Track: Miami-Homestead Speedway
Date: Sunday, April 8, 2001
Start time: 2:05 PM EST
Weather: Warm, partly cloudy, windy
IRL historical: #2 of 13 in 2001 season, IRNLS race #45 overall
Track historical: IRNLS race #1, Indycar race #5 at this track
Track configuration: 1.5-mile oval, flat track
Wing package: Speedway
Sam Hornish and the Panther Racing team posted their second victory in as many races in the 2001 season. The race was the first IRNLS event at the speedway, located on the former grounds of Homestead AFB (which had been destroyed by Hurricane Andrew), after five CART events at the facility in previous years. The track, the flattest on on the schedule with only 6-degree banking in the turns, proved to be a tough nut to crack due to winds and the rapidly changing weather conditions that South Florida is known for. However, Jeff Ward solved it to post his second IRNLS pole position, beating out heavy favorite Greg Ray. There were other surprises in qualifying, with rookie Felipe Giaffone qualifying fourth fastest and Sarah Fisher starting in seventh. Robby McGehee and Airton Dare were hampered in qualifying by their cars failing tech inspection.
The initial green flag didn't last long as Stan Wattles spun exiting turn 4 and back into the front stretch wall -- an almost exact replay of his Phoenix crash. Jon Herb, making only his second IRNLS start, suffered the indignity of blowing an engine during the caution; the car caught fire and Herb made a hasty exit at a fire marshal's station in turn 1. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt. Once this was cleaned up, Ward jumped out to the early lead, but Hornish quickly moved up from his fifth starting position. By lap 14 Hornish took the lead. Giaffone fell back due to handling problems, while Al Unser worked his way up from his 19th starting position. Unfortunately, the two Infiniti teams, Cheever and Buhl, didn't have the new 35A engine quite worked out yet; Cheever hadn't been able ro solve the chassis setup for the lighter engine, while Buhl was suffering electronics gremlins that would end his day very early.
Hornish started to pull away, but the competition was intensifying behind him and Ward. Ray, Buddy Lazier, and Eliseo found themselves evenly matched and contending for third, while Mark Dismore and Scott Sharp, who had posted almost identical qualifying times, were trying to move up in tandem. On lap 20 Hornish and Ward led Ray, Laizer, Salazar, and Giaffone, wiht Dismore, Sharp, Fisher, and Stephan Gregoire making up the top-10. But two laps later Gregoire had to pit with what was thought to be a flat tire, but a tire change didn't solve his increasingly evil-handling car, and eventually Gregoire had to park it; he stated later that they had found a suspension problem in the post mortem. The race was slowed on lap 29 when Buhl's car stalled in turn 2.
All teams were concerned about tire wear on the very flat track, and so took this caution to make pit stops despite the fact that they could have gone much further on fuel. Hornish and Ward got very clean stops and emerged first, followed by Ray, Lazier, and Dismore. Giaffone didn't stop on the first lap due to radio problems; he led his first lap of IRNLS competition as a result, but then had to stop a lap late and lost many positions. Hornish wasn't quite as fast on his new tires and lost the lead to Ward a lap after the restart, and then lost second to Lazier a lap later. The Kelley cars were clicking and Dismore and Sharp ran in fourth and fifth on lap 50; Ray was also having problems and was dropping back. Meanwhile, Unser had cracked the top-10 and was running in ninth, and Davey Hamilton was also moving up. However, as the green flag run went on, the track came back to Hornish and he started moving back up. He passed Lazier on lap 50 and then engaged in a traffic duel with Ward. He was balked once, but then made a daring move to split a lapped car and retake the lead on lap 62. Three laps later, Airton Dare, who had just broken into the top-10, blew an engine to bring out a caution.
