tampabay.com

Hornish no longer No. 1 after finish

By DAVE SCHEIBER and JOANNE KORTH
Published April 4, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - It wasn't exactly the kind of day Sam Hornish of Team Penske had planned on.

The 2001 and '02 IndyCar Series champion - the first two-time title winner in series history - came into the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg leading the standings by six points. But late in the race, while still running in the Top 10, Hornish was rear-ended by Tomas Enge of Panther Racing.

He wound up completing only 85 of the 100 laps, finishing 15th and dropping to No.3 in the overall points standings with 105 (trailing Grand Prix champion Dan Wheldon 's 134 points and second-place finisher Tony Kanaan 's 110).

"Our plan was to be patient, conservative and make it to the end," Hornish said. "We had a good start and all was going well in the first couple of stints. We took a gamble and tried an aggressive fuel strategy that didn't quite work, but it was still looking like we were going to have a top 10 finish."

But all that changed on Lap 86.

"I was getting ready to pass the No.55 car (Kosuke Matsuura ). I realized I didn't have enough to make the move so I went to brake and get in line to make the turn (No.4) when I got hit from behind by the No.2 car (Enge). His nose went through my rear suspension and the two cars were hooked together. I tried to turn but the tire was flat and there was nothing I could do. Unfortunately, it was one of those days."

ROOKIE MISTAKES: The Grand Prix was a learning experience for Danica Patrick . The 23-year-old rookie for Rahal Letterman finished 12th but was philosophical.

"It was a little frustrating but exciting today," she said. "It was a little bit like Homestead. We were fast enough to run with the front bunch but mistakes happen. I think I made a mistake with the gearbox. ... It just sheared off the teeth in the gearbox. The crew did a great job of getting the gearbox back together and getting me out. ...

"I made a couple of mistakes on the pit stops, but I think (I'm) getting used to them now. It feels more comfortable coming and stopping and leaving the pits hard on the throttle. ... I wanted to be smooth and learn with the IndyCars. I think I need to be a bit cautious in my rookie year."

GOOD DAY FOR GOOD CHARLOTTE: More than an hour before race time, a handful of youngsters milled around a small stage near the track. These kids had no interest in the lifestyles of the rich and famous in the IndyCar world - only in a certain pop-punk group known for its hit, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous .

They hoped to stake out the pole position for Good Charlotte, booked for a postrace concert at the track. Two such fans were Elizabeth Cavaliere , 16, of Clearwater and Shelby Moore , 14, of Palm Harbor.

"It's my favorite band," said Moore, who talked Cavaliere into coming after they saw news of the gig on the band's Web site.

Nearby, Devin Arthur , 12, and his sister Carley, 10, of St. Petersburg were on hand for the music thanks to their mom, who surprised them three days earlier with tickets. "I don't really like races, because you have to walk around too much," Carley said.

A NEW VIEW: Sebastien Bourdais , winner of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2003 when it opened the CART season, was a spectator Sunday. An experienced road-course driver, he would have preferred to be in a car rather than the stands.

"It was a quite a good show actually," said Bourdais, a St. Petersburg resident in his third CART season. "It's just too bad there weren't 30 cars on the racetrack and we were all together. But it's going to happen sooner or later. It's just a matter of time."

SIGN OF SUCCESS: If the steady crowd at the Andretti Green merchandise trailer was any indication, the Grand Prix has a promising future.

"The final numbers aren't in, but I think this could be one of our better races of the season, besides Indy," said manager Larry Hoch , whose trailer is owned by Andretti Enterprises and has licensing for the big winners of Sunday's race: Dan Wheldon , Tony Kanaan , Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta , not to mention the Andrettis.

"Business has been very good compared to most IRL races," Hoch said. "I'd say St. Pete has great potential. We were here two years ago for the CART race. And this may be a little better. They really promoted this much better than the CART race."

BUC ALERT: Walking through the heavy crowd before race time was a familiar face to fans of the Tampa Bay Bucs, linebacker Shelton Quarles , holding the hand of his 3-year-old son Shelton Jr. Father and son took in the event as jets zoomed overhead in the pre-race air show. "It's definitely a good thing for the area and a good thing for the community," Quarles said. "And any time you can bring a big-time event like this here, it's only going to boost the economy of the city."