Track: Pikes Peak International Raceway
Date: Sunday, June 18, 2000
Start time: 2:08 PM MDT
Weather: Warm, partly cloudy, windy
IRL historical: #6 of 10 in 2000 season, IRL race #40 overall
Track historical: IRL race #5, Indy car race #5 at this track
Track configuration: 1 mile D-oval, flat track
Wing package: Short track
The fifth Indy car race at Pikes Peak turned out to be historic in several respects. Prior to the race, in a news conference the IRL announced the long-awaited 2001 IRNLS series schedule, with at least twelve races -- the most in the series's history. In qualifying Greg Ray blew away the field, out-qualifying Robbie Buhl and the rest of the field by 4.5 MPH and shattering the track record (which had been set with a 4-liter engine). But Buhl's run was good enough for second spot, the first ever front-row start for the Infiniti engine. Buhl's weekend got even better at the start of the race when he got the drop on Ray and jumped into the lead.
On lap 7 Billy Boat and Sarah Fisher touched wheels in turn 4 and both spun. Boat did a fine job to save his car, but rookie inexperience betrayed Fisher and she slid into the wall. Boat was able to continue but Fisher was out. Replays appeared to show that Boat had crowded Fisher down into the apron in the turn; neither driver had any comment afterwards. On the restart Buhl once again drove away, as Ray began sliding backwards as Scott Sharp moved up to challenge the leader. Eddie Cheever, in the other Infiniti-engined car in the field, had moved from from 10th starting position to fifth, and the Nissan camp was looking stronger than they had in quite some time. By lap 25 Buhl led Sharp, Ray, Mark Dismore, and Cheever, with Jaret Schroeder, Eliseo Salazar, Jeff Ward, Buzz Calkins (who would later set fast lap of the race) and Davey Hamilton (his first good run in quite some time) holding down the top-10. By lap 30 Buhl had a 1.2-second lead; Ray was closing back in as the track came to him (and went away from most everyone else; most drivers were reporting loose conditions). Ward caught a bad break on lap 41 when his team, working a short-stop strategy, decided to pit early, but they had trouble uncoupling the fuel hose and lost two laps.
Meanwhile Buhl continued to run away from the field. It was the most dominating performance ever witnessed from an Infiniti-engined car in IRNLS compeition. Dismore had his car go badly loose and by lap 50 he was out of the top-10, while Cheever had moved to fourth, Donnie Beechler had shot up from 15th starting position to fifth, and rookie Airton Dare had moved up to seventh. Cheever's car became looser at the end of the run, while the track seemed to come to Beechler on the long run, and on lap 54 Beechler took fourth. By lap 60 all of the leaders needed a pit stop.
They got it at the expense of the race leader. On lap 61 Buhl led the race by over five seconds, but on the next lap, right in front of the grandstands, his engine blew. Buhl retired having led every lap he had completed in the race. As the yellow flew Sharp assumed the lead, which he retained through the pit stops. During this round of pit stops, as Ray exited his pit, he collided with Hamilton who was trying to enter the pit stall ahead. Hamilton suffered no damage; Ray had a bent right front wing which was rectified with a nose change. The efficient Menard crew accomplished this in one stop and without losing a lap, but the change seemed to effect the handling of Ray's car and possibly played a role in what happened later.
At the green Sharp led Beechler, Cheever, Al Unser, and Dismore. But Beechler wasn't as good on new tires and he quickly lost second to Cheever. Sharp quickly built up a large lead but it was erased when rookie Shigeaki Hattori got out of shape exiting turn 2 and spun down the backstretch on lap 80, bringing out the yellow again. No leaders stopped on this yellow and at the green Sharp still led Cheever and Beechler, who quickly lost third to Unser. Ray was mired back in seventh, and on lap 97, he tried to move up outside of Dismore in turn 3. As they went around the turn Ray's car drifted up into the marbles, and in one of the slowest-developing accidents of all time, very gradually but irrevocably pushed up towards the wall, finally making contact at the exit of turn 4 as Ray tried desparately to get it slowed down.
Several leaders went off-sequence and made pit stops during this caution. Hamilton, Robby McGehee, and Gregoire made full stops, while Scott Goodyear took fuel only. Several cars were slipping sliding and Gregoire's crew added downforce at both front and rear because the car just generally lacked grip. The green flew on lap 104 and Sharp began driving away from the field. Beechler took third from Unser as Buzz Calkins had to make a pit stop for an oil leak, which was quickly corrected. By lap 120 Sharp led Cheever by 1.2 seconds, followed by Beechler, A. Unser, and Dare, but after that point Cheever began gaining ground. By lap 130 Sharp was experiencing tire vibrations and Cheever passed for the lead on lap 134, and once again an Infiniti engine led the race. Beechler soon passed for second and Sharp slid back rapidly.
By lap 140 most of the leaders, who by and large had not stopped on the Ray accident caution, needed a pit stop, and this round of stops would take place under green. Cheever stopped on lap 144, handing the lead to Beechler who led until his stop on lap 147. Several other drivers cycled through the lead until Dismore turned it over to Gregoire on lap 154. The cars that had stopped were set to go the rest of the way, but Gregoire was off-sequence and was hoping for a caution. He held onto the while Cheever tracked him down through lap 160, then lap 170. On that lap he clung to a few car lenghts lead over Cheever, who was wanting to know how Gregoire had got there and didn't he need another stop? The rookie Dare had done a fine job advancing to 3rd, followed by Shar, Beechler (once again struggling on new tires), Unser, Dismore, Mcgehee (another of the off-sequence cars), Calkins, and Schroeder. Was Gregoire to get the caution he needed? Unforunately for the likeable Frenchman, the answer was no; he lost the lead to Cheever on lap 171 and then finally coasted in, out of fuel, on lap 184.
