Hornish domination continues at Miami
9 April 2001
Sam Hornish Jr once again had all the answers he needed to contain the rest of the Indy Racing Northern Light Series contenders as he scored his second consecutive IRNLS victory beating off an inspired Sarah Fisher to win the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami by a comfortable 1.8-seconds.
Two races and 400-laps into the 2001 Indy Racing Northern Light Series Championship and 21-year old Panther Racing driver Sam Hornish Jr has failed to lead just 78 of them after the second year driver headed the 26-strong IRNLS field for a total of 142 laps this Sunday en-route to the third consecutive win for the increasingly dominant Pennzoil Panther outfit.
Not even a slow late stop for fuel and tyres on lap 166 (under the race's fifth caution period) that turned a ten second lead into fourth place on the re-start failed to halt an increasingly confident Hornish, who swiftly ducked underneath defending IRNLS Champion Buddy Lazier resulting in the Hemelgarn driver losing vital air in the draft and spinning backwards into the outside retaining wall in Turn Four on the 1.5-mile track.
Starting the final 19-lap dash to the chequered flag in third spot behind Eliseo Salazar and the simply inspired Sarah Fisher, Hornish grabbed second from Fisher on the re-start and quickly set about reducing the gap to the veteran Chilean driver, taking the spot with a brilliant move around the outside of the AJ Foyt owned machine on lap 184.
Fisher also found a way passed Miami resident Salazar twelve laps from the end, much to the chagrin of team-boss AJ Foyt, and for several laps the 20-year old Walker Racing driver honed in on the leader, reducing the deficit between her and an historic debut victory to a mere eight tenths of a second before Hornish eased away in the final laps.
With his second career IRNLS victory Hornish now leads the points standings by an impressive 29 points after only two events and will go into the third round of the Championship at the Atlanta Motor Speedway as a red-hot favourite for the first time in his burgeoning career. Fisher meanwhile had every reason to feel over the moon with her performance, as she remained on the lead lap all day in a race where only three cars completed all 200-laps. Her second IRNLS podium result in her second IRNLS season is the highest ever recorded by a woman in American open wheel racing history and a first win will surely be forthcoming in the near future.
Salazar completed the podium but dropped a full seven seconds off the leading pair in the closing laps as a first IRNLS victory continues to elude the former ATS F1 driver although his consistency in the opening two rounds has seen the 46-year old veteran climb into second spot in the standings.
Treadway-Hubbard Racing's impressive rookie Felipe Giaffone finished in fourth spot, the first car off the lead lap after a strong run on a track he knows from his Indy Lights days while pole-sitter Jeff Ward was unlucky to lose a lap when he made his final stop under green before the penultimate caution period, caused when Greg Ray slapped the Turn Two wall. Prior to that costly stop, Ward had provided the most spirited challenge to Hornish, leading the opening 13 laps before ceding to the Panther driver and then re-passing Hornish on lap 36 to lead convincingly for the new Heritage Motorsports team until once again making way for the bright-yellow bullet on lap 62. The ill-timed caution period cost Ward a lap and he could do no more than complete the top five when a podium result at least was on the cards.
Sixth place finisher Al Unser Jr was another driver to suffer from the lap 166 caution period as he had also just re-fuelled the much improved Galles Racing G Force-Aurora from second place after a lengthy duel with Ward and Lazier during the middle portion of the race while Mark Dismore was the first of the two Kelley Racing entries home in seventh spot after a consistent run in which he only lost his place on the lead lap after getting severely baulked in traffic by Eddie Cheever, ahead of Dismore at the time in the best of the Infiniti powered machines.
Cheever, who did not gain many friends in the Kelley Racing camp during the race, eventually finished ninth, two laps down and just behind Dismore's team-mate Scott Sharp while rookie Didier Andre was a pleasant addition to the top ten in the second of the Galles Racing entries, albeit four laps down on the inner.
Casey Mears completed a good day for the Galles team, who did plenty of head-scratching after an almost embarrassing start to the year in Phoenix with eleventh place ahead of the disappointing trio Robbie McGehee, Billy Boat and Jeret Schroeder all of whom produced less than expected while Shigeaki Hattori led home the real tail-enders, all of whom were at least seven laps adrift.
Sunday's event was one of very little attrition with eighteen of the 26 starters running at the end, Davey Hamilton the last man to fall by the wayside on lap 185 to join Lazier, Ray, Stephan Gregoire, Airton Dare, Robbie Buhl, Jon Herb and Stan Wattles on the retirement list.
Of the DNF's, Wattles was first out as Hemelgarn Racing's day got off to a bad start when he looped the Dallara-Aurora into the pit-wall at the completion of lap one while both Herb and Buhl were spectating before ten laps had been completed after mechanical problems ended their afternoon's racing. Dare's luck continued to desert him as he retired the Team Xtreme G Force with an engine failure while Gregoire failed to show the same speed he did at Phoenix as his Dick Simon Racing Dallara was blighted with engine and electrical related niggles almost from the word go before the Frenchman finally called it a day on lap 69.
Team Menard were left shaking their heads after another promising, yet eventually fruitless run by the perennially unlucky Ray who ran inside the top five all day until a series of unscheduled stops to try and cure a fuel pressure problem dropped him from contention on lap 130. Seemingly in an effort to make up for lost time, Ray overcooked things coming out of Turn To on lap 166 with inevitable consequences.
So, two races into the biggest IRNLS Championship yet and thus far, no one has been able to touch Sam Hornish Jr and the Panther Racing squad. Team Menard may have the answer in qualifying but when it comes to actual racing, Hornish has literally been laps ahead of the opposition.
The battle for the lead in the closing laps had every man, woman and child standing on their seats at the pleasantly full, Homestead-Miami Speedway and although this is said after nearly every IRNLS event, once again the teams and drivers did their series proud with a fast, clean, action filled race that saw a total of nine lead changes amongst five drivers.