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Hornish sneaks Phoenix win

20 March 2005

Sam Hornish Jr used a late fuel only pitstop to out-guile a dominant Andretti-Green Racing team and record his second IRL IndyCar Series victory at the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway.

The double IRL Champ took the chequered flag ahead of his Marlboro Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves and defending series Champion Tony Kanaan after an exciting, closely fought race in which the two main IRL powerhouses, Penske and Andretti-Green, were dominant.

Nearing the end of an 80 lap green flag run that saw the two Penske teammates play second-fiddle to AGR's Dario Franchitti, Hornish and Castroneves added fuel only during a late round of green flag stops, whereas Franchitti took four tyres.

Tomas Scheckter's brush with the turn four wall on lap 191 of 200, brought out the fourth and final caution flag of the day just as new leader Hornish was coming under severe pressure from the previously dominant Franchitti with Castroneves just a couple of lengths back, but with the lapped car of early race leader Dan Wheldon separating him from the Scotsman.

The yellow kept things close, albeit artificially, and by the time the Panther Racing Dallara was removed just two laps remained.

Franchitti, who initially passed the initially dominant Wheldon for the lead on lap 72, had withstood the best the two Penske teammates could throw at him on the track after regaining the lead on lap 130. Prior to this Franchitti had to fight his way back through the field after coming to pit road under green flag conditions for a scheduled stop, only to drive straight through pit road as the caution flag suddenly waved.

Knowing that the restart was the best place to make a move for the lead, Franchitti took a peek at the outside line in turn one as the green flag waved as Hornish predictably clung to the low line. The move was a mistake, as Franchitti's Dallara-Honda washed towards the outside wall, kissing it gently as Hornish continued unabated.

With Castroneves momentarily trapped behind Wheldon, Hornish was untroubled over the final tour to score his first series win since the 2004 season-opener at Homestead and move into the points lead.

Behind Castroneves, who took the lead with a quick yellow flag pitstop just after the 80 lap mark and then lost it to Hornish 40 laps later on another restart after a lap of side by side racing, Tony Kanaan extended his record top five finishing streak with a hard fought podium finish.

Kanaan, who had to start at the rear of the 22-car field after changing engines after practice, passed eleven cars on the first lap and had risen to seventh by lap three. Thereafter progress was slower, and the 2003 and 2004 winner only made it passed Scott Sharp for fourth place with 40 laps to go. A botched refuelling stop in which he had to return to his stall for a second time didn't help, but on a day where his AGR teammates Wheldon and Franchitti led nearly three quarters of the race, Kanaan's steadier approach paid off in the end.

Franchitti, deranged suspension and all, was able to hang on for fourth place and a top five result he would have gladly taken at the start of the day when considering his early retirement at Homestead. However in light of his showing on Saturday, where his car was easily the best in traffic, fourth seemed a disappointing end to the day for the Scotsman.

On his 100th IRL start, Scott Sharp was the only other driver to complete all 200 laps and finished fifth for Fernandez Racing while Wheldon completed the top six, one lap down after leading the opening 70 tours.

Polesitter Bryan Herta seemed to have a car to match Wheldon and Franchitti in the early laps but, like Wheldon, found himself trapped at the end of the lead lap just before half distance when a green flag pitstop backfired. Like Wheldon, Herta discovered that his car didn't handle as well in traffic as it did in clean air, and was never a factor thereafter, finishing seventh.

A potentially strong run from Darren Manning wasn't helped by early contact with rookie Paul Dana, but the Englishman was still the most competitive of Chip Ganassi's three Panoz-Toyota entries and crossed the line in eighth place.

Patrick Carpentier had a solid, in unspectacular run to ninth place, his pace undoubtedly affected by the rib injuries he suffered in his Friday practice crash.

Homestead bad boy Kosuke Matsuura briefly ran with the top five during the opening stages of the race but faded during the second half. Two laps down at the end, he finished tenth, holding off Vitor Meira, Scott Dixon and Alex Barron.

Dixon didn't endear himself to his rivals and proved to be something of a rolling roadblock all day while Meira, like the rest of his Rahal-Letterman team, never found a comfortable set-up.

AJ Foyt IV, Danica Patrick and Ed Carpenter all made it through the day unscathed, finishing five, six and seven laps adrift respectively with their main concern being trying to stay out of the way of the faster cars.

Like his Panther teammate Scheckter, Tomas Enge's day also ended up against the turn four wall, as did rookie Ryan Briscoe. Dreyer & Reinbold's Roger Yasukawa struggled desperately, and eventually retired with incurable handling woes 30 laps from home while Ron Hemelgarn's rookie driver Paul Dana was eventually 'retired' after a slow 33 laps.

Defending Indy 500 winner and Phoenix resident Buddy Rice was first man out, hitting the wall in turn two with no help after just 14 laps and following his engine failure in Homestead, Rice's second straight DNF leaves him tied for last place in the early season points table.

The points table could look vastly different at the end of the next race of the series, as the IRL heads to the streets of St Petersburg for the first time.


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