Team 7-Eleven driver Tony Kanaan battled to a third-place finish in Sunday's Toyota Indy 400 at California Speedway, putting himself squarely in the middle of a title fight he clearly thinks he can win.

The Brazilian started fifth in the field, but immediately moved to within striking distance of the race lead. Under green-flag conditions, Kanaan never ran outside the top-five - which often included four of the five championship contenders.

With only one caution period during the race, green-flag pit stops became a crucial component, and proved to be a distinct advantage for the 28-year old, as his Team 7-Eleven pit crew gained him three spots on the race track during their first effort on lap 43, and continued to improve his track position one spot at a time throughout the remainder of the 200-lap event.

Kanaan's twelfth top-ten finish of the year - coupled with the results from the other championship contenders - moved him to within seven points of the title as the series heads into its finale at Texas Motor Speedway on 12 October. Helio Castroneves, who finished sixth on Sunday, and Scott Dixon, who came home second, now share the points lead at 467 points, while Kanaan sits third with 460, just ahead of Fontana race winner Sam Hornish.

"We've got it down to a seven-point gap, and the thing we can look forward to at Texas is that we had a very, very good car there the last time we were there," enthused Andretti Green team president Kim Green, "I think our engine guys have really stepped it up since then, so I'm pretty hopeful of having a very good package to take in there.

"Obviously, we would have liked to have won this race - we got ourselves in a position, but it just seemed like we didn't quite have enough at the end for the #4 and the #9. Tony drove a fantastic race and the pit crew did an absolutely fantastic job - those were the best pit-stops I think we've had all year. Under pressure, when we needed it, they came through, so it shows that they mean business."

The Texas event will feature qualifying on Friday night with a 500km event to decide the destination of the 2003 title between a possible five contenders.

"The whole team did a great job last weekend," Kanaan said, "I ask a lot of all those guys and they give me everything I needed. I've really got to thank Honda, too. They have really stepped up everything for us, as well, and are giving us great engines. This was a great team effort - it wasn't just me.

"We have two more weeks to work - two more weeks to work on our car, two more weeks to work on engines. This is what we had to do. The championship is wide open. Let's go to Texas. We'll get them in Texas!"

 

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