Track: Chicagoland Speedway
Date: Sunday, September 2, 2001
Start time: 3:00 PM CDT
Weather: Sunny, breezy, mild
IRL historical: #12 of 13 in 2000 season, IRL race #55 overall
Track historical: IRL race #1, Indy car race #1 at this track
Track configuration: 1.5-mile, D-oval, flat track
Wing package: speedway
The inagural Indy race at the Chicago area's newest speedway began with unexpectedly high speeds and ended with a thrilling and surprising finish. Mild, dry weather behind a cold front brought unexpectedly high speeds. In practice, the two Infiniti-powered cars of Eddie Cheever and Robbie Buhl were the class of the field; Buhl astounded onlookers with a 221 lap in the first practice session on Friday, and Cheever topped that with a 222 Saturday morning. But in qualifying both fell a tick short of Jaques Lazier, who took the pole in his first qualifying effort with the Menard team. Rookies Rick Treadway and Chris Menninga qualified for their second IRNLS starts, and long-time Indy Lights team Conquest Racing (with former Indy driver Eric Bachalart) finally made its INRLS debut with Formula 3000 driver Laurent Redon up. Championship contenders Sam Hornish and Buddy Lazier gridded up 8th and 9th respectively.
Race day morning proved to be very busy for Cheever, who blew his engine in the morning warm-up. The team had to install their qualifying engine, making the change in 1 hour, 24 minutes. At the start of the race, Jaques Lazier jumped out into the lead; as Cheever's handling was a bit off, Buhl quickly moved up into 2nd. The draft went into effect and Buhl closed up on Lazier, moving up to the outside to look for a pass. Scott Sharp, who started second, got a poor start and faded to 6th momentarily, but by lap 12 he was challenging Hornish for 4th, while Buddy Lazier was mired back in 8th. By lap 20 the top seven were J. Lazier, Buhl, Hornish, Sharp, Cheever, rookie Felipe Giaffone, and Mark Dismore; those seven ran in a pack and had opened up a bit of a gap on B. Lazier and Salazar. Meanwhile, Donnie Beechler worked his way up from his 17th starting postion.
The high groove started to come in and Hornish used it to pass Buhl for second. Then he set off after Lazier. He moved up alongside but then couldn't complete the pass, and the two engaged in an extended wheel to wheel duel. Sharp's car got better and he passed Buhl for third. But, on lap 30, as Sharp negotiated turn 2, his right rear tire blew. He did a half spin and hit the wall hard on the left side. Sharp wasn't injured but he was out. The yellow flew, and all of the leaders made pit stops. The Panther crew put Hornish back out in first, followed by Buhl. The Treadway crew also did a good job and Giaffone came back out with 3rd, followed by Dismore and Cheever. J. Lazier got a slow stop and emerged in 6th. Sarah Fisher came in with a dead battery; the team changed it but after only a few laps that battery also went dead and they decided to park the car. Jeff Ward had contact with Jon Herb on the pit lane, but neither car reported damage. At the green, Giaffone made short work of Buhl and and set off after Hornish. The crowd was treated to a great display as Giaffone moved to the outside and the two ran side by side, trading the lead as one nosed out the other at the line on each lap. Meanwhile, the pack was piling up behind them; Buhl tried to make it a three-wide on the front stretch on lpa 46 but backed out. Hornish had a bit of a push and Giaffone gained ground by pinching him in the inside groove, eventually assuming the lead on lp 50. Just behind them, the Laziers were enaged in a duel for fourth, and Billy Boat, Ward, and Beechler had moved up as Dismore and Cheever faded with handling problems.
After being passed, Hornish took the outside groove and moved back alongside Giaffone. As those two dueled, they momentarily forgot about Buhl, and on lap 59 Buhl again went three wide and blew past both of them and into the lead. Buhl seemed to be a bit faster than the other two and he maintained the lead as he daringly worked lapped traffic with several three wide passes. Meanwhile, Hornish began to fade a bit, and J. Lazier passed him for third on lap 77. Green flag pit stops were near. Menninga stopped on lap 79 and had a bad stop as they couldn't get the right rear tire on; he had to return to get it re-tightened. J. Lazier and Salazar made their stops on lap 85; Cheever and B. Lazier on the next lap. Cheever's crew made some tire pressure changes in an attempt to get him back towards the front. But for B. Lazier, this stop proved fatal to his championship hopes; after the stop he had a vibration and came back in thinking that a wheel was not tightented. However, the crew couldn't find anything wrong, and the stop cost Lazier two laps which he would not be able to make up. A number of cars stopped on lap 87 including Buhl, who handed the lead to Giaffone. The Brazilian kept the lead until lap 90 when he pitted, handing the lead to Dismore. The Indiana driver kept the lead until lap 95, when he pitted, putting Buhl back up front, but that didn't last long: Buhl's car lost power and slowed as he came down the front stretch on lap 99. Buhl reported a severe vibration to his crew. This was initially thought to be a bad tire, but on inspection all of the tires proved to be good. Unable to solve the problem, and fearing that it might be an incipient engine failure, the team parked the car. The problem eventually proved to be a burned out bearing in the gearbox; curiously, Shigeaki Hattori retired a few laps later with the same problem.
