Belterra Casino Indy 300
Hornish scorches IRL
field with new engine
Signs with Team Penske for 2004
SPARTA, Ky. (Aug. 17, 2003) Sam Hornish Jr. didn't waste any time making good use of his Aug. 17 victory at the Kentucky Speedway. A week after accepting the trophy for the "Belterra Casino Indy 300," Hornish signed a multiyear contract to drive next season for the elite Team Penske to replace retiring driver Gil de Ferran. Team Penske is owned by Roger Penske, and the two worked out the deal after the July 6 race in Kansas.
Hornish will finish this season with Panther Racing, for which he cruised to victory in Sparta after earning the pole and dominating from the start.
Photo by Don Ward
Sam Hornish celebrates
his IRL win.
"Sam is a great fit for the team both on and off the track, and we are confident we will achieve great success together," Penske told the Associated Press.
Hornish, 24, had announced the previous week he would not return for Panther Racing, the team that gave the Defiance, Ohio, native his first opportunity to drive on the IRL series. But he gave the team some great memories. In 2001, at age 22, Hornish became the youngest champion of a major open-wheel series. Last year, he became the onlytwo-time champion of the 7-year-old IRL series. This season, he broke his own record for career victories, with his ninth.
When Hornish let it be known that he would not be driving for Panther Racing next year, IRL executives became worried that their popular driver might jump to NASCAR. But when he announced his intentions to drive for Team Penske, Hornish assured them that for now he would stay in the open-wheel series.
"I'm 100 percent focused right now on the Indycar side of it and winning the Indianapolis 500," Hornish said. His best finish at Indy in three starts is 14th.
"My opinion is, if I can't win the 500 driving for Roger, I probably can't win it."
At Sparta, Hornish scorched the 20-car Belterra Casino Indy 300 field with a new Chevrolet engine to take his first win of the season. His average lap speed of 197.897 mph set a new league and speedway record.
Hornish led 181 of 200 laps to register his first win and his third straight top-three performance at Kentucky Speedway. He takes the ninth win of his career and his second top-five finish in his past three starts. Hornish now leads the series in all-time wins.
We have what it takes to win these races, Hornish said. Weve worked so hard this year and weve been in contention a lot. One of the things that I had was that I could run on the bottom. It was a faster line.
Photo by High Sierra Photography
Sam Hornish (4)
passes Unser (31).
Hornish moved from seventh to fifth in the series standings and trailed leader Tony Kanaan by 77 points after Sparta. The following weekend at Nazareth, Pa., Hornish finished .1697 seconds behind winner Helio Castroneves, Hornish's future teammate. The put Hornish fifth in points and Castroneves first, heading into the final three races as Hornish tries to earn his third straight series championship.
We are focused on what it is going to take to win this championship, Hornish said. We have worked so hard on making sure that our setups are where they need to be. It is about as equal as it can get right now.
Hornishs winning drive went a league record 147 consecutive laps without incident before being slowed by a 10-lap caution period when the engine of Kenny Bracks No. 15 Pioneer-Miller Lite-Dallara-Honda-Firestone caught fire and proceeded to pit road. Hornish led the race a total of three times and registered his largest leading margin of 14.4257 seconds on Lap 139.
Scott Dixon, who qualified on the outside pole and led both practice sessions leading up to the race, finished 1.1712 seconds behind Hornish in his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi G-Force-Toyota-Firestone to register his second top-two finish in his past four starts.
It was a great day for us, Dixon said. Obviously, we want to win races, but its more important to win championships. Sam had a great car today and we just didnt have enough to catch him. Team Target did a great job all weekend, and we gained ground on Tony (Kanaan) in the championship. We need to concentrate on the championship and keep our eye on the prize.
Andretti-Green driver Tony Kanaan retains the series points lead after finishing sixth and registering his second straight top-10 finish. Kanaan leads the second-place Marlboro Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves by eight points. Castroneves improves one spot to second in the series standings after finishing fifth.
It was a long day for us, Kanaan said. We worked hard, but we got some points to extend our lead by one, so lets take it one race at a time. It is so competitive (in the league) right now that its very hard to pass.
Andretti-Green driver Bryan Herta finished third and Kelley Racing veteran Al Unser Jr. closed out the race fourth to round out the top event performers.
The Belterra Casino Indy 300 concluded the 2003 race season at Kentucky Speedway. Next year's season will be officially announced this fall, but track officials said it would be much like this year's schedule. All sponsors are back for their respective races, except for the Greater Ford Dealers of Cincinnati's backing of the July NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event. Officials are still hoping Ford will return for 2004.
Belterra Casino Indy 300
Aug. 17 at the Kentucky Speedway, Sparta, Ky.
1. Sam Hornish Jr., $148,000
2. Scott Dixon, $94,750
3. Bryan Herta, $97,500
4. Al Unser Jr., $63,600
5. Helio Castroneves, $55,400
6. Tony Kanaan, $47,100
7. Robbie Buhl, $45,800
8. Dan Wheldon, $44,600
9. Gil de Ferran, $44,600
10. Tomas Scheckter, $43,300
Winner's average speed: 197.897 mph. Time of race: 1:29:44.6120. Margin of victory: 1.1712 seconds. Cautions: 1 for 10 laps. Lead changes: 9 among 5 drivers. Lap leaders: Hornish 1-56, Castroneves 55, Kanaan 56-57, Takagi 58-60, Hornish 61-108, Castroneves 109-112, Herta 113, Kanaan 114, Takagi 115-121, Hornish 122-200.Simmons wins IRL
Infiniti Pro Series race
Jeff Simmons made his first visit to Kentucky Speedway a memorable one by racing to his second consecutive Indy Racing League Infiniti Pro Series win in The Kentucky 100 today at Kentucky Speedway.
The 27-year-old rookie, who earned his first career series win last week at Gateway International Speedway, led all 67 laps of the event and gained significant ground on series points leader and race polesitter Mark Taylor, who was unable to drive in the event due to illness.
Taylor will get credit for a 13th-place finish. He is still in control of the lead in the series points standings and leads in the series in wins with five through nine starts.
Luckily, weve had such a good year that I can afford this, Taylor said. I was just not feeling well enough, not 100 percent, and the decision was made to sit this one out. We will move on.
Simmons, who qualified second for the event yesterday, inherited the pole position at the start of the race.
With Mark Taylor not able to start, I got to control the pace and actually got a bit of a gap, Simmons said. My spotter, Dean Galbreath, did a great job of calling the race, so I knew where to run my car.
Simmons uses his fourth straight top-five series finish to move within 56 points of Taylor with three races remaining in the season. The series drives in its next event at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 6.
Supplemented by Kentucky Speedway reports.
Back to 2003 Kentucky Speedway Articles.