Tue, May 27, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Brazilians finish one and two at Indy

THE 500 Gil de Ferran battled with teammate Helio Castroneves, who began the race in the pole position, during the final laps at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

AP , INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

Gil de Ferran leads teammate Helio Castroneves through the first turn on his way to winning the Indianapolis 500 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Castroneves finished second.

PHOTO: AP

Same team, same country, different driver.

Gil de Ferran held off Helio Castroneves on a six-lap sprint to the end Sunday to win the Indianapolis 500, spoiling his Brazilian teammate's bid for an unprecedented third straight victory.

De Ferran, who was severely injured in a crash March 23 in Phoenix, passed Castroneves for the lead on lap 170 of the 200-lap race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and stayed out front through three restarts.

A joyous and tearful de Ferran clutched his helmet with both hands after reaching Victory Lane, then -- wincing from his earlier back injury -- stood and threw his arms into the air in triumph.

"It's hard to describe in words what I'm feeling right now. It's such an unbelievable moment for me," he said as his son and daughter climbed onto his car.

Moments later, he took the traditional swig of milk, dribbling it down his chin.

"I love milk," he said. "Wonderful."

The victory was the third straight for team owner Roger Penske, whose record for wins at Indy climbed to 13.

Castroneves did everything he could to put his name into the history books, pushing de Ferran to the end and finishing behind him by only 0.299-seconds _ about five car lengths. It was the third closest finish in 87 Indy races.

The late cautions may have prevented Castroneves from a serious challenge.

"Unfortunately, the yellows kept coming at the end," he said.

The win was a big step for de Ferran, who skipped the final race of the 2002 season with a concussion from a crash, then missed the IRL's Japan race last month while recovering from another concussion and broken bones in his neck and lower back.

That accident left the 35-year-old de Ferran flat on his back for several weeks, and he was unable to return to his race car until May 3, the opening day of practice for the 500.

Castroneves started from the pole and de Ferran began 10th in the 33-car field. Both Penske drivers spent the race putting themselves in position for the finish that reversed the order of Castroneves' first win in 2001. Castroneves beat Tomas Scheckter out of the pits on lap 129 during a caution period to take the lead. De Ferran was third on the restart on lap 134, but quickly shot past Scheckter to make it Penske 1-2.

Both made their final pit stop on lap 166, moved back to the front when the other leaders made their final stops and stayed there the rest of the way.

Rookie Dan Wheldon brought out the last of nine caution flags in the race when he slammed into the fourth turn wall, flew into the air and landed upside down. Wheldon, who had been running in the top six most of the day, was not injured.

Another rookie, Scott Dixon, held up the restart when he scraped the wall and spun on the main straightaway.

Finally, the green flag waved again on lap 195, and de Ferran got a quick start, pulling away from Castroneves. That was the way it stayed.

"I'm disappointed, but Gil, you deserve it," Castroneves said. "You did well. Now, let's go and [win] a championship. That's what we need."

The two Brazilians climbed the fence at the finish line to the cheers of fans after the race, a Castroneves tradition for the past two years.

De Ferran led only the final 31 laps. He averaged 252kph in the race that took 3 hours, 11 minutes and 56.99 seconds to complete.

Tony Kanaan gave new team owner Michael Andretti a third-place finish, with Scheckter, who led a race-high 63 laps, winding up fourth.

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