Archive for Monday, May 27, 2002

Back-to-back at Brickyard

Castroneves claims wild win

May 27, 2002

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— Helio Castroneves needed three hours to win his second straight Indianapolis 500 on the track and nearly twice that long to have the victory upheld by race officials.

"What is just is just," Castroneves said Sunday night after the long, frustrating wait while officials reviewed a late-race pass by Paul Tracy and determined it came seconds after the final caution light froze the field in position.

Brazil's Helio Castroneves crosses the finish line to win the 86th
running of the Indianapolis 500. Castroneves became the first
driver to win consecutive Indy 500s since Al Unser Sr. won in 1970
and '71 Sunday in Indianapolis.

Brazil's Helio Castroneves crosses the finish line to win the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500. Castroneves became the first driver to win consecutive Indy 500s since Al Unser Sr. won in 1970 and '71 Sunday in Indianapolis.

"There's just no evidence worthy of overturning our original decision," said Brian Barnhart, vice president of operations for the Indy Racing League.

Barry Green, Tracy's car owner, immediately filed an official protest and Barnhart scheduled a hearing in Indianapolis at noon today.

"If it clearly was a draw, I would not want them to reverse the decision, but someone has to show me it was a draw," said Green, who won at Indy in 1995 with Jacques Villeneuve.

Tracy said he saw the footage on ABC, and the track timing data and videotape, and "I'm convinced I'm still the winner."

Castroneves, who had a second celebration after Barnhart announced his decision, said, "I'm not sorry for Paul Tracy, but I'd probably do the same thing if I was in his shoes."

Castroneves became the first driver to win consecutive Indy 500s since Al Unser Sr. in 1970-71, and it was the 12th Indy victory for car owner Roger Penske.

It was a triumph for strategy and survival.

First, he gambled he could finish the last 100 miles without stopping for fuel and fresh tires. Then, some savvy driving helped the 27-year-old Brazilian avoid the troubles that plagued leader after leader before him.

Tracy, driving at Indy for the first time in seven years, did pass Castroneves, but not until the after 1996 winner Buddy Lazier and rookie Laurent Redon crashed on the 199th of 200 laps.

"I think it's me that won," Tracy said. "I know I was ahead of him. I passed him, then the yellow came out."

Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves pours two bottles of
milk onto his head. He won his second consecutive Indy 500 on
Sunday in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves pours two bottles of milk onto his head. He won his second consecutive Indy 500 on Sunday in Indianapolis.

Under IRL rules, no passing is allowed after the yellow flag is displayed and the yellow lights come on around the track. The dispute was whether the caution had already begun before the pass.

"The only reason he passed me is the yellow came on," Castroneves said. "I was protecting a position. He couldn't just pass me. I'm the one who lifted off because of the yellow."

Tracy and team owner Green disagreed adamantly.

Asked when he first saw one of the lights around the track that indicate if the track is green or yellow, Tracy said, "I didn't see it until after I was ahead of him. So we're going go look at the tape, so in my mind I'm the winner. But we'll see how it comes out."

Castroneves and Penske enjoyed the victory celebration immediately after the race, going to Victory Lane and taking the traditional ride around the track to the cheers of many remaining from the crowd of more than 400,000. They then went back to their team motorhome to wait out the official results.

Castroneves said he was watching on television when he heard the decision. He ran to the garage area and climbed the fence as the team began popping champagne.

"I knew what to do. I knew the procedure," he said. "I believe it. It's true. Let's celebrate."

Castroneves said he didn't have the best car.

"I was just trying to keep going, keep out of trouble, keep on the lead lap," he said.

Castroneves, who never led until lap 177, might not have gotten the opportunity to repeat if Team Penske teammate Gil de Ferran hadn't had some bad luck, bringing out the caution on lap 176 when his left rear tire came off after leaving the pits.

Felipe Giaffone, Tracy and Michael Andretti, all ahead of Castroneves, pitted the next lap, leaving him at the head of the line for the restart on lap 182. Then, it was time for a fuel gamble by Penske team president Tim Cindric.

"I couldn't believe everybody coming in," said Castroneves, the first driver ever to win his first two Indy starts. "Cindric and I decided to stay out. I said, 'This is the chance I want.' I had 20 gallons in the car and like 22 laps to go."

Winner Helio Castroneves celebrates his second consecutive
Indianapolis 500 victory after winning Sunday's race.

