IndyCar » 10 September 2006
Wheldon wins, Hornish champion at Chicagoland.
Sam Hornish Jr clinched his third IRL Indycar title on a tie-breaker after conceding victory in the final round of the season at Chicagoland to outgoing king Dan Wheldon.
The Marlboro Team Penske driver finished third behind a Target Chip Ganassi one-two of Wheldon and Scott Dixon, but his superior win record this season allowed him to defeat the Brit on count-back after the pair ended the campaign tied on points. Wheldon did everything he could in the race and picked up an extra three points for leading the most laps - 166 of the 200 - but Hornish knew all he had to do was sit behind the Ganassi pair and the crown would be his.
The American thus becomes the second consecutive driver to win both the Indy 500 and IRL championship in the same season, following Wheldon's dual success in 2005.
Once again the race was all about the Penske and Ganassi teams, with the latter seeming to have a slight edge around the 1.5-mile oval. No other driver even finished on the same lap as the leading quartet, a fitting tribute to a season they have completely made their own.
Wheldon, Hornish, Dixon and Helio Castroneves – the only four contenders for the title – ran at the front of the field all day, with 20 changes for the lead during 200 laps of enthralling, nail-biting action in what was the third-fastest race in IRL history.
Little over two tenths of a second separated the top three at the flag, with Castroneves a mere two seconds further back in fourth. Ed Carpenter finally emerged as 'best of the rest' a lap down in fifth place for the highest finish of his IRL career, with Vitor Meira, Tony Kanaan, Jeff Simmons, Scott Sharp and Tomas Scheckter completing the top ten.
It could all have ended so differently after team-mates Wheldon and Dixon nearly came to grief with an early brush and a spot of wheel-banging late on. They held on, though, to claim a one-two finish meaning Wheldon both started and ended the season with a victory and claimed his second consecutive win in Chicago.
The Brit will no doubt point to errors earlier in the season for his failure to retain his crown, his first having been won with Andretti Green Racing last season. He and Hornish ended the year tied on 475 points, but the American's four-win tally was double that of his rival which handed him the title, his third after two clinched with Panther Racing in 2001 and 2002.
Penske team-mate Helio Castroneves finished the season third just two points adrift, but saw his championship ambitions disappear with fourth on the road in Chicago, while Dixon finished fourth overall having had the most to do heading into the finale.
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