Bombardier 500: Unser overcomes Kanaan in shootout
Fort Worth, Texas ? Al Unser Jr. held off Tony Kanaan in a one-lap shootout to win the Indy Racing League race Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.
With one lap to go after the restart following a caution period, Unser stayed on the low line as Kanaan, the series points leader, went high through the second turn.
Kanaan edged slightly ahead going into the backstretch. But with the preferred line, Unser was back in front by the last turn and won the Bombardier 500 by 0.0812 seconds, the seventh straight Texas race decided by less than a second.
Last June, Unser finished second, 0.0111 seconds — only inches — behind Jeff Ward.
“I was really worried about it. We had a good lead, and I know these finishes. We’ve lost this thing by too close of a margin,” Unser said. “He came around me and I was trying to stay close to him, but I came barreling through at the finish.”
It was Unser’s third IRL victory, but first in 20 races since winning at Gateway in 2001. The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner made his 40th IRL start.
Unser led 54 laps and won with an average speed of 168.213 mph.
Tora Takagi, who caused the wreck on the 191st lap that led to the last caution, finished third. Kenny Brack was fourth.
Takagi went inside and three-wide into the third turn on the 191st lap, and bumped Scott Sharp, who was running third at the time. Sharp’s car was pushed up the track and slammed into Felipe Giaffone, Takagi’s teammate.
It took IRL crews a long time to clean up the wreckage, and left time for only one more lap under green.
Unser had gained the lead when polesitter Tomas Scheckter pitted after 150 laps, then had problems in the pit. He led all but one lap after that.
Scheckter led 145 laps, but had already lost the lead because of a problem in the pit when something broke in the car and he slammed into the wall along the backstretch on the 175th lap.
“We really have no idea, obviously something sudden and obviously something broke on the car,” car owner Chip Ganassi said. “The good thing is Tomas is OK, and we can get another car.”
Scheckter was coming out of the second turn when sparks started flying from the back of the car. He lost control, and the car hit the outside wall before sliding across the track and slamming hard against the inside barrier.
After that lengthy caution, Unser held the lead on the restart on the 186th lap, and he and Kanaan went side-by-side. Kanaan had his only official lead at the end of next lap, by a nose, but Unser regained the lead after that.
It was the second time Scheckter started from the pole at Texas and led more than half of the race without finishing.
After coming in for service at the end of the 150th lap with the lead, Scheckter left his pit box with the gas nozzle still attached to the car.
As he pulled away, the hose broke loose and ignited a blaze that caught a crewman on fire. The blaze was quickly extinguished and the crewman was fine.
Scheckter was penalized for the incident, and by time he made his drive-through penalty, he had dropped to 15th place.
Last June, Scheckter led 107 laps and was leading when he came in after 159 laps for his last scheduled stop before a clutch problem ended his night. Scheckter also led a race-high 63 laps at the Indianapolis 500, where he finished fourth last month.
Indianapolis 500 champion Gil de Ferran had handling problems with his car early, going into the pits 30 laps into the race and dropping from sixth to 20th and losing a lap. He worked his way back to finish eighth, a lap down.
Bryan Herta, in his first IndyCar Series start filling in for injured Andretti Green driver Dario Franchitti, finished fifth. Scott Dixon, who started on the front row with his Ganassi teammate, finished sixth, and Helio Castroneves was seventh.