Ending a winless streak of almost three years since scoring a maiden win in his rookie IRL season, South African Tomas Scheckter beat Sam Hornish by a mere 0,053 seconds to win the Bombardier Learjet 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday.
Ending a winless streak of almost three years since scoring his first win in his rookie IRL season, South African Tomas Scheckter beat Sam Hornish by a mere 0,053 seconds to win the Bombardier Learjet 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday.
Tomas, 24, the son of 1979 World Champion Jody Scheckter, was briefly a Formula One test driver for the team formerly known as Jaguar Racing before being fired for his involvement in a mysterious “kerb-crawling” incident. However, he burst onto the United States-based Indy Racing League circuit in 2002, claiming a win at Michigan International Speedway during his rookie campaign...
Scheckter, who had hoped to secure a competitive Formula One drive after competing in a couple of seasons of the IRL, failed to live up to his early promise. After Michigan 2002, the Capetonian fell upon hard times, often of his own making. Leading up to Saturday's Bombardier Learjet 500, he had led 1 026 laps, but won only one race and made the finish in just 22 of his 49 IndyCar Series appearances.
ESPN correspondent John Oreovicz commented that “Scheckter put together the most mature drive of his career” on Saturaday. In the tenth closest finish in Indy Racing League history, the South African took the chequered flag after leading 119 of 200 laps in his Pennzoil Dallara-Chevrolet “putting an emphatic end to a memorable run of bad luck, bad timing and occasional bad judgement”.
This is what I really needed and I think the whole Panther team needed it as far as morale," Scheckter said. "I have to thank the team for sticking with me because there were a couple of stages where I wasn't believing in myself. But everybody in the team stuck behind me and allowed my confidence to get back up. I think certainly after this we're going to take a different attitude going into races and hopefully we're a threat at every race after this."
Panther co-owner Doug Boles said he recently witnessed a change in Scheckter's approach to racing: "We've noticed an almost monumental change in Tomas' thought process. I think after the Japan race he figured out that he doesn't have to make those crazy overtaking manoeuvres until the end. On the radio today he said, 'Is it time to go yet, guys?' He's been a lot more patient in the last three races and I think that's going to mean more victories for the '4' car."
There were no caution periods during the last 129 laps - a long enough run for the field to split into three distinct groups. After the final round of pit stops, Scheckter dropped from first to fourth, but he reeled in the lead trio of Tony Kanaan, Scott Sharp and Hornish Jr. It took 20 laps, but he reclaimed the lead on Lap 191 of 200.
"I told the guys, 'As long as you get me out in the top five, I can get to the front,'" Scheckter added. "I wasn't making any ground on the high side, but I dove to the inside and managed to get by Sam. Then Sam helped me by Scott and Tony. I got a lot of horsepower from Chevy today, but I got some extra from Sam."
Hornish maintained pressure Scheckter over the final ten laps, but was unable to pass the South African: “With the right timing I would have been able to do pass Tomas, but I really couldn't afford to practice it because there were two other cars right there with us. Had I had another two or three laps, it might have worked out for me."