22 September 2003
Hornish takes record win to keep point race tight.
Sam Hornish Jr kept up his - and the revitalised Chevrolet's - late-season run of form by winning at California Speedway and maintain a close five-way fight for the Indy Racing League title.
The reigning champion turned up the heat on his rivals by taking his third victory in the last four races, breaking Jimmy Vasser's record speed of 207.151mph to establish a new mark for the fastest race in motorsports history. It was Hornish's second consecutive win on the two-mile oval and tallied his record eleventh career IRL victory.
"We could pull away once we got to the front, but it was hard to get there," Hornish said in the winner's circle, "The engine and car were working real well, but we didn't have any telemetry, so I was telling the pit crew what the fuel consumption was. We were getting as good or better mileage than anyone out there."
It was a punishing day for drivers and engines at California Speedway with temperatures in the high 90s, track temperatures approaching 140 degrees and a wilting desert wind. The 400-mile endurance test was slowed by only one caution period that lasted six laps but, despite the adverse conditions, the Chevy Indy V8 again had a perfect reliability record.
"It was hot and windy just like we thought it would be," Hornish explained, "The wind was making the car really loose coming off of turn two. That was something we battled all day long. Hot, slick conditions, I like that!"
Hornish's record pace eclipsed the 197.897mph mark he set at Kentucky Speedway in August while en route to his first victory of the year with the new Chevy Gen IV - and engine that has now taken three wins and two second places since its introduction at Michigan mid-season.
"Early on, I thought it would be a lot closer than it was," Hornish recalled, "With all the green-flag pit-stops, it was important to get in and out quickly. I knew as long as we were out in front that's where we needed to be because our car could work in traffic where a lot of other people couldn't."
Hornish led four times for a total of 30 laps. The two-time IRL champion started tenth on the grid, but moved to the front for the first time on lap 43, with passes on both the high and low lines. He took the lead for good on lap 186 with an outside pass around title rival Scott Dixon and then stretched his advantage to 0.3563 seconds at the conclusion of 200 laps.
Hornish will now go into the season-ending Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on 12 October having climbed into fourth place in the title race. The Panther Racing driver has 448 points, 19 behind new co-leaders Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves, who are tied with 467, with a maximum of 52 on the line in the season finale.
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