SPARTA, Ky., Sunday, Aug. 11, 2002 - Felipe Giaffone became the latest on the Indy Racing League's long list of first-time winners this season, holding off defending series champion Sam Hornish Jr. by .0932 of a second to win the Belterra Casino Indy 300 on Aug. 11 at Kentucky Speedway.
2001 IRL Rookie of the Year Giaffone earned his first career victory in his 25th series start. He led 124 of the 200 laps in the No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone to become the sixth first-time winner this season in the IRL. A first-time winner has captured six of the last seven races.
"The car was really good," Giaffone said. "As usual, I had a great car. I messed up in the first pit stop big time. Sorry, but I'll try to do it right next time.
"I want to thank the guys. They did a good job. That's what I told them (crew), that we were pushing a little bit behind so let's try to stay in front. That's what we did and it worked good."
Hornish took the points lead with his runner-up finish in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, while 2000 IRL champion Buddy Lazier finished a season-best third in the No. 91 Coors Light/Life Fitness/Tae-Bo/Delta Faucet Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.
1996 IRL co-champion Scott Sharp finished fourth in the No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. Sharp was just .8142 of a second behind winner Giaffone, as less than a second separated the top four cars in yet another wild finish.
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves rounded out the top five in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. Al Unser Jr., back after missing races for alcohol-abuse treatment, finished sixth in the No. 7 Corteco/Bryant Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.
MBNA Pole winner Sarah Fisher finished eighth in the No. 23 Team Smart Blade/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing G Force/Infiniti/Firestone.
Giaffone took the lead for good on Lap 162 under caution - the last of 11 lead changes among six drivers - after his final pit stop. But the last 38 laps were anything but a cruise to the checkered flag for Giaffone, from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Lazier, aiming to win this event for the third consecutive year, passed Sharp for second on Lap 167. He then zeroed in on Giaffone, staying within four-tenths of a second or less of Giaffone on every lap through Lap 190.
Hornish also was gaining on Giaffone and Lazier every lap after being 1.4 seconds behind Giaffone on Lap 175. On Lap 196, Hornish moved outside Lazier for second in Turn 2.
Giaffone led Hornish by .0687 of a second with four laps remaining. The duo remained almost attached between Giaffone's gearbox and Hornish's nose, with Hornish occasionally moving to a higher line looking for more speed.
Hornish made a move to the outside of Giaffone as they took the white flag to start the 200th and final lap. Giaffone repulsed the move, and he and Hornish approached lapped traffic entering Turn 3.
On the final turn, Giaffone deftly sliced through the lap traffic, giving Hornish no room to make a last-ditch attempt to pass for the win. Giaffone's average speed was 149.024 mph.
"We had something for him (Giaffone), too bad we came up on that lap traffic," Hornish said. "It made it a little bit rough. He had to look in his mirrors coming off of (Turn) 4 and about ran in the back of (Jeff) Ward.
"It was a good race. I was glad to see Buddy (Lazier) back up there. Felipe (Giaffone) had a good run today. I think we're back in the points lead, which is exactly where we want to be headed. It would've been real nice to get the win today. That's 10 more points than what we got, but we're headed in the right direction."
Indeed. Hornish regained the points lead for the first time since losing it in May with a 25th-place finish at Indianapolis. Hornish holds a 399-395 lead over Castroneves with three races remaining. The next IRL race is the Gateway Indy 250 on Aug. 25 at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis.
Gil de Ferran, who led the points entering this race, slipped to third with 386 after finishing 21st in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. He was 28 laps down at the finish due a lengthy service in the pits after colliding with Richie Hearn on Lap 24.
Giaffone is fourth with 382 points, setting up a four-way struggle for the championship in the stretch run.
Hearn, Tomas Scheckter and Airton Dare were involved in accidents. Scheckter and Dare were unhurt when they collided on Lap 90. Hearn was transported via ground to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for surgery after suffering a broken right foot in the crash after touching de Ferran on Lap 24.
Two Kelley Racing crew members also were injured when struck by the No. 78 Kruse Special Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone driven by rookie Tony Renna on a pit stop.
Rusty Hurford, a team fabricator, was transported via ground to Carroll County Hospital in Carrollton, Ky, complaining of neck pain. He was awake and alert.
Bernie Hallinsky, left-rear tire change for Renna, was transported via ground to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis after suffering a broken right leg.