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INDYUSAOctober 12, 2003
American IndyCar Series Round 16
Texas Speedway

Dan Wheldon Grabs Personal Best Third Place and Rookie of the Year Award

The final race of the 2003 IRL IndyCar Series, which started back in March, was upon us at last. With the championship hopes of five drivers, Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Helio Castroneves of Team Penske, Tony Kanaan of Andretti Green Racing, Sam Hornish Jr. of Panther Racing and Gil de Ferran of Team Penske, still very much alive, this long 500-km battle was attracting a huge amount of attention. It was held at Texas Speedway, already the venue once this season in June, since when all the teams had made progress with their machine settings. As a result, this race was a closely fought contest from start to finish.

The comfortable weather produced perfect conditions as the race got underway just before 3pm, and immediately the five championship contenders made up most of the leading group. Honda driver Kanaan, third ranked in the series, had already improved from ninth in qualifying to fourth position by lap three and led the field at one point. The breathtaking race continued to unfold lap after lap with all the drivers, from the leader to the tail-ender, maintaining almost the same pace and remaining grouped along the 1.5-mile long circuit as they hurtled into the final stages of the race.

With 50 laps to go there was still confusion about who would win on the day and who would clinch the championship title. For Hornish Jr., champion two years in succession, the race ended in the pit lane with 24 laps remaining after he stalled due to engine trouble right after his final pit stop on lap 152.

The battle for the lead was now among the four remaining title contenders. Then, with 20 laps to go on lap 180, the tires of Kanaan and Castroneves touched slightly as they went side by side around Turn 2 in the struggle for second place. Kanaan's rear left tire began to lose air immediately, forcing him to slow down and head for the pits. Two laps later, Castroneves had to reduce speed for the same reason, and the title hopes of both drivers were dead.

Now the race was down to de Ferran, Dixon, and Honda Indy V-8 powered driver and rookie Dan Wheldon of Andretti Green Racing. The battle intensified as the finish line approached, and with 12 laps left Honda driver Kenny Brack of Team Reysol and Thomas Scheckter of Target Chip Ganassi Racing made contact on Turn 3. Brack's machine was on the outside and was sent flying through the air before smashing into the outer fence.

Clearing up the wreckage scattered over the course and fully restoring safety was obviously going to take some time, so there was no doubt that the rest of the race had to be run under a full course caution. The officials also judged that it would be impossible for the race to resume without the badly damaged fence at Turn 3 being repaired, so the checkered flag was waved on lap 195, five laps sooner than the scheduled 200.

The race was won by pole sitter de Ferran, while second place was enough to give Dixon his first ever drivers championship title. Wheldon beat his previous best performance in clinching the first top three finish of his career, and he also moved above Roger Yasukawa of Super Aguri Fernandez Racing to take the Rookie of the Year award. Yasukawa finished tenth, tenaciously struggling on to the finish line after suffering gearbox trouble and losing the use of his fifth and sixth gears.

Brack was taken to Parkland Hospital in Dallas after his accident where he was examined and treated for injuries to the limbs and other parts of his body. His injuries are serious but his condition is stable.

American IndyCar Series Round 16
Texas Speedway

1 Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Team Penske)
2 Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing)
3 Dan Wheldon (Andretti Green Racing)
4 Vitor Meira (Team Menard)
5 Bryan Herta (Andretti Green Racing)
6 Scott Sharp (Kelley Racing)
7 Tora Takagi (Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing)
8 Greg Ray (Access Motorsports)
9 Al Unser Jr. (Kelley Racing)
10 Roger Yasukawa (Super Aguri Fernandez Racing)
14 Tony Kanaan (Andretti Green Racing)
16 Kenny Brack (Team Rahal)
Dan Wheldon

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