Sam Hornish Jr beat Jaques Lazier by less than three hundredths of a second in a Yamaha 400 that will go down in history as one of the most thrilling spectacles of racing ever seen as the Indy Racing League contenders put on a show that had the cold and pitifully small California crowd holding their breath for all 200 laps.

In a race that will surely go on record as the Indy Racing League's best ever along with Texas 2000, Sam Hornish Jr beat Jaques Lazier across the line of the two-mile California Speedway by the length of his Panther Racing Dallara-Chevrolet's nosecone. Hornish took his fifth career IRL victory and his second of 2002 after he and the Team Menard driver swapped the lead three times in the final lap.

As Hornish took the lead coming across the line to take the white flag, Lazier was able to get a run on the inside going down the back straight into turn three. Despite being behind mid-way through the corner, Hornish Jr stuck it out on the high-line as he had been doing to great effect all day and out dragged Lazier to the line. At they entered the finishing bowl, the two cars almost seemed to touch with their wheels briefly interlocking at more than 215mph on he run to the flag. Had either driver moved an inch, the results could have been so much different.

The blistering final lap was preceded by 199 others, which simply had the crowd gasping for breath as the IRL equalled and even surpassed the spectacle laid down by CART over the previous five years. Now it is the CART boys who have the major task to live up to as eight drivers swapped the lead a series-record 39 times in a race that was run at an average speed of 179.345mph. Hornish Jr led the most laps with 73 and was the only driver to ever pull out a significant advantage at the head of the field, opening up a seven second lead after the first round of fuel stops and before the first of four caution flags on lap 86.

The biggest stars of the show were undoubtedly Hornish, Lazier and the two Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara-Infiniti's of pole sitter Eddie Cheever and rookie sensation Tomas Scheckter. Cheever and Lazier ran side by side for the lead for more than five laps in the closing quarter of the race and Cheever was sitting pretty in second spot behind the Team Menard driver and in front of Hornish with ten laps to go when his Infiniti engine disintegrated in a plume of smoke.

This compounded the misery of the Cheever team who had only just recovered from seeing Scheckter walk away from a heavy impact with the wall after being speared by Hideki Noda exiting turn four on lap 163. After leading 28 laps and looking like a potential IRL Champion of the future, Scheckter's engine also went sick and it was during his efforts to get onto pit road when the crash occurred. Thankfully both Scheckter and Noda were unhurt.

That crash was the only one in a remarkably clean race that saw what must be a record 21 cars running at the finish, ten of them on the lead lap.

Giving Infiniti something to smile about by coming home in a career best third was Frenchman Laurent Redon who gave Eric Bachelart's Conquest Racing outfit a real boost by holding off both Marlboro Team Penske cars Felipe Giaffone and Buddy Lazier in a mad scramble to the line. De Ferran finished mere metres behind Redon in fourth with the recovering Castroneves fifth after losing a lap earlier in the day.

Behind Lazier in eighth was Scott Sharp while IRL debutant Jimmy Vasser and Jeff Ward rounded out the top ten.

Memo Gidley did not enjoy a happy outing for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and spent several laps in the pits working round mechanical and handling glitches before coming home 21st.

 

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