Tue, May 30, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Sam Hornish Jr. pulls off a heart-stopping victory

AUTO RACING Hornish, who had failed to finish the Indianapolis 500 in his first six tries made a late charge on Michael Andretti and his 19-year-old son Marc Andretti

AP , INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

Sam Hornish, Jr., front, driver of the Marlboro Team Penske Honda Dallara, crosses the finish line in front of Marco Andretti, driver for the Andretti Green Racing NYSE Dallara Honda, during the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Sunday.

PHOTO: AFP

Sam Hornish Jr. won the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, edging teenage rookie Marco Andretti in the second-closest finish in the race's 95-year history.

Hornish made a late charge on Michael Andretti and his 19-year-old son Marco, who were a heartbeat from erasing years of family frustration before the the polesitter overtook the rookie in the final, thrilling stretch.

Hornish lost a lap late in the race when he was penalized for leaving his pit with the fuel hose still connected. Somehow, with pit strategies playing a role, he found himself back on the lead lap and in fourth place under yellow in the last 10 laps.

When the green flag flew with four laps to go, Hornish trailed only the Andrettis and New Zealander Scott Dixon. That's when Hornish, who has been the fastest driver here for virtually the entire month, began his charge.

As Marco Andretti brought the huge crowd to its feet by passing his father for the lead on lap 198, Hornish followed, passing the elder Andretti -- who made a comeback after retiring from the cockpit in 2003 to run with his son -- for second.

Hornish caught Marco and tried to dive below him in the third turn on lap 199 and the two almost collided before Hornish fell several car-lengths back.

On the final lap, Hornish, who had failed to finish the 500 in his first six tries, set sail again, moving up to the rear of Andretti's Dallara. Marco, running in only his fourth IRL IndyCar Series event, did his best to block the two-time series champion, but it wasn't enough.

Hornish swung low on the final straightaway, pulled alongside and nosed ahead at the finish, a half car-length ahead at the checkered flag.

Only 0.0635 seconds separated Hornish from Andretti. The closest finish was in 1992, when Al Unser Jr. beat Scott Goodyear by 0.043 seconds.

"Thank goodness it's 500 instead of 497 and a half," Hornish said, referring to his failure to pass Marco on his first try.

Defending champion Dan Wheldon wound up fourth, followed by Brazil's Tony Kanaan, Dixon, Scotland's Dario Franchitti and last year's rookie sensation Danica Patrick, the only woman in the 33-car field.

Despite the thrilling finish which introduced Marco Andretti as perhaps the sport's newest young star, the third-generation driver wasn't satisfied with second place.

"Man, I don't want to wait for next year," he said. "It's a bummer. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, I mean -- second place is nothing."

Michael Andretti was obviously proud of his son.

"I just knew he was going to surprise a lot of people," Michael said. "He didn't surprise me. I was just a little surprised by how fast he got here."

It was one of the hottest days in the 90-year history of the 500 and the action on the track was just as heated throughout the race.

Hornish, who had crashed out of the race three times and never finished more than 196 of the race's 200 laps, watched England's Wheldon dominate most of Sunday, leading 148 laps. Hornish led just 19, including the final one.

He said his first goal in this race was to get to the finish. After giving team owner Roger Penske a record 14th Indy victory, Hornish choked up and kissed the yard of bricks at the finish line.

"I didn't know whether I could get there," Hornish said. "Marco tried to block me and he did a pretty good job, but he couldn't keep me from getting under him. Once I got there, I just hoped I could get in front in time.''

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