The resulting pit stops proved to be a disaster for several front runners. Dismore entered the pits in fourth, but stalled his engine and lost a lap. Due to a coordination problem among the officials, several teams including Unser entered the pits a lap too soon, before the pits were opened. The other teams effected drove through, but Unser pitted and so incurred a penalty. However, since it was partly an officials' problem, Unser was permitted to serve a stop-and-go during the caution, blending back in, rather then being penalized a lap which would have been the standard penalty. A series of adjustments made on Ward's car made it worse instead of better, and he was not able to keep up with Hornish after the caution.
Neither was anyone else, except Dismore. The green waved on lap 71 and Hornish promptly drove away from Ward, Lazier, Ray, and Fisher, with Unser, Sharp, Cheever, Salazar, and Hamilton completing the top-10. Unser went to work and moved up to fifth by lap 91, while Hornish maintained a 3-second lead over Ward and went to work on putting good cars a lap down. Silent Sam had a 7-second lead by lap 104 and was threatening to turn the race into a laugher, but a caution for a chunk of bodywork in turn 4 broke up that party on lap 111. Still more pit stops, and the green flew on lap 117 with Hornish leading Ward, Unser, Lazier, and Ray, but shortly Salazar passed Ray for fifth. Ray was losing power and pitted again on lap 137 with low fuel pressure; a fill-up fixed it, but this revealed the presence of a fuel pickup problem and the need for Ray to stop about every 20 laps for fuel, taking him out of contention. Meanwhile, Unser and Ward engaged in a fine duel for second, with Unser emerging with the position on lap 125. Hornish once again proceeded to run away and again good cars started going a lap down. And he was about to get some help with that. After a long green flag run, several cars had to stop for fuel beginning around lap 160, including Ward, Dismore, and Hamilton. Unser pulled to the pit lane for a stop on lap 163, but before he made it to the pits, he ran out of fuel. The team had difficulty restarting the engine, having to resort to spraying ether in the air box, and Unser lost several laps. Then, with Hornish still out, Ray hit the wall in turn 2 on lap 166 and all of the cars that had pitted were caught out.
It looked like a cakewalk for Hornish. But the tale was not completely told yet; despite all precautions by the Panther crew, they had a ragged pit stop which ended with a stalled engine. Fortunately, they did get the engine running without losing a lap, but Hornish emerged at the tail end of the pack with a lot of traffic between himself and the new leader, Salazar. With A. J. Foyt exhorting him on the radio, Salazar got a good jump on the restart and drove away from surprising second-place Fisher, followed by Lazier, Hornish, and Giaffone who was the last car on the lead lap.
Hornish went about picking through traffic. He dived under Lazier in turn 3 to take third on lap 177. However, as Hornish went by, Lazier bobbled and then spun into the wall in turn 4, bringing the caution back out. The green came out on lap 181. Salazar again got a good restart, but so did Hornish and he quickly passed Fisher for second. On lap 183, Hornish went to work on Salazar, known as one of the more difficult drivers to pass in the series. Hornish tried a low pass in turn 3, such as he had used on Lazier, but Salazar blocked it; an attempted pass in traffic on the front stretch was also blocked. So on the next lap, going into turn 3, Hornish moved to Salazar's outside. For two laps they ran wheel to wheel, and then, amazingly, Hornish completed the outside pass.
But it wasn't all clear for Hornish yet. With the door left open, Fisher quickly passed Salazar, leaving the IRNLS's two youngest drivers being pursued by its oldest. (It was pointed out that Hornish's and Fisher's ages added together did not add up to Salazar's age. ABC announcer Jason Priestly teasingly asked Bob Jenkins if he had been married for ten years when Hornish graduated from high school Jenkins's reply: "Eleven, actually.") And then, to everyone's surprise, Fisher began to close on Salazar. Lap by lap she cut the gap, a tenth here, two tenths there. By lap 192 Hornish's lead was down to about six car lengths. But Hornish was able to work traffic more effectively than Fisher, and this helped him preserve an average gap of about a second. And that is how it ended up, with Hornish leading Fisher by 1.087 seconds to the finish.
