Track: Michigan International Speedway
Date: Sunday, July 28, 2002
Start time: 3:00 PM EDT
Weather: Mild air temperature, bright sun
IRL historical: #11 in 2002 season, IRL race #67 overall
Track historical: IRL race #1, Indy-style race #51 at this track
Track configuration: 2-mile, D-oval, high banked
Wing package: speedway
The "As the Wheel Turns" soap opera starring the team of Cheever Indy Racing spearheaded the IRL's inagural invasion of this long-time open wheel venue, with surprising results. After the Nashville debacle, there had been rumors that Cheever would fire Tomas Scheckter, and these escalated when the team rapidly signed Indy Lights veteran Buddy Rice and put him through the IRL rookie test during the week. As a result, the team came to Michigan with three almost identical Red Bull cars. However, things had been swapped around: wizard chief mechanic Owen Snyder, who had been working with Scheckter, was assigned to wrench Rice's car. Greg Beck (whose own entry with Robby McGehee was on the shelf due to the illness of sponsor Ray Parsons) was hired, along with his crew, to work with Scheckter. None of this went over particularly well with the volatile South African, but for the most part he took out his revenge on the IRL's record book.
The plot got thicker when the team dominated the practice charts, with the three Cheever cars trading the top three positions among themselves and leaving everyone else fighting for the scraps. The domination continued during qualifying. The front of the field saw several first, with the Cheever cars sweeping the top three spots. And the front row was the IRL's first all-rookie one, with Scheckter taking the pole and Buddy Rice on the outside, and the boss Eddie Cheever lining up behind Scheckter in third. With all these Infinitis hogging the top slots, Sam Hornish was best in class with his Chevy engine in fourth spot, followed by the resurgent Mark Dismore in the Menard car, and Helio Castroneves in his Penske entry. Castroneves' teammate, points leader Gil de Ferran, struggled all through practice and found himself looking up from 17th starting position. Buddy Lazier also struggled, as did the entire Foyt team (still trying to recover from having all three of their entries crashed at Nashville). Sarah Fisher had a good run, starting eighth. Scott Harrington returned to the IRL field for the first time in two years, with the Brayton team, but never got the car up to speed. The capper for the Cheever team came in final practice when Scheckter and Rice shared the top of the chart with identical best laps of 219.844 MPH.
At the start of the race, Scheckter immediately set about proving a point. He drove away from the entire lead draft, including his teammates. Cheever began falling back immediately, as did Dismore; the Menard car was once again having engine problems as it had for the last several races. Castroneves, on the other hand, got a rocket start and was in second place by the time the field hit the back stretch on the first lap. George Mack went to the pits immediately with electrical problems, and eventually his team had to change their battery and alternator, costing them many laps. Scott Sharp started the race with some trepidation, as his team had almost totally rebuilt his ill-handling car after final practice. Remarkably, the changes worked and Sharp was competitive from the start.
Rice, Hornish, Castroneves, and Felipe Giaffone set about dueling for second while Scheckter sped away. By lap 15 de Ferran had cracked the top-10, while Fisher was dropping back with a reported bad push. On lap 25 Hornish and Castroneves got side by side for second and remained nose-to-nose for several laps, until Hornish's car started to push and he dropped back. Scheckter drove away from this action and had a three-second lead when pit stops began on lap 36. Fisher stopped first, getting a major front wing adjustment, with Scheckter, Robbie Buhl, and Luyendyk following shortly. Rice, Billy Boat, Raul Boesel, and Laurent Redon, all running Infiniti engines, had to stop by lap 40, while some of the Chevy teams were able to go further. Sharp held out until lap 43, and his teammate Renna pitted on lap 44.
Just after the pit stops were complete, a caution flew for debris on the back stretch. A few cars made top-up stops, including Fisher. Eliseo Salazar, who had qualified in the top-10 but had been dropping back steadily, pitted with what turned out to be a loose air box assembly. The air box wasn't getting enough air to the engine, and team owner A.J. Foyt solved the problem with a typical bit of Foyt engineering when he yanked the air filter out and threw it back across the pit lane. As the green was set to drop on lap 51, Hornish had a mysterious electronics problem; his pit-lane speed limiter engaged as he accelerated to restart, and the car's telemetry quit working. The start was waved off; Hornish got his engine computer reset (but still no telemetry), and the green waved on lap 53.
