While close finishes have been the hallmark of the IRL IndyCar Series, Sunday's Honda Indy 225 at the one-mile Pikes Peak International Raceway saw Dan Wheldon finish a full half a lap ahead of his nearest rival as he took another stride towards the 2005 title.

In a race slowed by only one caution period, Wheldon made his way up from eleventh on the grid to lap all but two other drivers as he tied Hornish's single season record for wins and pad his points lead over Hornish to 97.

Wheldon used a pit stop problem by Andretti Green Racing teammate Dario Franchitti to take the lead for good on lap 164. Franchitti, who won the race in 2004 and started fourth, had inherited the point when Wheldon made his final pit stop. Franchitti came in for his final routine fuel and tyre stop, but the #27 ArcaEx car stalled in the pit box. The crew attempted to push-start the car, but that failed. They pulled it back to the pit box and used the starter to get it going. Franchitti finished seventh.

Wheldon, who won four of the first five races, recorded his first victory since the 89th Indianapolis 500. In between, he's finished in the top five in five of the seven events.

"It's very important to me to be in Victory Lane, for everybody involved," said the English born driver. "The car was good. My three teammates pushed me hard. We all want to be in victory lane as much as one another. It just happened to work out for me.

"I've been tough on the Klein Tools/Jim Beam boys. I've been frustrated at some of the results. Certainly today, it was a great team effort by certainly those guys and everybody at Andretti Green Racing. It's a nice time for a victory to come.

"Dario was really strong. I think he was my strongest competitor today. I was a little bit better in traffic at some points. It was a shame for him. He's had some bad luck."

Hornish, who led a race high 71 laps in an event dominated by Marlboro Team Penske and Andretti-Green Racing, crossed the line in second place, with defending series champion Tony Kanaan the only other driver to complete all 225 laps in third.

"They (Wheldon and Franchitti) got ahead of me when I got caught up to lap traffic," said Hornish. "I saw guys were four wide in front of me, and I ended up turning a lap that was six seconds slower than what I was running before. That really killed us, but I didn't want to get back up in there. I figured on a track that's mostly two lanes wide, and some people were wanting to go four wide for who knows what positions, that's asking for trouble."

"Dan did a great job today," said Kanaan, who faces an almost impossible task if he is to successfully defend his 2004 title. "He drove like a champion and hats off to him. Now it's our job to clinch second in the championship for Team 7-Eleven. Our other plan was to clinch the manufacturer's championship for Honda, and we accomplished that.

"I knew that we didn't have the car to win the race, but we had a good enough car to finish as high as second. I had a good battle with Sam, and we raced hard over the final laps. It was fun racing like that."

Pole sitter Helio Castroneves was fourth. Vitor Meira, the runner-up to Scott Sharp a week earlier at Kentucky Speedway, finished fifth with rookie Tomas Enge and Franchitti completed the list of finishers one lap behind Wheldon.

Rookie Danica Patrick, who started fifth, placed eighth after an entertaining race, but she was two laps behind Wheldon.

The only caution flag flew on lap 80 when the #33 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz-Toyota driven by Ryan Briscoe made contact with the turn four wall.

"I had just done my pit stop and the car felt really good," the IndyCar Series rookie said. "I had done a quick lap and then I went through one and two and at the exit there was a strange moment. It felt like the tyre pressure came down on me, and in turn three I was in fourth gear and the rear just came out on me. So it felt like it was tyre pressure or something like that."

Briscoe's teammate Jaques Lazier did not take the green flag after the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver made contact with the turn four wall in the afternoon practice session on Saturday. Lazier was cleared to drive by the Indy Racing League medical staff, but team principals decided not to risk damage to the backup car with another race next weekend at Infineon Raceway.

 

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