Scheckter A Michigan Master
July 28, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
After a seemingly endless string of crashes and bad luck, rookie Scheckter broke through for his first career Indy Racing League victory at Michigan International Speedway.
MBNA Pole winner Scheckter used a stirring charge late in the race in the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara, climbing from 11th on a restart on Lap 174 after a slow final pit stop to the lead on Lap 194. He then powered away to a 1.7036-second victory over fellow Red Bull Cheever Racing rookie Buddy Rice. Felipe Giaffone finished third in the No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing G Force.
The victory provided sweet redemption for Scheckter, who was on thin ice with team owner Eddie Cheever Jr. after a crash July 20 at Nashville Superspeedway, Scheckter's fifth race-ending accident of the season.
"I didn't care about conserving fuel; I didn't care about anything," Scheckter said. I just cared that my right foot was flat, and that's what I did the whole race.
"I could use a different line that anybody. I could get a lot lower than anybody, which enabled me to pass a lot of people. That was a wild race. I'm still dreaming now. I'm going to win a lot more. This is just the beginning."
Said Cheever, who finished 22nd after crashing out of the race on Lap 166: "What a fantastic drive for everyone. I'm very, very proud."
Scheckter, son of 1979 Formula One World Champion Jody Scheckter, led 121 of 200 laps and averaged 179.044 mph in the second-fastest race in IRL history.
But it looked like Scheckter's race was lost after his final pit stop on Lap 163. His car stalled upon exit, and the total stop took 22 seconds under the green flag.
Cheever then crashed three laps later to trigger the last of five caution periods in the race. On the restart on Lap 174, Scheckter was 11th, the last car on the lead lap with just 26 laps to go.
Sarah Fisher and Giaffone then put on a stirring, wheel-to-wheel duel for the lead, with Giaffone leading Laps 179-184. Fisher took the front on Lap 185 in the No. 23 Team Smart Blade Dreyer & Reinbold Racing G Force, with Giaffone regaining the lead on Lap 186.
Fisher then snagged the lead back from Laps 187-189 before Giaffone returned to the front on Lap 190.
By Lap 191, Scheckter climbed to second and zeroed in on Giaffone, making the decisive pass with an outside pass in Turn 2 on Lap 194. It was the last of 25 lead changes during the race.
"I stayed calm," Scheckter said about his late charge. "I knew I had a long way. I put my foot down, and I said, 'I'm going to go through.' I'm happy for everybody here."
It was a day for young talent, as Scheckter, 21, and Rice, 25, became the first rookies to finish 1-2 in an IRL race other than the league's inaugural season in 1996. Rice led 15 laps in his IRL debut but a miscue on his final pit stop prevented him from challenging Scheckter.
"The team has done an excellent job," Rice said. "I'm real happy. We should have won. We had a little miscue so that put us back. It would have been nice if we had the deal won, but that's part of racing."
Rookie Tony Renna, 25, finished a career-best fourth in the No. 7 Corteco/Bryant Dallara, as rookies took three of the top four spots. Fisher, 21, ended up eighth after a strong drive.
Two-time CART champion Gil de Ferran kept the series points lead after finishing fifth in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara.
He holds a 377-365 lead over teammate and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who finished sixth.
Reigning IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr. finished seventh in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara, as the three title contenders marched across the finish in lockstep. Hornish is third in the points with 359.
Cheever and Jeff Ward were unhurt in separate crashes, the only accidents of the day.
The next Indy Racing League event is the Belterra Casino Indy 300 on Aug. 11 at Kentucky Speedway.