- The Washington Times - Monday, May 27, 2002

INDIANAPOLIS His lead evaporating with just more than a lap to go, his mirrors and visor smeared with oil, Helio Castroneves saw a blurry yellow flash and feared the worst. Instead of a fuel light, though, it was a timely caution and prelude to a disputed victory.
Castroneves won his second Indianapolis 500 yesterday and then waited more than 5 hours before the victory was upheld when fast-closing Paul Tracy's pass on the next-to-last lap was disallowed. An official review determined that the pass came seconds after the final caution light froze the field in position.
Tracy's team immediately filed a formal appeal, and the Indy Racing League said a hearing would be held at 1 p.m. today.
Tracy said he had seen replays of the pass, as well as some of the track data, and "I'm convinced I'm still the winner."
Castroneves remained likewise convinced he had won.
"What is just is just," Castroneves said. "I'm not sorry for Paul Tracy, but I'd probably do the same thing if I was in his shoes."
Tracy's car owner, Barry Green, met twice with Indy Racing League officials during the review, which included several videotaped angles of the disputed finish, and said he believed his driver won.
"We have footage, we have driver statements. We have IRL timing and scoring data," Green said. "My team, they worked their butts off this month. I owe it to my team and my sponsor."
Castroneves became the first driver to win consecutive Indys since Al Unser Sr. in 1970-71, and it was the 12th Indy victory for car owner Roger Penske.
It was a triumph for strategy and survival.
First, he gambled he could finish the last 100 miles without stopping for fuel and fresh tires. Then, some savvy driving helped the 27-year-old Brazilian avoid the troubles that plagued leader after leader before him.
Tracy, driving at Indy for the first time in seven years, did pass Castroneves, but not until the after 1996 winner Buddy Lazier and rookie Laurent Redon crashed on the 199th of 200 laps.
"I think it's me that won," Tracy said. "I know I was ahead of him. I passed him, then the yellow came out."
Under IRL rules, no passing is allowed after the yellow flag is displayed and the yellow lights come on around the track. The dispute was whether the caution had already begun before the pass.
"The only reason he passed me is the yellow came on," Castroneves said. "I was protecting a position. He couldn't just pass me. I'm the one who lifted off because of the yellow."
Tracy and team owner Green disagreed adamantly.
Asked when he first saw one of the lights around the track that indicate if the track is green or yellow, Tracy said, "I didn't see it until after I was ahead of him. So we're going go look at the tape, so in my mind I'm the winner. But we'll see how it comes out."
Castroneves and Penske enjoyed the victory celebration immediately after the race, going to Victory Lane and taking the traditional ride around the track to the cheers of many remaining from the crowd of more than 400,000. They then went back to their team motorhome to wait out the official results.
Castroneves said he was watching on television when he heard the decision. He ran to the garage area and climbed the fence as the team began popping champagne.
"I knew what to do. I knew the procedure," he said. "I believe it. It's true. Let's celebrate."
Castroneves said he didn't have the best car.
"I was just trying to keep going, keep out of trouble, keep on the lead lap," he said.
Castroneves, who never led until lap 177, might not have gotten the opportunity to repeat if Team Penske teammate Gil de Ferran hadn't had some bad luck, bringing out the caution on lap 176 when his left rear tire came off after leaving the pits.
Felipe Giaffone, Tracy and Michael Andretti, all ahead of Castroneves, pitted the next lap, leaving him at the head of the line for the restart on lap 182. Then, it was time for a fuel gamble by Penske team president Tim Cindric.
"I couldn't believe everybody coming in," said Castroneves, the first driver ever to win his first two Indy starts. "Cindric and I decided to stay out. I said, 'This is the chance I want.' I had 20 gallons in the car and like 22 laps to go."
Castroneves admitted there was a question whether he would have enough fuel to get to the end.
"I didn't know if I was going to finish or not," he said. "I was almost out of fuel. I couldn't do the victory lap."
Added Penske: "I was holding my breath, for sure."
There was also the problem of racing around 2-mile oval almost blind at 215 mph after his No. 3 Chevrolet-powered Dallara was sprayed with oil.
"I couldn't see in the mirrors because one guy blew an engine in front of me and they were completely covered in oil," Castroneves said. "When the yellow [light] came on, I thought I was running out of fuel.
"The guys on the radio said, `Yellow, yellow, yellow!' Then Tracy passed me and I was screaming. He passed me on the yellow."
Before the crash, Castroneves did his best to block Tracy, but the Canadian driver, who took second place from Giaffone two laps earlier, darted to the outside and drove past Castroneves in the third turn just after Lazier and Redon crashed.


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