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INDYU.S.A.April 17, 2004
IRL IndyCar Series Round 4

Honda Dominates the Indy 500 by Finishing in Top Seven Places

Buddy Rice led a clean sweep by Honda drivers and teams at the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500, with the manufacturer taking the top seven positions when the race was finally called after 180 of the scheduled 200 laps due to rain.  It is the first ‘500’ victory for Honda in four attempts at the Memorial Day classic, as Rice started from the pole, set fastest race lap and led 91 laps en route to his first Indy Racing League IndyCar Series victory.

Buddy Rice, Team Rahal

Buddy Rice, Team Rahal

Sunday’s race began just after 1 p.m. CDT, following a two-hour rain delay.  But once the green flag waved Rice immediately claimed the point in his Rahal Letterman Racing Honda and stayed in the lead pack, along with Andretti Green Racing teammates Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan, through the first 29 laps.  However, the rains then returned with Wheldon in front, causing a race stoppage and 90-minute delay to dry the 2.5-mile oval.

When racing resumed just after 3:30 p.m. CDT, Wheldon took the initial lead, as a total of seven Honda drivers led all but 12 laps of this year’s contest.  Other Honda drivers to lead included Kanaan, Wheldon, Adrian Fernandez, Bruno Junqueira, Bryan Herta and Dario Franchitti.

But it was Rice repeatedly moving to the front of the field, never running out of the top 10, and taking the lead five times, for the final time on Lap 172 when Fernandez made his final pit stop.  Despite a late challenge from Kanaan, Rice held on to claim the victory when the rain returned on Lap 180 and the checkered flag fell after 450 of the scheduled 500 miles.

For his part, Kanaan repeated his runner-up performance of 2002, leading 28 laps in all.  But the Brazilian was unable to match Rice’s pace in the closing laps, instead leading his Andretti Green teammates Wheldon and Herta to the finish.  Wheldon dueled with both Rice and Kanaan, leading 26 laps, but was unable to challenge either teammate Kanaan or Rice in the closing laps.

Making his first IndyCar start with Honda, Bruno Junqueira and his Newman-Haas Racing team elected to adopt an “out-of-sequence” pit strategy that yielded a total of 16 laps in the lead and an eventual fifth place finish, equaling his only other Indy 500 result, in 2002.   In his second IRL race start for Rahal Letterman, Vitor Meira ran in the lead group until he was moved to the back of the lead lap at mid-race as a penalty for running over an air hose during a pit stop.  He eventually recovered to finish sixth. 

Fernandez and his rookie Super Aguri Fernandez teammate, Kosuke Matsuura, also had their moments in the spotlight.  Owner/driver Fernandez led three laps, but had his challenge blunted when Helio Castroneves inadvertently blocked his pit stall during the final round of stops.  Matsuura, the fastest rookie in qualifying, also was the fastest Indy rookie throughout the day, running as high as sixth until a brief delay during one of his pit stops dropped him to 11th at the finish, still the top-ranked rookie.

Bryan Herta charged through the field to finish fourth, less than 2.5 seconds behind winner Rice, after starting well back in 23rd due to a crash during the opening day of qualifying.  It was the most positions gained by a driver in this year’s ‘500’.  Roger Yasukawa, driving the third Rahal Letterman entry, also fought hard to finish 10th, equaling his rookie finish of last year, after cut tires let to a pair of unscheduled pit stops.

After starting on the outside of the front row, Dario Franchitti struggled with handling problems after the first race re-start.  The team then gambled by making an aerodynamic change during a pit stop, but that failed to solve his problems in traffic and Franchitti faded to a 14th-place finish.  Access Motorsports owner/driver Greg Ray lost a half-dozen laps due to mechanical problems prior to the Lap 39 red-flag race stoppage, then was eliminated in a Lap 104 crash with Darren Manning and Sam Hornish, Jr.

Buddy Rice Position: 1st
"I don't know what to say right now. First of all, I would like to thank Bobby [Rahal], Scott [Roembke] and David [Letterman].  I started out as a fill in for Kenny Brack and it was not the best way to come in:  filling in for somebody like that after what happened to him [Brack is currently recovering from injuries suffered in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway at the final race in 2003].  He legitimately held a spot with such a top-rated team.  So for me to come in and get his [Kenny’s] support and all of the help he's given, that was pretty cool. I know Scott and Bob and I have been talking since '98, '99, when I started racing Atlantics, there to try to put something together.  We were trying to sort something out, and things never quite worked out. They always said when the timing is right, things will come together, and we'll make something happen. I guess this was the right time.  We started off the season excellent. We had a good chance at winning at Homestead; we had a puncture, just circumstantial, just the way it is. We've had two good other runs at Phoenix and Motegi, and Honda finally got their first win at Motegi.  For us to come here, with the long history Bob has with Honda, and for to us get the pole here for them for the first time and now the first win at the biggest race in the world, is huge. I don't know, I'm on equal footing with Bob to a certain degree, because I've won the Indianapolis 500 now, but he still has got championships and a lot more wins under his belt. So, we’ll keep trying to chase that."