Buhl's retirement left J. Lazier and Giaffone again battling for the lead, closely pursued by Hornish, Beechler, Cheever, Dismore, Ward, and Al Unser. On lap 106, Robby McGehee suffered a suspension failure in turn 3. His car shot towards the wall and he turned the car very sideways up in the marbles to make a great save. The car just brushed the wall in turn 4, but the team was unable to find the suspension problem in the pits and McGehee was out. The action continued with J. Lazier on the inside and Giaffone on the outside. On lap 115, they came up on the lapped car of Rick Treadway; Giaffone swung up high and Lazier tried to go through the middle, but he touched wheels with Treadway. Incredibly, there was no crash; Lazier backed out a bit and Giaffone assumed the lead. But Lazier took the lead back a few laps later. Cheever was much better after the pit stop; on lap 120 he passed Hornish for third.
Four laps later, a caution flew for debris in turn 2. All of the lead lap cars pitted; Boat stayed out to get one of his two laps back. The Treadway crew gave Giaffone a great stop and got him out first. Leaving his pit, J. Lazier hit a tire that had escaped from Dismore's pit box; fortunately he suffered no damage. However, the IRNLS penalized the Kelley team by moving Dismore to the rear of the line for the restart. Cheever, suffering clutch problems, stalled his engine and joined Dismore at the rear. The race restarted with Giaffone leading J. Lazier, Hornish, Salazar, and Beechler. As Lazier and Giaffone resumed their act, an angry Dismore passed about half the field and was quickly moving up on the top-5. Cheever's car was also much better and he also marched his way back through the field. Hornish left Salazar an opening on the inside and the Foyt car took third on lap 143; his teammate Beechler wasted no time follwing him through the gap for fourth. As Lazier and Giaffone circled side by side, other drivers started to move into the picture; Jeff Ward passed Unser, Cheever, and Dismore, and then passed Hornish to move into the top-5 on lap 154. But then Dismore found a new groove in turn 1; he squared off the corner, taking a high entry and diving down the banking to a flat apex. With this he gained 3-4 car lengths every time through the corner. He began making passes; he re-passed Ward and then passed Beechler for fourth on the outside. Still running outside, he went after Salazar.
But on lap 163, these cars came up on lapped traffic. Dismore on the outside had a clear lane while Salazar was blocked by the lapped cars. Dismore moved up some, but Salazar tried to shoot the gap without slowing. He hit Dismore and made a hard right turn across Dismore's nose and into the wall. Dismore suffered left front suspension damage; his crew tried to repair it but to no avail, and two of fastest cars in the race were out. The yellow flew and all of the lead-lap cars pitted, with Giaffone again coming out with the lead despite receiving a front wing adjustment and tape removed from a sidepod air duct in addition to tires and fuel. Cheever's crew also made some adjustments, and again Cheever couldn't get the balky clutch to work and stalled the car, dropping to the back of the pack. Some cars who were one lap down but running very well got good clean stops, including Unser, Ritchie Hearn (returning to the Schmidt team for this race), Buddy Lazier still clinging to his slim title hopes, and the first-time starter Redon.
On the restart, J. Lazier got the better jump and moved under Giaffone, taking the lead three laps later. Giaffone's car seemed somewhat unstable and the gap between he and Lazier varied from one lap to the next. Meanwhile, Beechler possibly had a faster car than either of the leaders, but his car would not work in the outside groove. Hornish quickly realized this and held the low line to prevent Beechler from advancing. Giaffone continued to work on Lazier, but it appeared that the Menard driver had a slightly better car and soon he had a car length lead. Hornish tried to pass Giaffone on the outside but had to give that up in order to defend his position against Beechler. However, it was Cheever who now had the fastest car on the track. He worked the traffic and passed Ward and Beechler to move up to fourth.
