Despite leading 145 laps of the 200-tour Bombardier 500 in Texas on Saturday, Capetonian Tomas Scheckter’s race was ruined by a near-disastrous pit lane fire and a crash sparked by a front suspension failure.

Despite leading 145 laps of the 200-tour Bombardier 500 in Texas on Saturday, Capetonian Tomas Scheckter’s race was ruined by a near-disastrous pit lane fire and a crash sparked by a front suspension failure.

After a near race-long battle with the 22-year-old South African, veteran Al Unser Jr eventually beat Tony Kanaan to the checkered flag. Unser, driving the Corteco Dallara Toyota, avenged the loss he suffered to Jeff Ward at the Texas Motor Speedway last June (by less than two thousandths of a second) by taking victory over Kanaan's Team 7- Eleven Dallara Honda by 0,081 seconds.

Toyota-powered cars led all but one lap of the 200-tour contest around the 24-degree banked oval. Starting from pole position, Scheckter led 145 laps in his Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force Toyota before a pit fire, subsequent drive-through penalty and a high-speed crash on Lap 174 - caused by a broken right front suspension - ended his race.

"I don't know what happened,” a dejected Scheckter said. “Something broke on the car, I saw sparks and then I hit the wall. We had such a great car out there.”

During what would have been Scheckter’s last scheduled pit stop, the refuelling hose did not disengage. As the South African sped off, the nozzle ripped loose, spilling burning ethanol over Team Target refueller Andy Natalie. In the ensuing melee, Natalie was doused with fire extinguisher fluid and Scheckter was black flagged so that his car could be inspected in the pit lane on the following lap.

"The vent hose got stuck on the car,” the 22-year-old said. “Luckily, Andy's okay and that's good. We had a dominating car tonight, but I'm sick of dominating. I want to win one of these races."

It was the second straight race that Scheckter had led the most number of laps. The Capetonian led the most laps at Texas last year (107 of 200 laps) and currently stands first in laps led for the season with 244.

Of the 22 entrants at the green flags, 15 were still running at the end. Tora Takagi took third place in the Pioneer Panoz G Force Toyota despite his involvement in the final caution. Takagi tapped Scott Sharp's Delphi Dallara Toyota as Sharp, Felipe Giaffone (#21 Hollywood Panoz G Force/Toyota) and Takagi battled for third place. Takagi said he was pushed to the white line in Turn Three on Lap 191, because "I was already pushed to the right".

Bryan Herta was fifth in his first race substituting for Dario Franchitti and, despite tapping wheels with Helio Castroneves' Marlboro Team Penske Dallara Toyota, he brought the Dallara Honda home in one piece.

Scheckter’s team-mate Scott Dixon started second but quickly fell back to mid-pack and ran alone for much of the evening in his Team Target Panoz G Force Toyota. He said his team "struggled a little bit tonight. We couldn't find the perfect balance and the car was loose on restarts. As the run went on, the car began to push, but is not a bad finish for us. It just wasn't our night."

Castroneves had to make a stop on lap 198 as his left rear tyre was damaged in the tap with Herta, recovering to take seventh at the chequered flags, last on the lead lap.

This was a clean race by Texas standards, with only four caution periods. Giaffone had the fastest race lap (#162) of 356,217 km/h, while Scheckter turned the fast lap as leader: 354,647 km/h - on Lap 87.

The first caution was called after the Conseco Dallara Toyota of A.J. Foyt IV brushed the Turn Three wall on Lap 41. The second yellow on Lap 88 was for debris. Scheckter's suspension failure brought out the third yellow and the fourth came for the three-way incident between Sharp, Giaffone and Takagi on Lap 191.

Kanaan retains his lead in the championship, followed by Unser, Castroneves, Brack, De Ferran, Sharp and Dixon. The IndyCar Series continues next Sunday with the Honda Indy 225 at the Pikes Peak International Raceway.