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Franchitti Edges Suddenly Slow Kanaan

Teammates fight through final 29 laps, with winner overtaking defending IRL champ in the homestretch at the Toyota Indy 400.

October 17, 2005|Shav Glick | Times Staff Writer

After the Toyota Indy 400 race Sunday at California Speedway, maybe the Indy Racing League officials should reconsider their decision to drop the Fontana track from its schedule.

On a cool, windy day under overcast skies, the IRL drivers warmed an enthusiastic crowd with a stirring shootout between Honda-powered teammates Dario Franchitti, a Scotsman of Italian descent, and Tony Kanaan, the 2004 series champion from Brazil.

For the final 29 laps, Kanaan, in the green-and-white Team 7-Eleven Dallara, pushed Franchitti, in the blue-and-red ArcaEx Dallara, to the limit, and as the Andretti Green pair charged down the homestretch on the final lap, Kanaan finally moved in front.

But in the final few yards, it was almost as if Kanaan had pulled up to let his teammate win as Franchitti's number flashed on the scoring pylon.

"It all came down to that last, as usual, two feet," said the winner. "I don't know what Tony said, but it looked to me like he lifted."

Lift or not, it was an emotional win for the 32-year-old driver from Edinburgh.

Actress Ashley Judd, Franchitti's wife, was in tears after pacing back and forth in the pits, and the spirit of Greg Moore hovered over the scene.

Moore, Franchitti's close friend, was killed six years ago in the first open-wheel race at California Speedway.

"He's never far from my mind any time really, but when we're here especially," Franchitti said.

But did Kanaan pull up to allow his friend to take the checkered flag?

"I think he's entirely capable of doing it, probably," Franchitti said. "And I have to say, I would do the same for him if the roles were reversed. That's the relationship we have, and have had for a long time.

"It was nice to win, but it will never bring [Moore] back. It was just nice to go out and win that last race at this track and fight it out with one of Greg's best friends."

Kanaan's take on his sudden slowdown: "I really don't know what happened. Either I missed a shift or I pressed the wrong button.

"They reckon I pressed the pit lane speed limit instead of the overtake. I'm not very happy about that.

"There's two buttons," he explained. "Obviously, I can't get into details on the overtake [button] because that's a Honda thing. You have many seconds worth of the overtake that does something to the engine. The pit lane button cuts the engine immediately. What can I say? People make mistakes. Thank God my teammate won. If it was going to be someone else, I was going to be really mad."

Franchitti became the first winner of an open-wheel race at California Speedway to win from the pole, although it was far from a wire-to-wire win.

For the first 100 laps of the 200-lap race, it appeared that Tomas Scheckter, a second generation driver from South Africa, might put a Chevrolet in the winner's circle in its last run with the IRL.

Scheckter led 80 of the first 123 laps but a botched pit stop when he killed the engine and lost five or six seconds while the field was running 215 mph laps dropped him from contention.

Scheckter, whose father, Jody, won the Formula One championship in 1979, finished seventh. Chevrolet, a winner of six IRL manufacturers championships, has announced that this is its final year in the series.

Vitor Meira, the forgotten driver in Bobby Rahal's stable that includes IRL cover girl Danica Patrick and 2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice, again showed his skill at driving on superspeedways by finishing third. He was second behind Dan Wheldon in last May's Indy 500.

Patrick did not fare so well. After playing hide and seek for most of the race with Jaques Lazier in the pink Target car, the two tangled on Lap 185 and both cars crashed into the wall. As with most racing accidents, there was a difference in how it happened, but it appeared that Lazier moved up to clip Patrick's left rear wheel with his front right.

"I was complaining on the radio all day long about the pink car being all over the place," she said. "Really all I can [say] is that I was frustrated all day with him."

Chip Ganassi, Lazier's car owner, said nearly the same thing with the names reversed.

"That's kind of ironic," Patrick said of Ganassi. "Yeah, OK, I think they've crashed every race. How many millions of dollars in damage [have they done] to that Team Target team?"

Patrick, who earned rookie of the year honors, finished 18th, one spot behind Lazier. She suffered a sore elbow in the collision.

Wheldon, the new IRL champion and a teammate of Franchitti's and Kanaan's, finished seventh after the three had worked together in mid-race to pull away from Scheckter, Sam Hornish Jr. and Scott Sharp, whose closing rally brought him fourth place.

A.J. Foyt IV, making his final Indy car ride as a member of his grandfather's team, crashed coming out of the second turn on the 30th lap and was taken from the accident by a stretcher.

Foyt, who plans to drive a NASCAR Busch series car the rest of the year, was taken to Loma Linda University Medical Center after citing pain in his lower right leg.

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