Race: SunTrust Indy Challenge

Track: Richmond International Raceway

Date: Saturday, 2001

Start time: 8:05 PM EDT

Weather: hot and humid

IRL historical: #7 of 13 in 2001 season, IRL race #50 overall

Track historical: IRL race #1, Indy car race # at this track

Track configuration: 0.75 mile D-oval, flat track

Wing package: Short track


Probably the most unusual twist to the 2001 IRNLS season was the circuit's visit to Richmond. The long-time NASCAR stronghold was the shortest track the IRNLS had ever run on, and the sub-20-second lap times promised almost continuous action. The all time track record, set in 1996 by Randy Tolsma in a Silver Crown car, was shattered in qualifying, which was not surprising. The surprise was who did it: Jaques Lazier, making his first start for Sam Schmidt, put their car on the pole with a 160.417 run. To add to the drama, the outside pole was taken by Sarah Fisher, the highest starting postion for an Indy car race ever achieved by a woman.

Things got rought during practice. Several drivers crashed including Greg Ray, who received a concussion and wasn't cleared to drive for the race. The Menard team chose to withdraw rather than substitute another driver, making this the first IRNLS race without Ray in the field since 1997, and the first series race ever without a Team Menard entry.

At the start, Fisher got the jump and sped off into the lead. But the distaff audience didn't have long to celebrate: Buddy Lazier got a good jump, passing his brother for second at the start, and then taking the lead from Fisher in turn 4. B. Lazier very quickly drove away from the field, while brother Jaques struggled with tire pressures and handling and began to fade, as did Ward. Hornish passed him for third on lap 5, and then passed Fisher to take over second place on lap 8. By lap 9 B. Lazier was already in traffic while Airton Dare moved around J. Lazier for 5th. Jaques's car continued to handle very poorly and on lap 15 he spun and hit the wall in turn 4, bringing a promising day to a quick end. Ward had faded very badly and was already lapped when the caution came out. Dismore was also handling very badly and pitted during the yellow for tires and adjustments.

Green flew on lap 22 and again B. Lazier drove away, taking five laps to build a 3-second lead on Hornish. Billy Boat wasn't running well and he parked his car on lap 34 with no oil pressure. Meanwhile, Fisher was beginning to fade and Dare moved up to third. Hornish pursued B. Lazier in traffic but no one would seriously challenge the purple #91 for some time in this race. The racing was quite physical on the bull-ring track and some drivers were having trouble with arm cramps and neck strains from the cornering. On lap 50 B. Lazier led Hornish, Dare, Giaffone, and Cheever, with Salazar, Fisher, Buhl, Unser and Schroeder completing the top-10. Buzz Calkins pitted on lap 53 for routine service, but as other crews were setting up fr green flag stops, a debris caution flew on lap 65.

Almost everyone stopped under this caution, with B. Lazier and Hornish retaining the first two positions in the pits. The efficient Treadway crew got Giaffone out in third, followed by Dare and Cheever; Fisher got a poor stop and dropped from the top-10. Salazar got caught up in traffic in Richmond's narrow and complicated pit lane, missed his pit, and had to go around again, dropping to the end of the line. After the green, a special moment occurred in IRNLS history occurred on lap 75: that lap constituted the 10,000th total lap run in the series, and Lazier was awarded a bonus prize for leading that lap. Meanwhile, Cheever was moving up; he passed Dare and then Giaffone to move into third, and Dare followed him around Giaffone to retake fourth.

On lp 90 some drivers started to call in reports of rain on the track, and two laps later the yellow waved for a light rain. Dismore, Unser, Buhl, and Beechler all chose to pit under this caution; Buhl's team had trouble with the fuel nozzle and they had a long pit stop. The rain was not heavy and didn't last long, and the green came back out on lap 100. Dare got a good jump and passed Hornish to take second. The field didn't stay under green very long: on lap 115 Fisher, whose handling had gotten steadily worse, spun and crashed in turn 3. Unser and Andre caught a break and got back on the lead lap on this caution. Pit stops were not possible for several laps, as the crash left volumes of debris in turn 3 and the field was diverted through the pit lane while it was being cleaned up. Just before the green, the pits opened and Schroeder and Calkins pitted. Green came out on lap 126, but almost immediately Schroeder's car stopped in turn 1 with a dead battery and caution came back out. Sharp was the only driver to pit during this caution.

Finally, some green flag racing cranked up on lap 133. At this point B. Lazier led Dare, Hornish, Cheever, and Salazar (back up through the field after the botched pit stop earlier). Schroeder's crew replaced the dead battery in his car, but as he exited the pits his car got bound up in the tight curve where the pit lane goes through turns 1 and 2; he spun in the pit exit in turn 2 and hit the inside wall, ending his day and bringing out another yellow. This time, the leaders who had passed up the last two cautions decided that they were pushing their luck and pitted. Again the Hemelgarn crew got B. Lazier back out in the lead followed by Dare and Cheever. Buhl waited until lap 145 to pit; green waved on lap 150. Lazier once again proceeded to drive away from the field. Things remained fairly static for a while, with Dare occasionally closing up on Lazier in traffic but unable to do anything.

By lap 175 six cars were left on the lead lap: B. Lazier, Dare, Cheever, Hornish, Salazar, and Giaffone. One lap down, Unser, Sharp, Didier Andre, and Dismore filled out the top-10. On lap 180, Lazier and Dare moved in on sixth-place Giaffone to put him a lap down. On lap 182 Lazier slipped by on the front stretch; Dare made a move to the inside going into turn 1, but the two cars touched wheels and crashed exiting turn 2. Giaffone wasn't too badly damaged but Dare was out, ending his best run of the year to this point. Dare was very upset and a long-standing friendship between the two Brazilians was strained. Buhl caught some debris and damaged his car's nose.

