Race: Pennzoil Copper World 200

Track: Phoenix International Raceway

Date: Sunday, March 18, 2001

Start time: 2:05 PM MST

Weather: Mild, bright sun

IRL historical: #1 of 13 in 2001 season, IRNLS race #44 overall

Track historical: IRNLS race #6, Indycar race #59 at this track

Track configuration: 1-mile peculiar oval, flat track

Wing package: Short track


One of the rookie class of 2000 made an unexpected mark in the IRNLS's newly-annointed series opening race at PIR. For the first time, the IRNLS ran at Phoenix as the headlining race of the fabled Copper World Classic, and Davey Hamilton attempted all four races, winning the Supermodified race the day before. Hamilton was driving the IRNLS car of new car owner Sam Schmidt, the former driver who had been paralyzed in a testing crash the previous year.

The later season opening made for some interesting team lineups and changes, besides Schmidt and Hamilton. Jaret Schroeder emerged with the PDM team, while Tristar and Jim Immke joined forces to field a car for Tyce Carlson. Treadway had a car for rookie Filipe Giaffone (cousin to former IRNLS driver Affonso Giaffone); Galles also had a famous relative in a car in the form of rookie Casey Mears (nephew of the great Rick Mears), plus another rooke, Frenchman Didier Andre. Panther had hired Sam Hornish to replace the semi-retired Scott Goodyer, and Jeff Ward turned up with a new team founded by himself and Mitch Davis. But the big news was the two-car entry of Penske Motorsports, for the first time in an IRNLS race. The Penske team planned to use the race as a warm-up for their Indy entry with their regular drivers, Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves. And for the first time the famed Ilmor engine shop entered IRNLS competition, building engines for Penske, Kelley, and Schmidt.

For the 2001 season, qualifying bonus points were eliminated to remove the incentive for teams to build special qualifying engines. This didn't stop Greg Ray from dominating qualifying as usual, winning the pole and breaking his own Phoenix lap record for the IRNLS new cars. Hornish qualified a surprising second in his first start with the Panther team. The long-awited Infiniti 35A engine finally made its debut, with Robbie Buhl and Eddie Cheever putting two examples on the grid 8th and 12th respectively; Cheever said that the engine had more but its 30-lb. weight reduction from the old Infiniti engine had upset their handling and they hadn't yet figured out to take advantage. The Galles team made an unexpectedly poor showing with Al Unser, the highest-qualifying of their three cars, only in 23rd position.

The race began with slick track conditions owing to incompatible rubber laid down by the Silver Bullet cars that raced just before the IRNLS event. It nearly began without Ward, who had problems getting his engine started; fortunately, he did get going just in time to join the field on the pace lap. The surprises began when Hornish blew off Ray on the start and took the lead using the outside groove in turn 1. It was a sign of things to come. Stephan Gregoire, who had ran well at Test in the West, pursued Ray with surprising ferocity. Meanwhile, Buhl dropped back with handling problems, which was to be the story of his day. While Ray, Gregoire, defending IRNLS champion Buddy Lazier, Ward, and de Ferran pursued, Hornish quickly drove away to a 4-second lead, slowed only momentarily by a caution for a spin by rookie Brandon Erwin, making his first IRNLS start. The Galles cars continued to sruggle; both Mears and Andre were in and out of the pits with handling problems, as was Shigeaki Hattori. After the green, it took Hornish only ten laps to regain his four-second lead, while Gregoire passed Ray for second on lap 40 and Eliseo Salazar moved up through the field. Hornish's car slowed some on old tires and by lap 50 he was fighting off Gregoire, while Ray ran third followed by B. Lazier, Ward, de Ferran, Salazar, Scott Sharp, Cheever, and Billy Boat (driving for the newly reconstituted team of Greg Beck). The race continued under green and on lap 59 Ray retook second from Gregoire.

