26 August 2003
'Spiderman' holds on under Hornish assault.
Reigning Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish Jr came close to racking up back-to-back victories in the 2003 series, but met with stiff resistance from his erstwhile title rival, Helio Castroneves, who got to continue his tradition of climbing the safety fencing in celebration.
In holding off the American, Penske driver Castroneves assumed control of the IRL points table, taking over from countryman and friend Tony Kanaan, who crashed out in an early race incident with Tomas Scheckter.
Castroneves featured at the front of the field throughout the 225-lap distance, giving best initially to another title hopeful, Scott Dixon, and then assuming a better position when the young Kiwi was forced to take a long pit-stop for repairs that dropped him to the rear of the field. In all, the Brazilian led the final 173 laps, holding on through several yellow flag and pit-stop windows to fend off that determined assault from a fired-up Hornish. Bryan Herta finished third for Andretti Green Racing after running solidly all afternoon.
"It was a great win today and I'm extremely happy for everyone at Marlboro Team Penske - to be able to win in the team's backyard made it even more special and I'm glad I was able to do it for my guys," an ecstatic Castroneves bubbled.
"Today was a real team effort - my Firestone tyres held up all race and the Toyota engine was incredible. When I needed to conserve fuel, I could and, when I needed the horsepower, it was right there. My engineer did a great job in setting up the car and the crew's pit-stops were excellent.
"Nazareth is a very tough track and nothing is ever easy here. Sometimes it comes down to mileage, sometimes it's the yellows and sometimes its traffic, but today everything came together for us and it was perfect.
The 'hometown' race for Pennsylvania-based Penske proved to be a good one for Castroneves and team-mate Gil de Ferran, who now first and second in the point standings respectively, after the older Brazilian finished fourth on the road. 'Spiderman', however, was taking nothing for granted in his quest for a first championship.
"It's awesome to be in the points lead and I'm going to enjoy it, at least for the next two weeks," he said, "This championship is like the stock market - one week you're up and the next you're down. It's not over until the fat lady sings, so we have to keep working, keep focused and keep finishing races."
Hornish was all over the back of Castroneves' car in the final stages but with his handling starting to go, was just not able to make a move stick on the Brazilian.
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