Kanaan New IRL Winner
March 23, 2003 | 12:53 A.M. EST
MBNA Pole winner Kanaan held off the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves by .9328 of a second at the finish. It was the second time in as many races this season that the winning margin has been less than one second.
Kanaan averaged 100.073 mph in the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara in a race slowed by caution periods 10 times for 73 laps. He earned $118,300 and took the points lead, 84-75, over Castroneves.
"I'm extremely happy for the Team 7-Eleven," Kanaan said. "They did a great job. I'm very grateful for the opportunity. I'm going to keep doing 102 percent all the time to put his team at the top level. I think my guys, the way they act, the way we get along well, they deserve the best, and the best is a win. So every time I jump in my car, I'm going to try to put that 11 car in the front."
Felipe Giaffone finished third in the No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force, with two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. fourth in the No. 31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota/Firestone after starting 20th. 1998 series champion Kenny Brack rounded out the top five in the No. 15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara.
The final caution period in the race was triggered when Kanaan's teammate Michael Andretti and Gil de Ferran crashed in Turn 1 on Lap 187. Andretti's No. 7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara Ferran's No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara as de Ferran tried to dip under Andretti in Turn 1 for a pass for fifth place.
Both cars hit the outside wall hard. Andretti was unhurt, watching the final two laps of the race and witnessing his first victory as a team owner from the infield medical center.
"It just made up, covered up all the bad stuff that happened to me," Andretti said. "I was so happy, actually a little choked up. Never been that way before. So it was a big moment."
de Ferran was transported to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Phoenix with a concussion and complaining of lumbar pain. He was awake and alert.
The final restart took place at the tail end of Lap 198, setting up slightly more than a two-lap showdown for the lead between Kanaan, defending event champion Castroneves and Giaffone.
But Kanaan made quick work of that tense situation, judging the restart perfectly and pulling away over the final two trips around the 1-mile desert oval.
"We were trying to save fuel to be able to finish the race," said Castroneves, whose last stop came on Lap 120. "I had one little bit, and the tires were still very good to make an attempt at a pass. Not quite enough, unfortunately.
"First of all, I want to salute all of the troops in Iraq. I wish them well."
Kanaan took the lead for good on Lap 160 after a wild restart duel with Castroneves.
Castroneves pulled side-by-side with Kanaan, and the two nearly touched twice while drag racing down the front straightaway as the green flag flew to resume racing. But Kanaan pulled ahead midway between Turns 1 and 2 to keep the lead for good. That lead grew to 2.1 seconds over Castroneves on Lap 180.
Still, there was uncertainty whether Kanaan could go the distance without a pit stop because his last stop came on Lap 110.
But three caution periods in the final 35 laps slowed the field enough that Kanaan could stretch his fuel mileage and didn't need to stop. He drove the final 90 laps on one tank of methanol fuel in a strategy devised by team co-owner Kim Green.
"Kim Green is the man," Kanaan said. "He was the guy who did it, so I need to buy him dinner. Obviously, the yellows helped me out a lot. But I didn't ask the team if I had to pit another time. I didn't want to worry about that. I let them worry about it."
Kanaan faced a stern challenge from Sarah Fisher with around 60 laps remaining. Fisher, who started 14th, kept her No. 23 Team GM Upromise/Raybestos Dallara within a second of Kanaan for nearly 10 laps about three-quarters of the way through the race.
But Fisher's challenge ended on a pit stop on Lap 154 when her left-front wheel wasn't fully fastened to the car. She had to return to the pits so the wobbling wheel could be replaced. Fisher ended up eighth, one of nine cars on the lead lap at the finish.
Early in the race, Kanaan fell out of the top 10 when he stalled his car during an early pit stop. But it took little time for him to return toward the front.
There were five accidents besides the incident between Andretti and de Ferran due to close-quarters racing on the tight, tricky 1-mile oval at Phoenix. Tora Takagi, two-time defending series champion Sam Hornish Jr., rookie Scott Mayer and 2002 Indianapolis 500 Bank One co-Rookie of the Year Tomas Scheckter were unhurt in separate incidents.
Rookie Roger Yasukawa was transported to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Phoenix complaining of back pain after crashing on Lap 100 in his No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara. He was awake and alert.
Hornish's day ended early in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara, as he crashed between Turns 3 and 4 on Lap 32. He placed 21st.
Scott Dixon, who entered the race as the points leader, didn't last much longer. He pulled into the pits for good with a gearbox problem on the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force on Lap 43 and was credited with 20th place.
The next IRL IndyCar Series race is the Indy Japan 300 on April 13 at Twin Ring Motegi in Motegi, Japan. It's the first overseas race in series history.