Only a few laps were completed before the front shock cover flew off of Luyendyk's car as he came down the front stretch. The cover landed on the infield grass just off the racing surface, and the IRL made a decision to throw a caution. The Treadway crew prepared to bring the car in for another one, but then Luyendyk called and asked if he could continue without it, as he said the car handled better without it and it made the cockpit cooler. The IRL officials checked and found no rule requiring the cover, and allowed Luyendyk to continue without it. de Ferran and Boat both took advantage of the brief caution for off-sequence pit stops, and the green waved again on lap 59.
At the restart, Scheckter and Rice were 1-2. Scheckter once again took off on the restart, but behind him the action got furious as Giaffone passed Rice for second, and Castroneves dropped way back only to almost immediately move back to fourth, between Rice and Airton Dare. Giaffone set about reeling in Scheckter and passed for the lead on lap 70, the first time all day that Scheckter had been passed on the track. Scheckter quickly took it back, but soon pit stops began again with Dare pitting on lap 78. Scheckter pitted on lap 81, Hornish on lap 84, and Rice on lap 86. Cheever was the only Infiniti able to stretch; running in high gear and staying int the draft, he went to lap 88 (sputtering as he pulled down the pit lane). Castroneves went to pit on lap 89, handing the lead to Sharp, who in turn pitted on lap 92 handing the lead to de Ferran who was off sequence. Meanwhile, Dare was slowing with a mysterious engine problem.
Jeff Ward pitted with Sharp on lap 92. When he came out, as he stated later he was trying to hustle the car to make up time, but it was bottoming out with a full fuel load. On lap 95, as he exited turn 4, the car got high and he slid into the wall, bringing out a caution. Simultaneously, Buhl got off line and pitted with a vibration in his engine; it turned out to be a terminal engine failure. This was the break that de Ferran needed; he was due for a stop and got to pit under caution. Castroneves, who reported he had run over debris from Ward's car, also pitted, as did Hornish. Dare made a lengthy stop as his crew tried to repair a malfunctioning throttle position sensor which was upsetting the mixture in his engine; they were unable to fix it and, after a few more laps, Dare parked the car. Mark Dismore wasn't having any more fun than Dare; during this caution he had to pit for a new gearbox, losing seven laps.
The lap-100 halfway mark passed during the caution with Scheckter, having gotten very good stops from the Beck crew, back out in the lead followed by Giaffone, Rice, Sharp, and de Ferran, with Renna, Castroneves, Hornish, Hearn, and Barron completing the top-10. At the green, Scheckter once again took off, as de Ferran shot forwrd to third. Rice took second from Giaffone on lap 107 and the race settled down to a steady running order for a while, However, on lap 123 Scheckter made a rather early pit stop, turning the lead over to Rice who led until he pitted on lap 130. Giaffone took over until lap 135 when he pitted and handed to lead to Hornish. Silent Sam pitted on lap 139, but they had a confused stop; Hornish tried to go when the jacks went down but the fuel hose was still connected. Hornish got it stopped in time to avert a disaster, but stalled the car in the process and they had to bring out the starter. He rejoined the race nearly a half lap behind the leaders. He did get one good break: oddly, after the engine was restarted, the telemtry started working again. The teams with the Ilmor-built Chevy engines were getting the best mileage, and de Ferran and Sharp held out and ran 1-2 until lap 142, with Castroneves stretching all the way to lap 144.
Just after these stops, a caution flew for debris on lap 147. This was a huge break for Hornish who had lost the draft due to his bad pit stop and was in danger of being lapped. No leaders pitted during this; de Ferran and Cheever reportedly considered it but concluded that they would not be able to finish without another stop. The yellow lasted only long enough to remove the debris, and green flew on lap 150. Alex Barron, who had been lapped just before the caution, tried to mix it up with the leaders in an attempt to get his lap back, and wound up balking everyone except Scheckter who quickly stretched out a 1.5-second lead. Cars behind Scheckter mixed it up with Rice leading de Ferran, Hornish, Giaffone, and the resurgent Fisher whose car was improving as the race progressed.
