Monday, August 12, 2002

Giaffone holds off Hornish, Fisher to win first IRL race

Enquirer staff and news services

A skydiver towing a giant American flag soars over Kentucky Speedway prior to the Belterra Casino Indy 300.

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        SPARTA, Ky. — Felipe Giaffone had to fight for his first career victory.

        Giaffone, who has finished in the Top 10 in all but four of his 25 starts in the Indy Racing League, held off the fast-closing Sam Hornish Jr. to win the Belterra Casino Indy 300 on Sunday. First place paid $125,200 from a purse of $1.053 million.

        Sarah Fisher, the first woman to start from the pole in a major racing series, led the first 26 laps and finished eighth.

        Fisher appeared dominant at the start and began pulling away from the field before a crash by Richie Hearn brought out the first yellow.

        All the leaders then made pit stops, with Billy Boat coming out first for the lead. Fisher, whose crew made a chassis adjustment as well as a tire change, fell to 11th before the green came out again.

        Hearn, meanwhile, was taken to the infield hospital with a broken right foot, and Gil de Ferran — who came into the race as the series points leader — lost precious time in the pits for repairs after his car made contact with Hearn's car.

        De Ferran finished 21st, 28 laps behind Giaffone, and fell to third in the IRL standings. Hornish now leads the series with 399 points, just four points ahead of Castroneves. De Ferran has 386 points and Giaffone is next with 382 — a margin of 17 points separating the top four with three races left this season.

        Hornish, 22, won the IRL championship last year, becoming the youngest winner of a major open-wheel racing series.

        Giaffone, who started third in Sunday's 25-car field, took the lead on the 60th lap while the rest of the leaders came in for pit stops at the second yellow, to clear debris from the track. The same strategy put rookie Will Langhorne briefly in the lead at the midway point of the race, but he was immediately passed by a line of cars on the restart and wound up a distant 18th.

        Fisher, turning laps at more than 220 mph, began closing on the leaders and moved into second with a pass of Hornish on the 145th of the 200 laps. Hornish went around her on the next lap, however, and passed Giaffone a few laps later.

        Giaffone regained the lead on lap 162 and stayed in front the rest of the way, averaging 149.024 mph for the 300-mile race.


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