From that point on the battle for the win was, considering who it was and what engine was being used, surprisingly anticlimatic. Cheever proceeded to dominate the rest of the race, while others fought for positions behind him. The only remaining bit of drama for Cheever was whether the sometimes-tempermental Infiniti would hold out, consdering that Buhl's had blown up early. Meanwhile, things were happening behind. Dare held on to a solid second, but the track once again came to Beechler as the tires wore and he started reeling in Sharp for third. By lap 196 he came up right behind Sharp, who for the second race in a row found himself in a wheel-to-wheel duel for a high finishing position at the end of a race. As he had done at Texas, Sharp protected the low line while Beechler looked for an opening. Beechler appeared to have Sharp beaten with a high move coming out of turn 4 on the next lap, but Sharp got a good run into turn 1 and held on.
The two bits of drama wound up quickly. Cheever took the white flag still handily in the lead, and ran the last lap to the cheers of his crew and the Nissan contingent to take the win, the first for the much-maglined Infiniti Indy engine after 34 consecutive defeats at the hands of Oldsmobile. For Nissan, it was their first win ever in any form of Indy car competition, in any era. But many in the crowd weren't paying attention to that; they were watching the wild duel between Sharp and Beechler. As the two came down to take the white flag, the lapped car of Unser loomed ahead on the front stretch. Sharp moved under Unser to clear, but Beechler decided to try a risky move and "split" the lapped car, to make a surprise pass on Sharp. He misjudged the amount of time it would take he and Sharp to clear Unser's car; as they went into turn 1 Unser was not quite clear of Sharp and couldn't move down, leaving Beechler hung out in the marbles. Beechler tried to move down to find traction and contacted Unser, and both cars spun and crashed. Beechler wound up being awarded fifth place, the first time since Texas of 1997 that a DNF had placed in the top-5 in an IRNLS race.
Fin St Qual Car C/E/T Driver Entrant Laps Status Laps Pts Spd # Led 1 10 172.944 51 D/I/F Eddie Cheever Cheever 200 Running 39 50 2 16 171.567 88 G/A/F Airton Dare Xtreme 200 Running 40 3 4 174.953 8 D/A/F Scott Sharp Kelley 200 Running 77 37 4 3 175.055 28 D/A/F Mark Dismore Kelley 199 Running 3 33 5 15 171.608 98 D/A/F Donnie Beechler Cahill 198 Crash T1 3 30 6 6 173.846 11 G/A/F Eliseo Salazar Foyt 198 Running 28 7 5 174.216 6 D/A/F Jaret Schroeder Tristar 198 Running 26 8 7 173.285 7 G/A/F Stephan Gregoire Simon 198 Running 17 24 9 24 167.887 33 G/A/F Jaques Lazier Truscelli 198 Running 22 10 18 170.358 3 G/A/F Al Unser Galles 197 Crash T1 20 11 20 170.148 20 D/A/F Tyce Carlson Hubb-Immke 197 Running 19 12 14 171.805 12 D/A/F Buzz Calkins Bradley 197 Running 18 13 12 171.953 5 G/A/F Robby McGehee Treadway 196 Running 17 14 8 173.052 16 G/A/F Davey Hamilton Xtreme 195 Running 16 15 9 173.035 14 G/A/F Jeff Ward Foyt 195 Running 15 16 11 172.761 4 D/A/F Scott Goodyear Panther 194 Running 14 17 17 171.543 55 G/A/F Shigeaki Hattori Treadway 174 Running 13 18 21 169.803 81 D/A/F Billy Boat Pelfrey 158 Engine 12 19 19 170.342 18 G/A/F Sam Hornish PDM 108 Handling 11 20 1 179.874 1 D/A/F Greg Ray Menard 95 Crash T4 13 21 26 165.960 30 R/A/F Robby Unser Byrd-McCor 73 Handling 9 22 25 167.294 43 D/A/F Doug Didero MidAmerica 62 Engine 8 23 2 175.362 24 G/I/F Robbie Buhl D&R 61 Engine 61 9 24 23 168.753 27 G/A/F Jimmy Kite Blueprint 50 Fuel Pres. 6 25 22 169.372 15 D/A/F Sarah Fisher Walker 6 Crash T4 5 26 13 171.928 91 D/A/F Buddy Lazier Hemelgarn 1 Engine 4
Laps under green: 172 of 200 laps (86.0%)
Caution flags: 5 for 28 laps (14.0%)
#1: lap 7, crash (Boat, Fisher), T2, 9 laps
#2: lap 62, blown engine (Buhl), FS, 6 laps
#3: lap 83, spin (Hattori), BS, 4 laps
#4: lap 97, crash (Ray), T4, 7 laps
#3: lap 199, crash (A. Unser, Beechler), T1, 2 laps [race ended under caution]
Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes
Lead changes: 7; number of race leaders: 6
St: Buhl 1-61
#1: Sharp 62-133
#2: Cheever 134-143
#3: Beechler 144-146
#4: Sharp 147-151
#5: Dismore 152-154
#6: Gregoire 155-171
#7: Cheever 172-200
C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 13 / 13.1
G-Force: 12 / 13.3
Riley & Scott: 1 / 21.0
Aurora: 24 / 13.6
Infiniti: 2 / 12.0
Firestone: 26 / 13.5