Monday, August 12, 2002

Giaffone bests Hornish in IRL fight to finish


Becomes 9th driver to win this season

By Dustin Dow, ddow@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SPARTA, Ky. — If Felipe Giaffone is going to be doing anymore wheel-to-wheel racing, he would like it to be with Sam Hornish Jr.

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Felipe Giaffone (front) and Scott Sharp duel as they pass an imprint on the wall where Richie Hearns crashed earlier in the race.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        The two Indy Racing League drivers, along with Buddy Lazier, raced inches apart throughout the final five laps of Sunday's Belterra Casino Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway. Giaffone blocked Hornish at every turn as the Hollywood Mo Nunn driver won his first career IRL race by .0932 seconds ahead of Hornish, who had passed Lazier on lap 196.

        “With Sam (Hornish) we've had a few problems,” Giaffone said. “Let's say last year we were a little too close. Today and actually this year with Sam, we've been racing wheel-to-wheel and never had an issue. I'm so comfortable with him because it's always better to have somebody beside you, knowing he has a good car, so he can hold the line.”

        In front of 49,264 fans, Giaffone became the ninth different IRL driver to win this season through 12 of 15 races. Hornish and Helio Castroneves are the only multiple winners. The Belterra field had 17 drivers with at least one win after Giaffone's victory.

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Giaffone drapes himself in a Brazilan flag.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        “I hope it stops happening,” said Hornish, who regained the season points lead with 399, four ahead second-place Castroneves. “I'd like to win some more you know. It's so tough. I think it shows how competitive the IRL is. I mean how many of the last races have been won by new winners? You know it's tough to gain an advantage in the points because a new guy wins, and he starts building his points.”

        Giaffone remained in fourth place with 382 points, four behind last week's leader, Gil de Ferran.

        Looking down Giaffone's list of finishes this season, it is hard to believe that he is not in first place. The only time he has not made the top 10 was in Phoenix when he came in 19th because of a crash.

        Giaffone has finished eight of the last nine races in the top five, including a third-place finish at the Indy 500. Last season's rookie of the year, he has 21 top 10s and 11 top fives, but nothing is quite like that first win, he said.

        “You know, after Indianapolis, where I really felt that I had the car to win, I said, "This is going to be it, I think I'm winning this race,”' he said. “When the race was over, I said, "Oh man, even if I win a race, the next one, I'm not going to be happy because I'm so mad I didn't win this one.' ... It's completely different.”

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Giaffone holds off Sam Hornish Jr., as they enter the final lap .
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        Giaffone had been criticized in the past for finishing high, but not having the aggressive style to go for the win. He admitted that the only other time he really went for it was at Nazareth, Pa., in April when he finished second to Scott Sharp by a half-second. That effort almost resulted in a crash.

        Instead, Giaffone has relied on high places to keep himself in the points race, without going for the win every time.

        “I don't want to be aggressive and stick the car in the wall to finish fifth or seventh. If I really have to be aggressive, I'm going to do it for a victory. Otherwise, I'm just going to bring the points back home.”

        Until Hornish passed him, Lazier appeared to be poised to track down Giaffone and win his third straight race at Kentucky. Lazier led for three laps midway through the race, then ran in second for 28 laps when Hornish got by him in turn two.

        Lazier, now 10th in the points, has struggled to find consistency this season. Until Sunday, he hadn't finished any higher than seventh.

        “We had a couple really good runs on (Giaffone), but he defended well,” he said. “I was really just looking for a pick or anyway to get around Felipe. It just wasn't to be today.”

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