Originally created 10/13/03

Crash ends IRL race early



FORT WORTH, Texas -- Race winner Gil de Ferran and new IRL champion Scott Dixon had subdued celebrations as they awaited word about seriously injured Kenny Brack.

Brack suffered multiple fractures at the season-ending race at Texas Motor Speedway when his car was hit from behind and pinwheeled into the air. The car broke apart when it slammed into the 12-foot steel catchfence at the top of the 39-inch concrete wall on the backstretch.

De Ferran, driving in his final race, was working hard to hold off the tenacious Dixon when the crash came with 12 laps left in the Chevy 500.

The race proceeded under a caution for seven laps and ended five laps before its scheduled 200-lap finish.

Brack was airlifted to Parkland Memorial Hospital after being removed from what was left of his car, which was hit by Tomas Scheckter. Brack was in serious but stable condition; Scheckter was uninjured.

A team spokesman said Brack had some serious injuries but was alert and joking with his wife and the manager of Team Rahal while being treated in the infield care center at the track.

De Ferran followed the pace car slowly past the crash scene on each of the final laps and was in no mood to celebrate after the race.

"To be honest, most of my concern was with Kenny at that point," de Ferran said. "The catch fencing was gone and the wheel hanging (over the wall). It was a horrific scene.

"My heart is being pulled in many different directions. I won my last race, but there's a big crash. I apologize for being a little bit somber. I've known Kenny for many years. My thoughts and prayers are with him."

Dixon was also worried about Brack and he was disappointed not to be able to race de Ferran for the win.

"It's always disappointing to end under yellow, but I just hope Kenny is OK," the new champion said. "Gil had a great car. He was going to be difficult to pass."

The Chevy 500 was a typical IRL race, with cars often running wheel-to-wheel at about 220 mph.

Most of the attention throughout the day was on the five-man championship battle that began with Dixon and Helio Castroneves tied for the lead and closely trailed by Tony Kanaan, two-time defending IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr. and de Ferran, who announced earlier this season that he would retire following this race.

De Ferran had to drive through the infield grass to avoid an accident involving Alex Barron and Felipe Giaffone on lap 98. He made an extra pit stop which forced Marlboro Team Penske to revert to a fuel strategy.

That worked to perfection as de Ferran got the lead on lap 161 as all the other leaders made green flag pit stops.

"I really concentrated hard on saving fuel and I was trying to take as few risks as I could and save as much fuel as I could at that point," de Ferran said. "I knew if I did that, my last stop was going to be very short and that could have made the difference in the race."

It did.

He held the top spot with a quick fuel stop on lap 168 and was fending off Dixon when the final yellow flag waved.

"It's been a fantastic four years with Team Penske. It's a time I'm going to remember the rest of my life."

Dixon gave Chip Ganassi his first IRL championship after four titles in the rival CART series.

Dixon drove for Ganassi last year in CART, but moved with his boss to the IRL in 2003, started the year with a win and was in the championship battle all year.

"The championship is a huge weight off my shoulder," the driver from New Zealand said. "We had so many ups and downs.

"We had a rough midseason, kept trucking on. Nobody ever got down. We went to the next race, knew we'd have great speed and dominant cars."

Texas has been the sight of five of the 10 closest finishes in IRL history and it appeared until the big crash Sunday that it was going to provide another one.

The five championship contenders ran at the front as a pack through most of the early part of the race before some of them ran into trouble.

De Ferran, who won two CART championships and this year's Indianapolis 500 for the Penske team, fell way back into the pack after his off-track excursion and spent most of the second half conserving fuel and waiting for his strategy to pay off.

Hornish had won the two previous season-ending races here and came into Sunday's event having won three of the last four events, but his car lost power after making a scheduled pit stop on lap 151 while leading. The engine gave up on lap 176.

Castroneves and Kanaan were battling for second and third place, not far behind de Ferran, on a restart on lap 180 when the two contenders banged together going into the third turn.

Kanaan slowed immediately and pitted for repairs, while Castroneves kept going but had to pit on lap 183. Either Castroneves or Kanaan would have won the championship by winning or finishing second to de Ferran.

Dan Wheldon finished third, winning rookie of the year honors. He was followed by Vitor Meira, Bryan Herta and former IRL champion Scott Sharp.