Hornish Happy At Homestead

Sam Hornish Jr. hasn’t met a racetrack that he doesn’t like – to conquer.

Homestead-Miami Speedway, site of the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 on March 6, is an example. Whether in its current variably banked iteration or the quad-oval configuration for the 2001-03 IndyCar Series stops, the 1.5-mile asphalt track has been conducive to Hornish’s strategies and style.

Hornish – one of 10 Americans who are scheduled to make a qualifying attempt March 5 – has won three of the four IndyCar Series races at the facility that’s a short gas and go from the Florida Keys. He has completed 799 of the 800 laps, and led 314. Last year, Hornish started seventh and used an atypical white-flag lap pass of teammate Helio Castroneves to claim the victory by .0698 of a second in his debut for Marlboro Team Penske.

“That was really the only time it worked, too,” the two-time IndyCar Series champion said. “I tried a couple of times to go to the outside and he wasn’t leaving me any room out there to get going. I decided to try to go high and ended up going low. It worked out well.”

Castroneves, given similar circumstances, will be aware of the wily Hornish’s tactics this weekend. So will the other starters. Buddy Rice won the pole last year, and Tony Kanaan finished a season-low eighth. He, of course, went on to record 15 consecutive top-5 finishes – including three victories – and won the IndyCar Series title going away. Moral: Respect all IndyCar Series tracks.

“I think we’ll be carrying a lot of momentum into 2005 after our win at last year’s season finale in Texas,” said Castroneves, a Coral Gables, Fla., resident. “I think this weekend’s event will be a great show for the fans; the track is challenging and it looks like we’re really going to have a competitive field."

The track, which was repaved before the 2004 season, always has produced scintillating IndyCar Series action and created challenges for drivers and teams looking for the balance of speed and handling.

“It is unique because none of the other tracks have that many steps of variable banking,” said Hornish, who predicted three-wide racing to keep the large crowd on its feet. “The only place that has anything like it is Turns 1 and 2 at Michigan (International Speedway).

“It is a big change from the way the track used to be. I liked the old track because of how flat it was. You really had to have your car handling well. It was a big adjustment between having a car that would go well down the straightaways to what would handle well in the corners. Some people would go for all-around straightaway speed and they couldn’t get through the corners. It really was all about being able to make your car handle well in traffic.

“But the new track has its challenges too because you want to have as little downforce as possible but still be able to run up behind the guys. So there often are a lot of tradeoffs. The track the way it used to be was all setup, making sure the car was prepared right at the beginning of the race. You have that now, but there are mental aspects. You have to wait to make your move at the right time because other people can draft back by you. You have to have the car and the engine and all the things right.”

Who was the driver who interrupted Hornish’s victory streak? Scott Dixon. He also made a name for himself straight away in 2003 with the victory in his initial start for Target Chip Ganassi Racing and went on to win the series championship.

Last year, Dixon led three laps but was retired early because of an accident. Moral of the story: Respect the tracks on the IndyCar Series circuit

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Auto Club 500

@ Auto Club Speedway
Saturday, October 19, 2013
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