2 August 2004
Rice steals Michigan prize as pit crews suffer.
By Andrew Charman
Tony Kanaan led 185 of the 200 laps in the Michigan 400, but the Indy Racing League points leader didn't lead the one that mattered. With 10 laps left Buddy Rice rounded his Andretti-Green Racing rival to snatch the win and close the gap between them at the top of the table.
While the action on the track was of the frantic 200mph-plus variety we expect at Michigan, more worrying was the chaos that erupted in pit road. Three separate incidents resulted in crew members being hit by cars, thankfully all escaping serious injury in what looked frightening crashes.
Tony Kanaan had pole position for the Michigan Indy 400 and from the moment the green flag fell the driver of the #11 Andretti-Green Racing Dallara-Honda looked in a different race to everyone else, moving straight into the lead and proceeding to dominate the opening laps. Behind the green Dallara the surprisingly competitive Kosuke Matsuura held second in the early stages in his #55 Super Aguri Fernandez Racing G Force-Honda, but was soon demoted by the driver rapidly becoming Kanaan's biggest rival for the title, Buddy Rice in the #15 Rahal-Letterman G Force-Honda.
The man on the early charge, however was 2002 Michigan winner Tomas Scheckter in his #4 Panther Racing Dallara-Chevrolet. The US engine builder has so far struggled this season against its Japanese rivals, but appeared to had found something here. Starting 13th, Scheckter sluiced through the field, and by lap 24 had moved past Rice into second, the second Rahal-Letterman car of Vitor Meira fighting with the #6 Penske Racing Dallara-Toyota of Sam Hornish Jr over fourth, Matsuura close in behind ahead of Adrian Fernandez's self-run #5 G Force-Honda.
Lap 35 saw Matsuura initiate the first pit calls, a poor stop that dropped him down the field. Meira and Hornish came down pit road side by side next lap, the second Penske Dallara of Helio Castroneves in too and both he and Hornish getting ahead of the Rahal-Letterman car. But Scheckter had a complete disaster; as he turned into his pit Tora Takagi next door was let out, hitting the Panther Dallara which half-spun and pinned one of the crew members against the pit wall. Thankfully the crewman escaped uninjured but Scheckter's car needed a new nose.
Straight after the first caution flew for debris, and as the mess was sorted out Kanaan retained the lead, Dan Wheldon now second in the #26 Andretti-Green Dallara-Honda from Darren Manning's #10 Target Chip Ganassi G Force-Toyota and the rest, while Scheckter was 21st a lap down. The green flew on lap 45 and Manning immediately lost momentum, plummeting down the field. Rice went to third, Hornish to fourth, Castroneves and Meira chasing them in one long drafting line. Rice began working on Wheldon resulting in those behind all closing up, the two Penskes battling hard with Meira.
Rice finally got around Wheldon and set off after Kanaan, and both Penskes started to work on the Brit, Hornish getting through as the Andretti-Green car tried to block Castroneves. Helio's frustration intensified as Meira and Matsuura joined the scrap, and within five laps Frenandez, Dario Franchitti's #27 Andretti-Green machine and Manning had also joined the train.
For lap after lap the darting pack containing everyone from third to 10th provided edge-of-the-seat entertainment but not until 64 laps wer ein the books did Meira find a way past both Penskes to take third and set off after team-mate Rice, who in turn had been able to catch leader Kanaan but appeared not to have the pace to go past.
Matsuura was again first to pit for fuel on lap 78. Much of the leading pack came in two laps later, but Kanaan waited longest, peeling off on lap 83 and retaining the lead ahead of Rice, Meira, Matsuura and Wheldon, the Penskes losing out with Hornish sixth and Castroneves eighth. Scheckter meanwhile was up to 18th, among the lead pack and the fastest man on the track but still a lap down.
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