Since the leaders had not stopped during the caution, the next round of pit stops came up quickly. Scheckter pitted on lap 162 and this is where the trouble started. While his car was up on the jacks, somehow the clutch inadvertently engaged. Scheckter had his foot on the brake as he should have, but when the clutch let out the engine stalled. They had trouble getting the right rear wheel on and then had to restart the engine, for a damaging 23-second pit stop. And to make matters worse, Scheckter was caught out a lap down due to his boss: Cheever, racing with Hearn, pushed up into the marbles and hit the wall coming out of turn 2 on lap 166. Cheever was unhurt but furious with himself, stating for an ABC reporter that it was exactly the kind of mistake that he was trying to teach Scheckter not to make. The yellow flew with Rice leading; Hornish and Fisher had been fastest in that second and held down second and third, followed by Giaffone and Sharp. Things got worse for the Cheever team when Rice, due to a mixup within the team, didn't realize when the pits opened and missed the pit entrance. Hornish and de Ferran got good stops and came out first and third; Sharp did a timed fuel-only stop and emerged between them. When Rice pitted on the next lap, Scheckter got his break; the pace car picked him up and under IRL rules he was allowed to pass the pace car and get his lap back. He rejoined the pack as the 12th and last car on the lead lap. Ahead of him were the #4, 8, and 6 cars, followed by Giaffone, Castroneves, Hearn in sixth, Renna, Fisher, Redon, Rice, and Boat who had gotten back in the lead lap by staying out. The tactic backfired, though; Boat had to pit for fuel as the green came out on lap 174, and he lost two laps which he was unable to make up.
The final green flag run began with a dramatic restart with de Ferran and Sharp making a big run on Hornish and going three wide into turn 1. Hornish quickly reported that he had lost fifth gear; he had to run the rest of the race in fourth which left his engine on the rev limiter for most of the distance of both straights, and he began to fall back. de Ferran swept to the lead but teammate Castroneves drafted through behind him, and soon the two Marlboro cars were dueling wheel-to-wheel for the lead. While everyone was watching this, on lap 179 seemingly out of nowhere Giaffone swept up and made a daring low move on the back stretch to pass both for the lead. Even more stunning, Fisher also blasted past both of the Penske drivers into second, and soon was harassing Giaffone. Fisher's car was working very well in the bottom groove, and on lap 185 she moved under Giaffone and into the lead in turn 3. With the fans cheering wildly, she held off the snarling lead-pack draft before Giaffone got back underneath her on lap 189. Fisher's car wouldn't work in the high groove, and soon most of the draft swept past. Meanwhile, Scheckter and Rice had been cutting through the field with a vengence. As Fisher and Giaffone were fighting for the lead, Scheckter had moved up from 12th to 4th. He passed Sharp for third on lap 190, quickly dispatched Fisher, and then set out after Giaffone. Scheckter got his run and passed Giaffone for the lead using the high groove in turn 2 with seven laps remaining. As the pack continued to shuffle behind him, Rice moved up and slipped under Giaffone at the white flag. As the final lap unwound, four cars fought for second.
Scheckter took the victory in convincing fashion, once again driving away from the lead draft over the last several laps. Depending on whose opinion was asked, the weekend had been either a triumph of retribution by the pupil against the student, or a brilliant motivational move by Cheever. Rice led a very tight group down to the flag for second place, with Rice on the inside having a half car length over Giaffone on the outside, and Renna tucked in right behind for fourth. It was only the third 1-2 team sweep in IRL history; the first time since the inagural 1996 season that rookies had finished first and second (plus Renna in fourth), and the best ever showing for the Infiniti engine. The visibly exhausted de Ferran finished one position ahead of Castroneves and two ahead of Hornish, slightly padding his points lead. Fisher ended up eighth in the draft shuffle, but gained significant praise for her efforts, and Hearn brought his underfunded effort home with a top-10 finish. Luyendyk was a disappointing non-factor, finishing two laps down, and the 17th posted by Greg Ray's patched-together team was still the best among the Foyt entries despite an overheating problem.