Robert Clarke, Vice President & General Manager, Honda Performance Development
"Obviously, I’d like to thank all our teams:  Access, Andretti Green, Fernandez and Rahal Letterman for their hard work and great results.  But mostly I would like to thank all of the Honda associates that have contributed to our IndyCar program.  The results today – taking the first seven positions in our first ‘500’ victory – is a real tribute to each and every one of them, a true indicator of how much work and dedication has gone into Honda’s North American racing program.  The great motivation, the drive that they each had to have to achieve these results, is inspiring.  Today’s Indy 500 victory is a tribute to everyone who participates in the effort."

Tony Kanaan Position: 2nd
"I drove with everything I had, but Buddy [Rice] just had a faster car today. It's not always that the best car and best driver that wins, but I think today that Buddy deserved it. I did my best and the whole team did a great job, but he was just faster than me. All you can do is work as hard as you can. But, I'm happy. What a great job by Honda. I'm very happy for them for getting their first Indy 500 win, too."

Dan Wheldon Position: 3rd
"I think the Klein Tools/Jim Beam car was strong and it was a very good team effort for Andretti Green Racing.  We did the best with what we had today. The guys in the pit did a tremendous job and Tony Cotman [team manager] really made the best of what was thrown at us with all the changing conditions. It was an exciting day. I could run the Indianapolis 500 every year of my life.  It is such a cool race, it really is. It is always nice to drive at this place and whether it is interrupted by rain or whatever it is still a beautiful place to drive at."

Bryan Herta Position: 4th
"It was a great result for our team. I guess it could have been better -- first, second and third -- but let's not get greedy. The right guy won today. Buddy Rice had the fastest car, and he won the race. That's the way the Indy 500 is supposed to be. You know, we've got to work a little bit harder for next year. Hopefully we'll make it a one, two, three, four. With the month I had, this feels like a win. I've been in the wall hard twice. Today's little problems, but here in the race it all came right, and we got a nice result. I would have liked to win, but like I said, this is Indy. Compared to where we started, it's a great day, a great effort for Andretti Green Racing."

Bruno Junqueira Position: 5th
"It was a good day. We didn't have the best car in traffic, but it was good by itself. We were on a different [pit] strategy from the leaders, so we led some laps when they pitted. Unfortunately, the rain came a little bit too late for us, but I think I'm quite happy with the finish, finishing fifth. I'm happy with the result."

Vitor Meira Position: 6th
"I think we got penalized in the middle of the race [for running over an air hose during a pit stop]. We made up 27 positions from Lap 100 to the end of the race, and we had the quickest lap of the race for Rahal-Letterman. We couldn't ask for more for the team.  Pole, the pit stop contest, quickest lap of the race, winning the race. There's nothing else you do. We got it all, we couldn't ask for much better job."

Adrian Fernandez Position: 7th
"It was a good day for everybody, I am very proud of the team. Obviously, we would’ve liked a better result, we just seemed to not get the breaks we needed.  I think the biggest bad break was at the end when Helio [Castroneves] overshot his pit, and I really had no space to come into my pit so that really put us in a bad position for the guys to change the tires. We lost like three or four positions that we couldn't recover at the end.  We suffered from understeer through the race. But in general, it was a good race. For our second year here as a team, I think it was a very good result, and I very proud of them."

Roger Yasukawa Position: 10th
"It was a long race for me. I had a good start, and unfortunately I lost some spots early on before the rain. Then we had two flat tires and had to made additional [pit] stops, unfortunately. I kept going backward, but then I kept working myself back up. Rahal/Letterman Racing is a fantastic team. I want to congratulate Buddy. It was a great team effort, a great race."

Kosuke Matsuura Position: 11th
"I think this was my best-ever IRL race.  I did my best all day long.  But there were a couple of unlucky things for us:  the general weather conditions and the temperature changing too much during the last 50 laps.  Under hot conditions, we were okay, I was running seventh and we were passing a lot of cars.  But when it cooled off the Rahal guys were faster than us, so that was unlucky.  As the end, I finished at the top of the rookies again and earned some points, so that was good for the championship."

IRL IndyCar Series Round 4

1 Buddy Rice (Team Rahal)
2   Tony Kanaan (Andretti Green Racing)
3   Dan Wheldon (Andretti Green Racing)
4   Bryan Herta (Andretti Green Racing)
5   Bruno Junqueira (Newman Haas Racing)
6   Vitor Meira (Team Rahal)
7   Adrian Fernandez (Fernandez Racing)
8 Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing)
9 Helio Castroneve (Marlboro Team Penske)
10   Roger Yasukawa (Team Rahal)
11   Kosuke Matsuura (Super Aguri Fernandez Racing)
14   Dario Franchitti (Andretti Green Racing)
27   Greg Ray (Access Motorsports)
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