The final drama was about to play out. On lap 194 Giaffone got loose and had to make a save; Hornish took advantage and passed him for second. Giaffone then moved up to the outside and went after Hornish to try to get the position back; he gained for a lap, lost some ground, and gained again. Then, as the field came down the front stretch to start lap 198, he slowed again and Cheever swept by. It became apparent that Giaffone was in trouble; he slowed some more, smoke appeared, and then as he entered turn 1, the engine blew. Giaffone quickly got his car down on the apron, but as he continued on around to the pits, the car began smoking very heavily, and the smoke began to obscure the track. In the smoke, Ward passed Beechler for fourth, and Hearn came out on top of a three-way duel with Redon and Unser to take the first position among the lapped cars. As the disappointed Giaffone climbed out of his car in the pits, Jaques Lazier swept under the checkered flag to take his first IRNLS victory. Hornish didn't contest the position, as his second place gave him enough points to clinch the Northern Light cup, his first IRNLS championship in only his second year of Indy competition, and also Panther Racing's first championship. Buddy Lazier could only watch as he finished 11th, still two laps down.
Fin St Qual Car C/E/T Driver Entrant Laps Status Laps Pts Spd # Led 1 1 221.740 2 D/A/F Jaques Lazier Menard 200 Running 116 52 2 8 217.900 4 D/A/F Sam Hornish Panther 200 Running 13 40 3 2 221.105 51 D/I/F Eddie Cheever Cheever 200 Running 35 4 10 217.057 35 G/A/F Jeff Ward Heritage 200 Running 32 5 17 215.916 11 D/A/F Donnie Beechler Foyt 200 Running 30 6 20 214.937 99 D/A/F Ritchie Hearn Schmidt 199 Running 28 7 13 216.631 34 D/A/F Laurent Redon Conquest 199 Running 26 8 12 216.814 3 G/A/F Al Unser Galles 199 Running 24 9 18 215.484 12 D/A/F Buzz Calkins Bradley 199 Running 22 10 6 218.958 21 G/A/F Felipe Giaffone Treadway 198 Engine 34 20 11 9 217.279 91 D/A/F Buddy Lazier Hemelgarn 198 Running 19 12 11 216.898 98 D/A/F Billy Boat Beck 198 Running 18 13 21 214.653 32 G/A/F Didier Andre Galles 198 Running 17 14 15 216.468 5 G/A/F Rick Treadway Treadway 198 Running 16 15 24 212.039 18 G/A/F Jon Herb Racing Pro 192 Running 15 16 23 213.966 92 D/A/F Chris Menninga Hemelgarn 191 Running 14 17 5 220.363 28 D/A/F Mark Dismore Kelley 164 Suspension 5 13 18 7 218.061 14 D/A/F Eliseo Salazar Foyt 162 Crash BS 12 19 19 215.447 88 G/A/F Airton Dare Xtreme 147 Bellhous. 11 20 16 216.102 10 D/A/F Robby McGehee Cahill 108 Suspension 10 21 14 216.474 55 D/A/F Shigeaki Hattori Cunningham 104 Gearbox 9 22 4 220.631 24 G/I/F Robbie Buhl D&R 102 Gearbox 32 8 23 25 211.137 81 G/A/F Billy Roe Zali 89 Gearbox 7 24 22 214.054 15 D/A/F Sarah Fisher Walker 37 Electrical 6 25 3 220.970 8 D/A/F Scott Sharp Kelley 29 Crash T2 5
Laps under green: 175 of 200 laps (87.5%)
Caution flags: 3 for 25 laps (12.5%)
#1: lap 30, crash (Sharp), T2, 9 laps
#2: lap 124, debris, T2, 6 laps
#3: lap 163, crash (Dismore, Salazar), BS, 10 laps
Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes
Lead changes: 13, number of race leaders: 5
St: J. Lazier 1-32
#1: Hornish 33-45
#2: Giaffone 46-58
#3: Buhl 59-86
#4: Giaffone 87-90
#5: Dismore 91-95
#6: Buhl 96-99
#7: J. Lazier 100-114
#8: Giaffone 115-116
#9: J. Lazier 117-126
#10: Giaffone 127-132
#11: J. Lazier 133-165
#12: Giaffone 166-174
#13: J. Lazier 175-200
C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 16 / 12.3
G-Force: 9 / 14.2
Aurora: 23 / 13.0
Infiniti: 2 / 12.5
Firestone: 27 / 13.0