Indy Racing rookie Laurent Redon drove his Infiniti-powered car to a third-place finish in the thrilling Yamaha Indy 400 on Sunday, ending an otherwise disappointing day for the engine make on a high note.

The race had a record number of 34 lead changes, making an exciting debut for the Indy Racing League at California Speedway. Redon, having qualified in the top six, dropped away from the fight for the lead mid-race, only to re-appear in the frantic final laps to pass both Penske entries and claim a place on the podium.

"It was really a tough race," he reported, "We were really quick and had a good car. We had a good fight at the end to stay in front of Gil de Ferran. I just had to keep the low line. It was such close racing. I am really happy for the Mi-Jack/Conquest team. The Infiniti engine was really good. It was really quick for us today."

"We are very pleased with the third place finish by Laurent Redon," commented Bernard Dudot, Infiniti Motorsport's programme manager, "This is quite an achievement for a rookie driver and the relatively new team of Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing. Obviously, we need to go back and take a look at the Cheever engines, though, and we have a lot of work ahead of us to be ready for Indy."

Pole-sitter Eddie Cheever Jr and third-place starter Tomas Scheckter, both Infiniti runners, were in serious contention for the victory eventually captured by Sam Hornish Jr, but both suffered misfortune before the chequered flag came out.

In the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing entry, Cheever led a total of ten times for 33 laps. In the last stint of the race, he was racing back and forth for the lead with Jaques Lazier when the engine broke on lap 191 of the 200-lap race.

"I had Jaques, and then I didn't, and then I did," the veteran smiled, "We kept going back and forth. Hornish wasn't even in contention because he was in our dirty air.

"The Red Bull Cheever Racing car was good today. I think I could have run Jaques down. It's all a question of being in the right position. We were playing with each other. I broke an engine with 18 miles to go. I'm disappointed because I really wanted to do well here in California.

"It's a good lesson for Indy though. The Infiniti engineers have to go back and fix the problem. I am happy to see that at least one Infiniti finished in the top three with Laurent Redon's third place finish. Today could have been our first win of the year. I would have even been happy with a top three. Oh well."

Driving the #52 sister car, rookie South African Scheckter led for the first time in the Indy Racing League, taking the lead five times for a total of 28 laps. He also turned the fastest lap of the race on lap 73 at 222.559mph. However, the youngster's day ended early, with an accident on lap 164 as Hideki Noda clipped the rear of Scheckter's already slowing car.

"The race was unbelievable," he gasped, "Everything was going perfect. It was good racing the whole way through - me and Hornish, me and Lazier. It was unfortunate, because I was looking forward to the last 20 laps. Eddie and I both had a good chance to do well in this race. Eddie could have won. I was cheering for him when I was in the medical centre."

Memo Gidley, meanwhile, made a late appearance as replacement for the concussed Robbie Buhl. Despite having to start from the back of the pack, the single-seater expert made it to the end of a difficult race.

"It's tough to hop into a car in even a perfect situation, and even tougher to adapt during the race," he admitted, "We didn't have many laps in the car, but we moved up six spots on the grid and took the chequer, which was important for the team.

"We worked on making the car better and we're just hampered by radio communications early on. It was great to work with everyone on the team. Everyone did their jobs, and I met a lot of talented guys."

In his first race with Infiniti power, Shigeaki Hattori, driving the #12 Bradley Motorsports car, went out of the race on lap 147 with mechanical problems.

 

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