Not only was it the second win in a row for the second-youngest winner ever in the long history of Indy car racing (IRNLS research had determined that only Howdy Wilcox, back in 1912, had been younger than Hornish when he won his first race), it was the third win in a row for Panther Racing, which had won the last race of the 2000 season with Scott Goodyear on board. For Fisher, it was not only the best finish of her career to date, it was also the best finish by a woman in any race in Indy racing history. For the IRNLS, it was more evidence that the young guns were ready to assume the mantle, with the finishes of Hornish and Lazier plus Giaffone ending up in fourth. Lazier was considerably less happy; the late crash cost him a chance to break the IRNLS record for most consecutive top-5 finishes.
Fin St Qual Car C/E/T Driver Entrant Laps Status Laps Pts Spd # Led 1 5 199.172 4 D/A/F Sam Hornish Panther 200 Running 142 52 2 7 198.313 15 D/A/F Sarah Fisher Walker 200 Running 40 3 6 199.110 14 D/A/F Eliseo Salazar Foyt 200 Running 16 35 4 4 199.211 21 G/A/F Felipe Giaffone Treadway 199 Running 1 32 5 1 201.551 35 G/A/F Jeff Ward Heritage 199 Running 40 30 6 19 193.775 3 G/A/F Al Unser Galles 199 Running 1 28 7 9 197.717 28 D/A/F Mark Dismore Kelley 199 Running 26 8 8 197.968 8 D/A/F Scott Sharp Kelley 198 Running 24 9 16 195.234 51 D/I/F Eddie Cheever Cheever 198 Running 22 10 26 187.878 32 G/A/F Didier Andre Galles 196 Running 20 11 24 192.485 31 G/A/F Casey Mears Galles 196 Running 19 12 22 192.875 10 D/A/F Robby McGehee Cahill 196 Running 18 13 12 197.011 98 D/A/F Billy Boat Beck 196 Running 17 14 14 195.413 9 D/A/F Jaret Schroeder PDM 195 Running 16 15 21 192.938 55 G/A/F Shigeaki Hattori Cunningham 193 Running 15 16 15 195.378 12 D/A/F Buzz Calkins Bradley 193 Running 14 17 25 191.462 30 G/A/F Brandon Erwin McCormack 190 Running 13 18 18 194.380 27 G/A/F John Hollansworth Blueprint 189 Running 12 19 13 196.145 99 D/A/F Davey Hamilton Schmidt 185 Electrical 11 20 3 199.432 91 D/A/F Buddy Lazier Hemelgarn 175 Crash T4 10 21 2 199.893 2 D/A/F Greg Ray Menard 161 Crash T2 9 22 11 197.395 7 D/A/F Stephan Gregoire Simon 69 Suspension 8 23 20 193.281 88 G/A/F Airton Dare Xtreme 62 Engine 7 24 23 192.802 24 G/I/F Robbie Buhl D&R 9 Electrical 6 25 17 195.094 6 D/A/F Jon Herb Tristar 3 Engine 5 26 10 197.567 92 D/A/F Stan Wattles Hemelgarn 0 Crash FS 4
Laps under green: 168 of 200 laps (84.0%)
Caution flags: 6 for 32 laps (16.0%)
#1: lap 2, crash (Wattles), FS, 4 laps [during caution: blown engine (Herb), T1]
#2: lap 29, stalled car (Buhl), T1, 6 laps
#3: lap 65, blown engine (Dare), BS, 6 laps
#4: lap 111, debris, T4, 6 laps
#5: lap 166, crash (Ray), T2, 6 laps
#6: lap 177, crash (B. Lazier), T4, 4 laps
Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes
Lead changes: 9, number of different leaders: 5
St: Ward 1-13
#1: Hornish 14-31
#2: Giaffone 32
#3: Hornish 33-35
#4: Ward 36-62
#5: Hornish 63-67
#6: A. Unser 68
#7: Hornish 69-168
#8: Salazar 169-184
#9: Hornish 185-200
C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 16 / 13.6
G-Force: 10 / 13.3
Aurora: 24 / 13.3
Infiniti: 2 / 16.5
Firestone: 26 / 13.5