Penske Boys Hit Peak
June 16, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
MBNA Pole winner Gil de Ferran earned his first Indy Racing League victory today in a dominating performance, leading 217 of 225 laps in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet. De Ferran's average speed was 121.465 mph, and he earned $137,300 for the victory.
de Ferran beat Marlboro Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves - who started second in an all-Penske front row - by 1.4385 seconds. Defending Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish Jr. finished third in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet, 2.0399 seconds behind de Ferran.
"It was fantastic today," de Ferran said. "In traffic, I could drive on the bottom, I could drive on the top. We've been knocking on the door since the beginning of the year, and I'm glad to get one under my belt.
"There is no backing off. Those guys were running really close. Certainly Helio and Hornish were very, very fast. I knew my advantage was in traffic, so I was trying to use those situations to open up a little bit of a cushion."
Felipe Giaffone finished fourth in the No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing G Force/Chevrolet, while Scott Sharp edged teammate Al Unser Jr. at the finish line to round out the top five in the No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.
de Ferran ran out of fuel while leading on the last lap of the Firestone Indy 225 in April at Nazareth Speedway. But there was no such suspense today.
Victory was all but ensured when de Ferran passed Castroneves on Lap 40. He never surrendered the lead thereafter, holding the front for the final 186 laps of the race.
de Ferran just missed two IRL records in the dominant performance. His 217 laps led was second all time behind 224 led by Buddy Lazier in a victory in June 2001 at Richmond, and de Ferran's 186 consecutive laps led was just one lap short of tying the IRL record of 187 also set by Lazier in June 2001 at Richmond.
But de Ferran's victory did set an Indy Racing milestone, as it was the first time that teammates have finished 1-2 more than once in a season. Castroneves was first and de Ferran second at the Bombardier ATV Copper World Indy 200 in March at Phoenix.
"Obviously it's teamwork," Castroneves said. "Everybody really did a fantastic job. I'm happy for him. He's always been right there, being strong. Today he definitely was very strong. Hey, he deserved it and second is good."
One of the few wrinkles in de Ferran's dominant day was the weather. A rain and hail storm forced the red flag to be thrown on Lap 34, with Billy Boat in the lead. The storm started during the first caution period of the day, and Boat was the only driver in the field not to pit.
The first three laps of the restart after a 52-minute red-flag period took place under yellow-flag conditions, but Boat only led for one lap after the green flew to resume racing on Lap 37.
Castroneves then led Laps 39-40 in his No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone before de Ferran made his decisive pass on Lap 40.
Back-to-back caution periods caused the only threat to de Ferran late in the race.
Greg Ray suffered a mechanical failure in the No. 11 A.J. Foyt Racing/Harrah's Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone on Lap 201, leading to the fifth of six caution periods on the day. That caution was extended into a sixth caution when light rain started to fall on Lap 207.
On the restart on Lap 211, de Ferran wasted no time extending his lead over Castroneves and Hornish. Castroneves would edge no closer than 1.0412 seconds of his teammate, on Lap 221.
While de Ferran cruised through traffic to victory, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves and Hornish engaged in a spirited, side-by-side race for second over the closing laps.
"That was breathtaking, literally," Castroneves said. "I was holding my breath. It was great fun. I had a lot of fun. Fantastic, as long as drivers hold their line, we can make a good show."
Said Hornish, "You wouldn't think that when you go to a mile track you've got guys running for second and third running wheel-to-wheel the whole time, but it definitely can happen."
Anthony Lazzaro, Jon Herb and Jeff Ward were unhurt in separate accidents during the race.
The next Indy Racing League event is the SunTrust Indy Challenge on Saturday, June 29 at Richmond International Raceway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) and will be broadcast live by ESPN and the IMS Radio Network.