Fin St Qual Car C/E/T Driver Entrant Laps Status Laps Pts Spd # Led 1 1 221.868 52 D/I/F Tomas Scheckter Cheever 200 Running 122 52 2 2 221.831 53 D/I/F Buddy Rice Cheever 200 Running 15 40 3 12 218.254 21 G/C/F Felipe Giaffone Nunn 200 Running 24 35 4 10 218.561 7 D/C/F Tony Renna Kelley 200 Running 3 32 5 17 217.427 6 D/C/F Gil de Ferran Penske 200 Running 12 30 6 6 219.051 3 D/C/F Helio Castroneves Penske 200 Running 5 28 7 4 219.580 4 D/C/F Sam Hornish Panther 200 Running 10 26 8 8 218.618 23 G/I/F Sarah Fisher D&R 200 Running 4 24 9 16 217.561 8 D/C/F Scott Sharp Kelley 200 Running 5 22 10 21 217.008 20 D/C/F Richie Hearn Schmidt 200 Running 20 11 14 217.895 34 D/I/F Laurent Redon Conquest 200 Running 19 12 7 218.634 44 D/C/F Alex Barron Blair 198 Running 18 13 15 217.569 91 D/C/F Buddy Lazier Hemelgarn 198 Running 17 14 19 217.255 98 D/I/F Billy Boat C-A-B 198 Running 16 15 18 217.404 12 D/I/F Raul Boesel Bradley 197 Running 15 16 20 217.022 55 G/C/F Arie Luyendyk Treadway 196 Running 14 17 23 214.875 41 D/C/F Greg Ray Foyt 196 Running 13 18 5 219.294 2 D/C/F Mark Dismore Menard 194 Running 12 19 9 218.602 11 D/C/F Eliseo Salazar Foyt 192 Running 11 20 24 214.410 31 G/C/F George Mack 310 183 Running 10 21 25 212.857 37 D/C/F Scott Harrington Brayton 171 Running 9 22 3 220.328 51 D/I/F Eddie Cheever Cheever 165 Crash T2 8 23 13 217.933 14 D/C/F Airton Dare Foyt 127 Thrtl Sens 7 24 11 218.282 24 G/I/F Robbie Buhl D&R 95 Engine 6 25 22 216.081 9 D/C/F Jeff Ward Ganassi 91 Crash T4 5
Laps under green: 175 of 200 laps (87.5%)
Caution flags: 5 for 25 laps (12.5%)
#1: lap 46, debris, BS, 5 laps
#2: lap 57, debris, FS, 2 laps
#3: lap 95, crash (Ward), T4, 7 laps
#4: lap 147, debris, T3, 3 laps
#5: lap 166, crash (Cheever), T2, 8 laps
Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes
Lead changes: 25, number of race leaders: 9
St: Scheckter 1-36
#1: Rice 37-38 (first time leading an IRL race)
#2: Castroneves 39-41
#3: Renna 42-44
#4: Scheckter 45-69
#5: Giaffone 70
#6: Scheckter 71-80
#7: Giaffone 81-87
#8: Sharp 88-92
#9: de Ferran 93-97
#10: Scheckter 98-122
#11: Rice 123-129
#12: Giaffone 130-134
#13: Hornish 135-139
#14: de Ferran 140-141
#15: Castroneves 142-143
#16: Scheckter 144-162
#17: Rice 163-168
#18: Hornish 169-173
#19: de Ferran 174-178
#20: Giaffone 179-184
#21: Fisher 185
#22: Giaffone 186
#23: Fisher 187-189
#24: Giaffone 190-193
#25: Scheckter 194-200
C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 20 / 12.7
G-Force: 5 / 14.2
Chevy: 17 / 13.4
Infiniti: 8 / 12.1