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Sunday, August 17
Complaining begins after Hornish win
By Robin Miller
Special to ESPN.com
SPARTA, Ky. -- A couple of months ago when there was a rumor that Cosworth Engineering might be called in to bail out General Motor's puny powerplant in the Indy Racing League, Toyota and Honda seemed to be consensual.
Toyota's Lee White said, "Bring 'em on." Honda counterpart Robert Clarke noted that his company partnered with Ilmor, so it had no problem with a midseason marriage. Both declared it important for GM to stay competitive -- and in the series.
Meanwhile, several IRL drivers commiserated with Sam Hornish Jr. for Chevrolet's lack of horsepower.
But following Sam's Sunday Slaughter here at Kentucky Speedway, many of those feelings of compassion have more or less been replaced by some self-pity, a little loathing and a few well-dones.
"I said at Michigan we wanted some competition," said Chip Ganassi, breaking into a smile. "I guess we got it."
Ganassi, who owns the cars of Scott Dixon and Tomas Scheckter, naturally was referring to the butt-kicking administered by Hornish and his Pennzoil Panther Team. The two-time IRL champ started on the pole, led 181 of 200 laps, lapped all but second and third place and set an IRL race record of 197.897 mph in the process of annihilating the field.
Had Kenny Brack not brought out the only caution of the day, Hornish would have lapped everyone in giving the new Chevrolet Gen IV (also referred to as the Gen Ford since Ford owns Cosworth) its initial win.
And, surprise, surprise, that's now the bone of contention with many of his competitors.
Because the IRL, which crows about its level playing field, basically moved in the goal posts for General Motors and allowed it to re-kick.
"Sam's always had a good car but how fair is the game for allowing a new engine halfway through the season?" wondered Tony Kanaan, who is clinging to the point lead in his Honda-powered Dallara with four races remaining. "Somebody sits there for six months, sees everybody's weakness and builds a new engine?
"I don't want to complain but Honda and Toyota should."
Even though the whining of some Toyota and Honda teams could be heard above the whine of Sam's new Chevy/Cosworth, they have reason to question the IRL for allowing this NASCAR-like move. It's not unprecedented for manufacturers to constantly upgrade in Formula One or when CART had four engine suppliers, but it's certainly something entirely different for a series that supposedly adheres to its cost-controlling, keep-it-simple bylaws.
By its own admission Chevrolet underestimated its new competition and, like Nissan a few years ago, could have been stuck with a lemon.
"We understand they wanted Sam and GM to win a race," said White, whose company won the Indy 500 in its initial try last May and owns nine wins in 2003. "But my feeling is that they need to work just as hard as we do and whatever steps were taken to make him competitive obviously were successful.
"Now we expect to be given equal consideration. I think I'll give the IRL a letter requesting that we be allowed to bring in a new motor. Immediately."
Clearly, Hornish had the best-handling car on this bumpy track Sunday afternoon and it was very hard to say his engine made that much difference. The rest of the new "Chevworths" weren't anything special, save Robbie Buhl's best run of 2003.
"Sam and those guys have had the best handling car all year, so why wouldn't they have it here?" said Team Rahal general manager Scott Roembke. "He's just got an engine now." Hornish, whose first win of '03 vaulted him into fifth place in the standings, has been a class act this season -- never moaning about his engine woes or badmouthing GM for dropping the ball. He figured there would be complaints afterwards but didn't want to hear them.
"We didn't sit there and whine when I was 60-horsepower down at the beginning of the year," Hornish said after his record ninth IRL victory. "I don't know what their (other drivers') problem is. It is about as equal as it can get right now.".
"We have worked so hard on making sure that our setups are where they need to be. We were running equal to them at 60-horsepower down at six races this year. They have to expect that when we get that 60 horsepower, we are going to be a little quicker than they are."
Of course, Sam wasn't a little quicker here Sunday, he was on a different planet -- running between 216-218 mph (he won the pole at 219 mph). Runner-up Dixon was close for a while but no match in traffic.
"Sam was hooked up, no question," said Dixon. "He's going to be tough the rest of the year."
Publicly, nobody has anything but praise for Hornish. Privately, many people have wondered if he got something extra at Nashville or IRL officials gave him a debris yellow at Michigan or looked the other way on a pit speed violation.
"Sam is the IRL's marquee driver and an excellent role model," said one of his fellow competitors a few minutes after Sunday's race. "He's a helluva talent and as clean and fair a racer as you'll ever see.
"But the IRL has done everything it can to get him back into victory lane. That's not necessarily fair but it's a fact. The fans seem to love it so we might as well shut up and move on."
Hornish, who is meeting Panther personnel Monday with his agent to discuss his future, didn't need any advantages in beating Team Penske last year for the IRL title and may well be one of the finest oval-track shoes to lace 'em up in a long time. With engineer Andy Brown, he's developed a great chemistry and knack for finding the checkered flag.
"We won five races last year; it is not like this is the first time we've ever won," reasoned Hornish afterwards. "We are not some no-names who got a new engine and went out there and won.
"We know what it takes to win these races. It takes a lot of teamwork and good-handling race cars. I'm sure there will be a lot of people that have a problem with it (today's win), but we have worked so hard this year.
"I feel bad that they feel that way, but I don't feel bad about winning."
Panther Racing was about the only team that felt good here Sunday, other than General Motors' officials. Hornish got his victory and IRL competition director Brian Barnhart is sure to get some angry phone calls this week.
Barnhart needs to remember that Honda and Toyota dumped CART because they got tired of an ever-changing rulebook and its shoddy enforcement.
"The IRL was worried about keeping General Motors," said White. "Maybe they should worry about keeping Toyota in the series." Robin Miller covers open wheel racing for RPM2Night and ESPN.com.Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories