Sunday, August 17, 2003

Hornish keeps 3rd IRL title within reach


Pole helps defending champ get past Michigan heartbreak

By Colleen Kane
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[img]
Kenny Brack #15, followed closely by Al Unser, Jr. #31, rolls through turn 2 at Kentucky Speedway.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
SPARTA, Ky. - Sam Hornish Jr. needs to gain 102 points in five races in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series to win his third consecutive series championship.

Today, as he starts on the pole for Kentucky Speedway's Belterra Casino Indy 300, he'd be happy to gain 4 feet.

Hornish won his first MBNA Pole of the season Saturday at Belterra's qualifying and today will look for his first win of the season, something that eluded him by .0121 seconds three weeks ago at Michigan International Speedway.

"We're looking forward to making up that 4 feet we lost by at Michigan," he said.

"We've worked so hard this year to keep ourselves seventh in points. ... And by my calculations, we can still win this thing by a couple of points."

After clocking a 15th-place time in his practice sessions, Hornish improved by more than 2 mph in his qualifying laps.

"We didn't do too much qualifying setup stuff in the morning practices, we just really worked on our race car," Hornish said. "I think we had a better race car than we did a qualifying car."

Still, he finished with a best qualifying lap of 219.61 mph.

"That was impressive," Scott Dixon said of the drastic improvement.

Dixon, of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, will start second having turned a qualifying lap of 219.35 mph.

"It was not quite enough, I guess," said Dixon, who will make his 11th straight top-six start. "The car was pretty good. I was surprised actually at the speed we had for that first lap."

Hornish and Dixon will lead the closest qualifying field in IRL history.

The 20 cars were separated by .5367 of a second. Marlboro Team Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran will start third and fourth respectively.

Greg Ray of Access Motorsports will start in the fifth position.

It was Hornish's third career pole. He won two last year on his way to five season wins and his second consecutive IndyCar Series championship. He has qualified third twice this year and has finished in the top five only three times.

It was also the first pole of the season for a Chevrolet engine. The new Gen IV Chevy Indy V-8 engine is being used by all Chevrolet teams for the first race this weekend. Hornish tested the engine at Michigan.

While Michigan is closest to his home, Hornish also feels somewhat at home at Kentucky. He has improved his finish consistently in the first three years of the race.

He was asked to join Panther Racing after a ninth-place finish in which he led his first career laps (38 of them) in 2000. He placed third in 2001 and second last year behind winner Felipe Giaffone.

And he's a native of Defiance, Ohio, which he said is only three hours from the track.

"Probably as much or more of my and friends come here as Indy," Hornish said. "I've had some pretty good memories here. ... There is only hopefully one way to go."

Today's Belterra Casino Indy 300 begins at 2 p.m. Gates open at 9 a.m., with a prerace concert at 11:30 a.m. and opening ceremonies beginning at 1 p.m.

Today's schedule

9:30 a.m.: Practice.

11:30 a.m.: Concert by Sixpence None the Richer.

1 p.m.: Prerace ceremonies, with Who Wants to Marry My Dad? star Don Mueller as grand marshal.

2 p.m.: Belterra Casino Indy 300.

TV: Chs. 9, 2.

Tickets: Those still available, from $35-$65.

INDY 300 @ Kentucky Speedway

Lap length: 1.5 miles

1. (4) Sam Hornish Jr., Dall.-Chev., 219.614

2. (9) Scott Dixon, PnzGFrc-Toy., 219.358

3. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dall.-Toy., 219.309

4. (6) Gil de Ferran, Dallara-Toyota, 219.297

5. (13) Greg Ray, Panoz G Force-Honda, 218.622

6. (24) Robbie Buhl, Dallara-Chevrolet, 218.461

7. (10) T. Scheckter, PnzGFrc-Toy., 218.298

8. (31) Al Unser Jr., Dallara-Toyota, 217.940

9. (23) Sarah Fisher, Dallara-Chevrolet, 217.911

10. (52) Buddy Rice, Dallara-Chevrolet, 217.765

11. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 217.453

12. (12) Tora Takagi, Dallara-Toyota, 217.374

13. (27) Bryan Herta, Dallara-Honda, 216.854

14. (26) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 216.709

15. (15) Kenny Brack, Dallara-Honda, 216.227

16. (55) R. Yasukawa, Dall.-Honda, 215.954

17. (21) Alex Barron, PnzGFrc-Toy., 215.942

18. (8) Scott Sharp, Dallara-Toyota, 215.538

19. (14) A.J. Foyt IV, Pnz GFrc-Toy., 215.523

20. (91) Buddy Lazier, Dall.-Chev., 214.860

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E-mail ckane@enquirer.com




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