Hornish A Head Turner
June 18, 2003 | 3:57 P.M. EST
Hornish, the two-time defending IRL IndyCarTM Series champion, put on a brilliant display of driving en route to a fifth place finish after starting 14th.
By Lap 23, Hornish had taken his No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara from 14th to ninth and he was up to seventh by Lap 70, which was even more impressive considering the first 100 laps were run under green, so the field never was bunched up by a caution period.
But disaster occurred on Lap 81 when Hornish ran out of fuel entering Turn 1. He had to coast all the way around the 1-mile oval to make a pit stop. Running out of fuel put him down a lap and moved him out of the top 10.
"The fuel tank said one thing, and the car's computer said another as far as how much fuel we were using," Hornish said. "We weren't sure which one to use, so we thought, 'Well, we'll pit early.' Well, it was miscalibrated far enough that we were going to pit at 33 gallons, and it ran out at 29.5. It was just one of those things where we didn't expect it."
The problem didn't deter Hornish, as he began climbing his way through the field once again after stopping for fuel, using an unusually high line around the 1-mile oval. By Lap 123, Hornish was up to 10th. By Lap 145, he passed two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves for fifth.
But Hornish again was the victim of bad timing when he pitted for four tires and fuel on Lap 158, five laps before the yellow flag came out for debris. While most of the field pitted under yellow, Hornish lost positions by pitting under green.
Once again, Hornish was not rattled.
On the Lap 171 restart, he was ninth but shot his way to sixth by Lap 178. On Lap 183, he climbed to fifth by passing rookie Roger Yasukawa and finished the race with his first top-five of the 2003 season.
"We had a good-handling race car," Hornish said. "We did what we knew we had to do. We come here every year and say, 'Put as much downforce on the car as you can,' because if you can run flat, you're going to be fast around here.
"We should've been up a little bit higher today, but it was the best finish of the year, so I guess we can't be too mad about that. Finishing these races is the biggest part."
Series points leader Tony Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished second and was impressed with Hornish's effort.
"He did a superb job," Kanaan said. "I think the guy is proving one more time that he's the two-time IRL champion. People used to say this and that. But he's a great driver. Unfortunately, he's not having the right package right now, but you have to count on this guy all the time. I think he did a great job.
"He came from a lap down to finish fourth. If I was him, I felt that I won the race today."
Said 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran, who finished third: "He (Hornish) was very, very, very strong. I mean, I can't emphasize that enough. He was really passing a lot. He passed me like I was stopping."