Since few drivers had taken advantage of the early caution to top up on fuel, green flag pit stops began on lap 62. Hornish pitted, on lap 69, giving the lead to Ray, who led until he pitted on lap 73. At this point de Ferran took over. The cars with the Ilmor engines, although somewhat down on power, were getting excellent fuel mileage and the Penske team was planning on running the race with only two pit stops. However, de Ferran was having problems with his radio, and distracted, he missed the pit entrance on lap 75. The next lap, with his fuel light on and still struggling to talk to the crew, he missed entering the apron in turn 3 and then tried to dive into the pit entrance directly from the racing groove in turn 4. The abrupt braking surprised Jaret Schroeder who was following closely, and he rear-ended de Ferran and both cars spun into the wall, collecting Mark Dismore. No one was hurt but all three cars were out.

The caution came at a bad time for several faster cars who had just stopped: Hornish, Lazier, and Ward were all caught a lap down to the surprise leader, Helio Castroneves. However, a new rule came into play at this point which would prove to make a difference in the outcome of the race. After the pit stops, with Ray having assumed the lead, several cars including Hornish, Lazier, and Gregoire were in line in front of Ray and hence at the tail end of the lead lap. Under the new restart rule, just before the restart the pace car picked up the leader and all of the cars in line in front of him were waved around, putting Hornish and Lazier back on the lead lap. The green waved on lap 82 with Ray leading Castroneves and all of the others trying to pick their way through traffic.

While Hornish worked his way back towards the front, Ray set off into the lead. Shortly he had built a 4-second lead and the Menard team was looking dominant. But starting around lap 100 (while Al Unser went to the pits with an engine failure), the surprising Gregoire began reeling him in, and Stephan made a daring outside pass in turn 1 on lap 118 to take the lead. There proved to be a good reason: Ray's engine was running lean due to a fuel pressure problem, and three laps later it blew. The race continued under green for a few more laps unitl a yellow was thrown for the oil. That caution was short; so was Gregoire's time up front. As the green flag waved, Gregoire moved up in turn 1 to pass Buhl but suddenly found himself balked by the slower car of Lazier, who couldn't find a gear. Gregoire cut to the inside but his left rear hit Buhl's right front; Gregoire spun into the wall and crashed. Buhl continued but the damage made his car even more ill-handling than it already was. Many teams took advantage of this caution for pit stops, and Hornish emerged with the lead again and a few handling adjustments.

The green finally came back out for a while on lap 139. Hornish was closely pursued by Castroneves at the start but shortly began pulling away, followed by Lazier, Salazar, and Sharp. Immediately Salazar took third from Lazier, and then as he went to work on Castroneves, the Penske driver's engine expired. A few laps later Sarah Fisher had to bail out of her car in turn 1 as it caught fire after an engine failure; fortunately she was not hurt. Hornish almost lost the lead to Salazar in traffic but built up his margin again after lap 150 as he got clear track. On lap 158, Stan Wattles (in the first race of his new deal driving as a teammate to Lazier at Hemelgarn), pinched his car down exiting turn 2, spun, and backed hard into the inside wall, knocking out a large chunk. Wattles was taken off on a backboard as a precaution, but no back or neck injuries were found, and he returned to the track to be interviewed near the end of the race. The rest of the race was anticlimatic as far as the lead went, but a good duel for second shaped up between Salazar, Lazier, and Sharp. Lazier might have been the fastest of the three, but he was handicapped by a gearbox stuck in fourth gear that had his engine on the rev limiter nearly all the way down the straights. Several times Sharp nearly passed Lazier only to get picked in traffic, and both were catching Salazar when the checkered flag flew.

It flew on the yellow Pennzoil car with 21-year-old Sam Hornish at the wheel, the youngest winner of an Indy car race ever, according to IRNLS publicity. It was the second win in a row for the Panther team, following Scott Goodyear's win for them in his farewell at Texas the previous year. Salazar posted his best finish since his win at Las Vegas in 1997. Lazier set an IRNLS record by finishing on the lead lap for the fourth race in a row. Giaffone was the top-finishing rookie, in sixth. Airton Dare was robbed of a lead-lap finish by a late engine failure, while Boat, Ward, Robby McGehee, and Hamilton all put in credible finishes with their new teams. Erwin kept himself out of further trouble after his early spin and made the checkered flag in his first race, in twelth.

