South African IRL star Tomas Scheckter led a combined 148 laps of the Indy 500 over the past two years but failed to win on both occasions. Will the Capetonian’s luck change on Sunday?

South African IRL star Tomas Scheckter led a combined 148 laps of the Indy 500 over the past two years but failed to win on both occasions. Will the Capetonian’s luck change on Sunday?


The 23-year-old South African driver for Panther Racing has been in about a dozen crashes in his first two and a half Indy Racing League seasons and is with his third team in as many years.


Scheckter will start the 88th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday in tenth place – the highest grid position of all the Chevrolet-powered cars in the field. If he could win the historic race – an event in which he has always performed well - it would erase the doubt that some observers have in his ability. Insiders say that the Capetonian is happier and more focused than at any point of his IRL career since he moved to Panther Racing at the end of last year.


When Panther Racing was informed that two-time series champion Sam Hornish was signing with Roger Penske, co-owners John Barnes and Gary Pedigo were ecstatic to land Scheckter.


"You can always calm somebody down and help them get a grip, but you can't speed 'em up," said Barnes, "He (Scheckter) has been nothing but fabulous for us."


"I just want to work hard and make sure for the team and myself that we start to win because we both deserve it," said Scheckter, who started the season with a fifth place at Homestead, before setbacks at Phoenix and Japan dropped him into a tie for 11th in the points.


"I'm not going to tell you now that sometimes when I've crashed, it wasn't my fault. For sure, I've made mistakes. But I'm working hard and trying not to make them again," he added.


So far this season, the only time the No. 4 Chevrolet-powered Dallara has been in a mishap was when Andretti Green Racing's Dario Franchitti ran up the back of Scheckter's car during a caution at Phoenix. Scheckter was running third at the time.


Driving last year for Chip Ganassi, Scheckter was ahead for 63 laps in the 500 and finished fourth. In his 500 début in 2002 while driving for Eddie Cheever, Scheckter led 85 laps and was leading the race when he crashed at turn four on lap 173.


"The one driver who was always in the back of my head, the only driver I ever worried about, the one who could beat Sam one-on-one, was Tomas Scheckter," Pedigo said. "I have always wondered at races, 'Where's Scheckter?'"


But what happened to Scheckter in the closing stages of the Indy 500 in 2002 is still a moot point.


"I was disappointed that he crashed, but you could not say he didn't drive unbelievably well to that point," Cheever said. "What I really found disappointing, the mechanics had worked so hard and it was so obviously a driver error, and he jumped out of the car and said, 'Well, something broke.' You don't do that. That's just wrong.


"But if you look back on that race, he drove phenomenally. He had a hard time putting a period at the end of his sentences. The period was the last lap. His sentences were perfect; he just never ended them. Tomas, that year, deserved to win the Indy 500."