Winner Helio Castroneves celebrates his second consecutive Indianapolis 500 victory after winning Sunday's race.

Castroneves admitted there was a question whether he would have enough fuel to get to the end.

"I didn't know if I was going to finish or not," he said. "I was almost out of fuel. I couldn't do the victory lap."

Added Penske: "I was holding my breath, for sure."

There was also the problem of racing around 21/2-mile oval almost blind at 215 mph after his No. 3 Chevrolet-powered Dallara was sprayed with oil.

"I couldn't see in the mirrors because one guy blew an engine in front of me and they were completely covered in oil," Castroneves said. "When the yellow (light) came on, I thought I was running out of fuel.

"The guys on the radio said, 'Yellow, yellow, yellow!' Then Tracy passed me and I was screaming. He passed me on the yellow."

Before the crash, Castroneves did his best to block Tracy, but the Canadian driver, who took second place from Giaffone two laps earlier, darted to the outside and drove past Castroneves in the third turn just after Lazier and Redon crashed.

The disputed finish was the first at Indy since 1995, when Scott Goodyear was penalized for passing the pace car on a late restart and Jacques Villeneuve won the race.

No Indy victory has ever been permanently reversed. After Bobby Unser won his third Indy in 1981, the official victory was given to Mario Andretti the next morning. Unser appealed and was reinstated as the winner 41/2 months later.

Castroneves celebrated Sunday in his traditional way that has earned him the nickname Spiderman: scrambling out of his car on the main straightaway and running across the track to climb the catch fence.

Unlike last year, the 64-year-old Penske joined him on the fence.

Penske, a founder of the rival CART series, was one of the team owners who boycotted Indy after the IRL began competition in 1996. He returned to the Brickyard last year with Castroneves and de Ferran giving him a 1-2 sweep.

This year, he withdrew his team from CART and brought his drivers to the IRL full time, bolstering the series founded by Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George. The victory by Castroneves ended CART's Indy win string at two, with Tracy the highest finishing of eight CART regulars in Sunday's lineup.

Juan Montoya, now in Formula One, won Indy for CART team-owner Chip Ganassi in 2000.

Tomas Scheckter, an Indy rookie who has yet to complete a race this season, appeared on the way to an unlikely victory. He dominated much of the race until his car suddenly slid up the track and slammed into the new energy-absorbing wall barrier on the 173rd of 200 laps.

As several of the contenders pitted under the ensuing yellow, Castroneves stayed on the track, taking the lead.

The green flag waved for the start of lap 182 with Castroneves ahead of Giaffone and Tracy. Castroneves held his own and even increased his lead slightly, but Tracy finally passed Giaffone for second on lap 197 and quickly caught up.

Giaffone, another of the seven Brazilians in the 33-car field, wound up third, followed by surprising Alex Barron, former race winner Eddie Cheever Jr., Richie Hearn and Andretti, who again was denied an Indy victory despite a strong showing.

Robby Gordon, trying to match Tony Stewart's 2001 feat of running both Indy and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte on the same day, finished eighth and immediately flew to North Carolina.

The start of the 86th edition of the Indy 500 gave no indication of the strange events that were to thwart the leaders on a sunny, warm day.

Pole-winner Bruno Junqueira led the first 32 laps but immediately knew he had a gearbox or clutch problem that eventually knocked him out of the race, while Tony Kanaan and Scheckter both crashed while out front.

Junqueira lost the lead to Scheckter during the pit stops that followed Greg Ray's crash on lap 30 and never got close to the front again.

Scheckter, the 21-year-old son of 1979 Formula One champion Jody Scheckter, then waged a battle with fellow Indy rookie Kanaan and IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr. until those two ran into problems.

Following the second round of green flag stops, Kanaan was out front, just ahead of Scheckter and Hornish.

Then, the 22-year-old IRL star slipped high on the slightly banked track coming off turn four and slapped the concrete with his right rear tire. The damage was severe enough to send Hornish to the garage area for lengthy repairs and relegate him to a 26th-place finish.

Junqueira's car spewed smoke and fluids on lap 89, catching fire briefly as he pulled into the pits.

Just as race officials were about to put out another caution, Kanaan slid through the fluid left on the track by Junqueira and hit the outside wall between turns three and four.

Rookie Rick Treadway, well behind the leaders on the track, also hit the wall as cars slowed or tried to miss the debris from Kanaan's crash.

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