Fin St  Qual  Car  C/E/T    Driver            Entrant  Laps     Status  Laps Pts
        Spd    #                                                         Led
 1  2 176.801   4  D/A/F Sam Hornish         Panther    200     Running  140  52
 2 13 172.623  14  D/A/F Eliseo Salazar      Foyt       200     Running       40
 3  6 173.942  91  D/A/F Buddy Lazier        Hemelgarn  200     Running       35
 4 10 172.996   8  D/A/F Scott Sharp         Kelley     200     Running    1  32
 5  7 173.162  98  D/A/F Billy Boat          Beck       200     Running       30
 6  9 173.049  21  G/A/F Filipe Giaffone     Treadway   199     Running       28
 7  3 175.710  35  G/A/F Jeff Ward           Heritage   199     Running       26
 8 16 172.196  10  D/A/F Robby McGehee       Cahill     198     Running       24
 9 11 172.785  12  D/A/F Buzz Calkins        Bradley    197     Running       22
10 18 169.661  88  G/A/F Airton Dare         Xtreme     197      Engine       20
11  8 173.114  24  G/I/F Robbie Buhl         D&R        196     Running       19
12 20 169.318  99  D/A/F Davey Hamilton      Schmidt    192     Running       18
13 24 165.413  55  D/A/F Shigeaki Hattori    Cunningham 192     Running       17
14 26 160.864  30  G/A/F Brandon Erwin       McCormack  185     Running       16
15 19 169.568   6  D/A/F Tyce Carlson        Tristar    162    Handling       15
16 14 172.612  92  D/A/F Stan Wattles        Hemelgarn  157    Crash T2       14
17 21 168.848  15  D/A/F Sarah Fisher        Walker     145      Engine       13
18 17 172.014  68  D/A/F Helio Castroneves   Penske     142      Engine    4  12
19 12 172.661  51  D/I/F Eddie Cheever       Cheever    133  Thrtl Link       11
20 25 164.696  31  G/A/F Casey Mears         Galles     133      Engine       10
21  4 174.442   7  D/A/F Stephan Gregoire    Simon      131    Crash T1    9   9
22  1 177.663   2  D/A/F Greg Ray            Menard     121      Engine   43   8
23 23 165.988   3  G/A/F Al Unser            Galles     101      Engine        7
24  5 174.000  66  D/A/F Gil de Ferran       Penske      76    Crash T4    3   6
25 15 172.525  28  D/A/F Mark Dismore        Kelley      75    Crash T4        5
26 22 168.594   9  D/A/F Jaret Schroeder     PDM         74    Crash T4        4
27 27 Prov.    32  G/A/F Didier Andre        Galles      53    Handling        3

Time of race: 01:35:57
Average speed: 125.072 MPH
Margin of victory: 1.379 sec

Laps under green: 163 of 200 laps (81.5%)
Caution flags: 5 for 37 laps (18.5%)
#1: lap 20, spin (Erwin), T2, 4 laps
#2: lap 77, crash (de Ferran, Dismore, Schroeder), T4, 13 laps
#3: lap 125, oil on track, 6 laps
#4: lap 132, crash (Buhl, Gregoire), T1, 6 laps
#5: lap 159, crash (Wattles), T2, 8 laps

Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes

Lead changes: 7, number of different leaders: 5
St: Hornish 1-67
#1: Ray 68-73
#2: de Ferran 74-76
#3: Castroneves 77-80
#4: Sharp 81
#5: Ray 82-118
#6: Gregoire 119-127
#7: Hornish 128-200

C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 19 / 13.7
G-Force: 8 / 14.8
Aurora: 25 / 13.9
Infiniti: 2 / 15.0
Firestone: 27 / 14.0