A Memorable IRL Season
December 29, 2004 | 3:38 P.M. EST
The 2004 Indy Racing League season featured the close competition that has become synonymous with the league’s competition and saw two Brazilians come away with series titles.
Tony Kanaan capped one of the most dominating seasons in IRL IndyCar Series history by claiming the championship with one race remaining.
Thiago Medeiros rewrote the IRL Menards Infiniti Pro Series record book, scoring six victories and winning the championship by a 134-point margin.Here's a look at highlights by series:
IndyCar Series: Kanaan became the first driver in any major American racing series to complete every possible lap (3,305 or 3,305) in competition and won his first IndyCar Series title. Following an eighth-place finish in the season opener, Kanaan never finished outside the top five and recorded three victories. Kanaan’s title was the first for Andretti Green Racing and its ownership group of Michael Andretti, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree. The season began with several rule changes introduced to improve safety. Slight aerodynamic changes and a 3.0-liter engine instituted for the 88th Indianapolis 500 in May slowed the cars, but did little to impact the level of competition.
TAG Heuer joined as official timekeeper of the league and saw its split-second timing technology put to use often. Eleven races finished with a margin of victory of less than one second, including the Argent Mortgage Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway where Buddy Rice defeated Rahal Letterman Racing teammate Vitor Meira by .0051 of a second, the second-closest finish in IndyCar Series history.
Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone) won the Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, becoming the first driver to win his debut for car owner Roger Penske.
Buddy Rice, who began the season as a replacement for the injured Kenny Brack, became the first American to win the Indianapolis 500 since 1998 when he won the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in May. Rice, who won two other races, earned a trip to the White House to meet President George W. Bush.
Adrian Fernandez, who moved his team to the IndyCar Series before the Phoenix race in March, found success late in the year, winning three times in the final five events. Fernandez’s win at Kentucky clinched the manufacturer’s title for Honda.
Fernandez also saw success as a team owner as rookie Kosuke Matsuura claimed the Bombardier Rookie of the Year Award and the Bank One Rookie of the Year Award at the Indianapolis 500.
Dan Wheldon enjoyed breakout sophomore campaign, with three wins, including Honda’s first victory at Twin Ring Motegi and the 100th IndyCar Series race at Nazareth Speedway.
Dario Franchitti won the IndyCar Series’ first race at the historic Milwaukee Mile and also won at Pikes Peak International Raceway.
IRL officials announced the 2005 season will include a record 17 races, including three road and street course venues, a street race in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla.; Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen International in New York.
Menards Infiniti Pro Series: The stage for Medeiros’s record championship season in 2004 was set in 2003.
Medeiros, whose first win in the series came in the 2003 season finale, liked winning so much, he won six of 12 races in 2004, including a league-record four in a row, to stake his claim to the championship.
The Brazilian won the first of eight pole positions at Phoenix, where he became the first driver in IRL history to lap the field. He followed with consecutive victories at Indianapolis, Kansas and Nashville. Medeiros returned to Victory Circle at two of the final three races of the season, including the finale at Texas.
Medeiros led a series-record 588 laps, including 249 consecutive laps in a four-race stretch. He finished in the top 10 in all 12 races and in the top-five in nine in claiming Sam Schmidt’s first championship as a car owner.
Nunn Motorsports, a team founded mid-season by Kathryn Nunn, the first female owner in the IRL, started racing at Kansas and fought its way into Victory Circle in its fourth race. P.J. Chesson won three consecutive races – Michigan, Kentucky and Pikes Peak – and James Chesson earned the victory at California.
Al Unser, the son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., made his series debut at Kansas and posted five third-place finishes to finish eighth in the standings.
History was made at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the month of May when Marty Roth and Jeff Simmons became the first two drivers to compete in both the Futaba Freedom 100 and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year.
Simmons, who led five laps and finished second in the Futaba Freedom 100, impressed IndyCar Series owner Morris Nunn enough to earn a ride for the Indianapolis 500. He finished 16th, the second-highest rookie in the field.
Roth, who formed his own team in both series, qualified sixth for the Futaba Freedom 100 but exited early due to electrical problems. In the Indianapolis 500, Roth improved from his 32nd starting position to finish 24th.
IRL officials announced the 2005 season will include a record 14 races, including four road/street course venues, a street race in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla., and road course events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen International in New York.