The pits opened on lap 186. At this point B. Lazier was still the only driver who had led the race; he had already set an IRNLS record for most consecutive laps led in a race, and with this race being atyically long in turns of laps, he was on his way towards breaking the series record for total laps led in a race. But on the next lap he finally gave up the lead in rather ignominous fashion; as Salazar had done earlier, he got confused by Richmond's pit lane and had to go around, handing the lead to Salazar as he pitted on the next lap. Buhl made a two-pit-stop sequence for a nose replacment, running one lap under caution without a nose, and the repair was completed without losing a lap.

The race restarted on lap 197 with Salazar leading Cheever, B. Lazier, Hornish, Unser, and Andre who was the last car on the lead lap. Salazar couldn't pull away and was doggedly pursued by Cheever, with Lazier immediately behind. On lap 206, Hattori spun in turn 2, backed into the wall, and slid backwards all the way down the back stretch. As the cars circulated under the yellow, Hornish called his crew to report an engine misfire. Green flew on lap 213, and chaos ensued immediately. Cheever got a good jump and moved under Salazar going into turn 1. In a move reminiscent of one he'd made at Kentucky the previous year, Salazar moved down and tried to block, but Cheever already had his nose almost even with Salazar's front wheel. The two touched and crashed hard. Salazar had to be helped out of his car with an ankle injury. B. Lazier inherited the lead, with only Hornish, Andre, and Unser remaining on the lead lap.

With Hornish having engine problems, it wasn't much of a contest after that. The green flew on lap 228 and Lazier immediately pulled way, building up a 6-second lead by lap 240 and driving conservatively after that. Despite the bad engine Hornish held off the two Galles cars, who raced among themselves with Unser passing his teammate Andre to take third. They finished in that order, with the Kelley cars of Sharp and Dismore trying at the end to pass Lazier in hopes of another caution giving them their laps back (no such luck there anyway). Giaffone who had run so well earlier got back out in time to run a few more laps and place 11th. Lazier shattered the IRNLS record for most laps led in a race, with a total of 224 laps led. Afterwards Lazier said that this was one of the most physical races he had ever run.

Fin St  Qual  Car  C/E/T    Driver            Entrant  Laps     Status  Laps Pts
        Spd    #                                                         Led
 1  4 159.199  91  D/A/F Buddy Lazier        Hemelgarn  250     Running  224  52
 2  6 158.288   4  D/A/F Sam Hornish         Panther    250     Running       40
 3 11 155.859   3  G/A/F Al Unser            Galles     250     Running       35
 4 14 154.946  32  G/A/F Didier Andre        Galles     250     Running       32
 5 10 156.663   8  D/A/F Scott Sharp         Kelley     249     Running       30
 6 13 155.196  28  D/A/F Mark Dismore        Kelley     249     Running       28
 7 15 154.553  11  D/A/F Donnie Beechler     Foyt       247     Running       26
 8 19 No Spd.  35  G/A/F Jeff Ward           Heritage   247     Running       24
 9  9 156.672  24  G/I/F Robbie Buhl         D&R        247     Running       22
10 16 151.601  12  D/A/F Buzz Calkins        Bradley    239     Running       20
11  8 158.091  21  G/A/F Felipe Giaffone     Treadway   215     Running       19
12  7 158.261  14  D/A/F Eliseo Salazar      Foyt       213    Crash T3   26  18
13  3 159.202  51  D/I/F Eddie Cheever       Cheever    213    Crash T3       17
14 18 139.796  55  D/A/F Shigeaki Hattori    Cunningham 199    Crash T3       16
15  5 158.772  88  G/A/F Airton Dare         Xtreme     182    Crash T2       15
16 12 155.197   6  D/A/F Jeret Schroeder     Tristar    128    Crash BS       14
17  2 159.891  15  D/A/F Sarah Fisher        Walker     107    Crash T4       13
18 20 No Spd.  98  D/A/F Billy Boat          Beck        31   Oil Pres.       12
19  1 160.417  99  D/A/F Jaques Lazier       Schmidt     13    Crash T4       11
20 17 148.558  81  G/A/F Billy Roe           Zali         9    Handling       10
21 21 No Spd.   2  D/A/F Greg Ray            Menard       0   Withdrawn        9

The driver of the car #2 was injured in a practice crash and not cleared to drive for the race. The team chose to withdraw rather than substitute another driver.

Time of race: 01:55:27
Average speed: 97.435 MPH
Margin of victory: 4.883 sec

Laps under green: 161 of 250 laps (64.4%)
Caution flags: 9 for 89 laps (35.6%)
#1: lap 15, crash (J. Lazier), T4, 7 laps
#2: lap 65, debris, 8 laps
#3: lap 92, rain, 8 laps
#4: lap 111, crash (Fisher), T4, 15 laps
#5: lap 128, stalled car (Schroeder), FS, 5 laps
#6: lap 139, crash (Schroeder), BS, 11 laps
#7: lap 183, crash (Dare, Giaffone), T2, 14 laps
#8: lap 206, crash (Hattori), T3, 7 laps
#9: lap 214, crash (Cheever, Salazar), T3, 14 laps

Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes

Lead changes: 2; number of race leaders: 2
St: Lazier 1-187 (IRNLS record to date)
#1: Salazar 188-213
#2: Lazier 214-250

Lazier's total of 224 laps led is an IRNLS record to date.

C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 14 / 11.5
G-Force: 7 / 10.0
Aurora: 19 / 11.0
Infiniti: 2 / 11.0
Firestone: 21 / 11.0