Tue, Aug 01, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Helio's aggression pays off at Michigan

RIGHT STRATEGY The Penske drivers stuck to the owner's fuel-saving plan before Sam Hornish Jr dropped out with engine trouble, leaving his teammate to take the honors

AP , BROOKLYN, MICHIGAN

Helio Castroneves of Brazil celebrates by climbing the fence after winning the Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan, on Sunday.

PHOTO: AP

Helio Castroneves took advantage of a superior car and an aggressive strategy to win the Firestone Indy 400 on Sunday, ending team owner Roger Penske's open-wheel drought at Michigan International Speedway.

Castroneves beat Vitor Meira by 1.62 seconds, picking up his series-high fourth victory of the season and moving past teammate Sam Hornish Jr for the points lead in the Indy Racing League.

Castroneves took the lead for the last time on lap 177 after his final pit stop. He navigated through a pack of drivers a lap behind to build a three-plus seconds lead over Meira, who cut his deficit in half, but couldn't get closer.

He won the 11th IndyCar series race of his career, and first at Brooklyn.

Meira, who led more than a third of the race, was followed by defending champion Dan Wheldon, Tony Kanaan and Tomas Scheckter in the top five.

Penske, who owned Michigan speedway for more than 25 years, won his 10th open-wheel race at the track -- his first since 1991 when Rick Mears earned his last career win.

The famed owner used to have his drivers rely on fuel-saving strategy at the second-longest race on the Indy Racing League circuit, but wanted Castroneves and Hornish to get in front and stay there.

It worked -- early.

Hornish finished just 61 laps because of an engine problem. Hornish started the race with a 25-point lead over Scott Dixon, but he earned just 12 points with his season-worst, 19th-place finish and has 368 points with three races left. Castroneves leads with 376.

"I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I know it was an issue with the engine," he said. "It's a shame to end a day like that."

The race started after a two-and-a-half hour delay because of rain and weepers, which are water leaks resulting from moisture trapped in the top layer of the track.

The average speed of the race was 312.1kph, the third-fastest event in the IRL's 11-year history. The race took 2 hours, 3 minutes -- more than 20 minutes less than the rain delay.

"Our car was very fast," said Castroneves, who won the pole with a lap 3.2kph faster than Kanaan, who started third.

Castroneves and Hornish started the race from the front row and executed their nose-to-tail plan -- helping to save fuel -- for the first 40 laps. They wanted to stick together until the final 15 laps, but Hornish didn't make it that far.

Meira took lead on lap 54 and other than pit stops, he maintained it, until Castroneves surged ahead on lap 134.

They appeared to be driving as teammates, not trying to pass each other, after Hornish's day ended.

"At the beginning when I was behind Vitor I was just trying to work together with him," Castroneves said. "I knew it was too early in the race to try something crazy."

Danica Patrick finished 17th in the 19-car field, and she stomped around the track in anger when her race was over because her car was slow and having technical problems. Patrick was coming off consecutive fourth-place finishes, her best of the season.

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