Defiance's Sam Hornish Jr. celebrates winning the IRL Sun Trust Indy Challenge.
RICHMOND, Va. - Sam Hornish Jr. blew by Gil de Ferran on the inside of the first turn with fewer than two laps to go last night and handed the vaunted Penske team a bitter loss in the SunTrust Indy Challenge.
Hornish, of Defiance, was never a factor until the end when he passed Felipe Giaffone for second in the same spot on the 246th lap, then reeled in de Ferran. Hornish finally dived underneath de Ferran in the front straightaway, pulling ahead entering the first turn and racing away to win by 1.8323 seconds.
“I didn't know I could pass him until I did,” Hornish said.
It was the defending series champion's sixth career victory and third this season, and came at the expense of one of the Penske teams, which have dominated the IRL in their first season since coming over from CART.
De Ferran, the polesitter seeking his second consecutive victory, seemed to have the race in hand when Giaffone twice tried to challenge him for the lead in the last 50 laps, and both times was turned aside.
But once Hornish got by Giaffone, the race was on - then over.
De Ferran, who led 168 of the 250 laps, held on to finish second, followed by Giaffone, Tomas Scheckter, Al Unser Jr. and Airton Dare.
“As soon as we started running under green, the car just kept getting looser and looser,” de Ferran said. [Once Hornish made a bid for the lead] “there was nothing I could do other than throwing him in the grass.
“It's always sad to lose the lead so late in the race, but at that point, I didn't feel there was much else I could have done,” de Ferran said.
Much like last year, when the three-quarter-mile oval became the shortest track in series history, the race looked a lot like the NASCAR events more familiar to Virginians. The open-wheel cars bumped and banged the wall at a rate far more common among Chevrolets and Fords.
Of the 22 cars that started, only 13 were running at the end. The race was slowed by eight caution flags that covered 94 laps, but ended with 55 laps of green-flag racing, the longest segment of clean racing all night.
Points leader Helio Castroneves was the first to crash, losing his grip coming out of Turn 2 on the eighth lap and hitting the inside wall. Castroneves was behind the wall for 150 laps, but returned.
Before 57 laps had been run, the cars of Billy Boat, Scott Sharp and George Mack also hit the wall. Mack and Boat spun in the same place as Castroneves, and Sharp went around coming out of Turn 4.
Castroneves remained the points leader, but his margin over de Ferran narrowed from 32 to three. Hornish remained third, 24 back.