon Fourth at Nashville, Kanaan Keeps Points Lead
Bouncing back from a hard crash two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway, IRL IndyCar rookie Dan Wheldon led the Honda-powered field at Nashville Superspeedway with a fuel-efficient run to fourth place Saturday night at the Firestone Indy 200. Meanwhile, Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran posted his second victory of the season, under caution after Buddy Lazier crashed with less than two laps remaining.
Starting eighth, Wheldon ran just ahead of Andretti Green teammates Tony Kanaan and Bryan Herta in the opening laps. He remained in the lead group through the first half of the race, then adopted a fuel conservation strategy for the final 81 laps, moving up to third place as others pitted. Although he lost one position to Helio Castroneves on a Lap 195 restart, the fourth-place result was his best this season .
Former series champion Kenny Brack had one of his strongest runs of the 2003 season, finishing in sixth despite having to make an additional pit stop, just one lap after his first scheduled service for fuel and tires, to replace a loose front wheel. That dropped the Team Rahal driver all the way back to 17th place, but the Swede was one of the fastest men on the circuit in the second half of the race. Brack moved into the top 10 with 50 laps remaining and finally passed a sliding Tomas Scheckter to grab sixth place in the closing laps.
Championship leader Kanaan ran as high as third in the opening laps, and led for 56 laps before his pit strategy dropped him down the order to finish ninth. Contact and resulting cut tires sent three Honda drivers to the pits for unscheduled stops, dropping Kansas Speedway winner Herta, rookie points leader Roger Yasukawa and Greg Ray to the pits for unscheduled stops, with Ray also having to contend with a brief fire in his Access Motorsports machine. All recovered to finish, but off the lead lap.
The IRL IndyCar Series continues its run of five races in a six-week period with the Michigan Indy 400, July 27 at Michigan International Speedway.
Dan Wheldon (#26 Jim Beam/Klein Tools/Andretti Green Racing Honda) started 8th, finished 4th, best result this season: "Tony Cotman [team manager] called a beautiful race for me. That's the first time in my career I've ever run a 'fuel strategy' race, and I learned a lot tonight that I can use in the future. [Engineer] Eddie Jones and the guys gave me a great car tonight and the Honda engine ran strong all night. We were great on the longer runs, but struggled on the restarts and that cost us some positions. Still, it was a great team result."
Kenny Brack (#15 Pioneer/Team Rahal Honda) started 9th, finished 6th: "We had a good car at the end of the race. It's just a shame that we had trouble on our first pit stop. We had to come back in to get the left front wheel back on properly. We fell back to 17th and then came up the field. The middle portion of the race wasn't good for us. I think we didn't have the best set of tires right then. But after the final stop, the tires were great and we were fast. I had to go on the grass there at the end to get around [Tomas] Scheckter for sixth. It wasn't our best race by a long way but we were able to score some more points. We're getting closer to the setup we want on this car. Hopefully next week at Michigan, that should be a good race for us."
Bryan Herta (#27 Archipelago/Motorola/Andretti Green Racing Honda) started 12th, finished 7th: "We had a great car tonight, one that was maybe capable of winning the race, but only managed 12th, so it was pretty disappointing. The first half of the race went pretty well for us but I almost got caught up in a crash and went a lap down avoiding a crash. With our pit strategy tonight, we were never able to get that lap back."
Tony Kanaan (#11 7-Eleven/Andretti Green Racing Honda) started 10th, finished 9th: "It was just one thing after another tonight. We got off to a good start, but then everything that could happen to us did. But you get races like that. That's racing. That is how people win; that is how people lose. It wasn't a good night for us. I think we ran out of luck tonight, to be honest, because there were just so many things that happened. It would be one thing and then I would say, 'OK, we got a break. Now, let's go racing.' But then it would be something else, so it was a frustrating night. But, I still can relive the start and my first 70 laps or so. That was pretty good, so that will cheer me up."
Roger Yasukawa (#55 Panasonic/Autobacs/Super Aguri Fernandez Racing Honda) started 11th, finished 15th: "We had a good car and I'm sure we could have finished in the top five but, unfortunately, the luck wasn't there today. We had a couple of problems tonight and a little bit of an incident with Greg Ray. We were never able to make up any ground after that. All in all, we just didn't have the luck this evening. We need to continue doing our best and hopefully we will get a better result next week in Michigan."