Homestead, FLA. - All eyes were on Danica Patrick as the Indy Racing League kicked off its 2005 season. Patrick signed with Bobby Rahal three years ago. Promoted to the top shelf, Patrick proved she has a reasonable shot at the rookie of the year title by qualifying ninth on the grid at Homestead. Vitor Meira gave Honda its best qualifying result, sitting his car on the outside of the front row next to pole sitter Tomas Scheckter.
Dan Wheldon of Team Andretti-Green took the lead on lap 151 and pulled away easily. Behind him, Team Penske's Sam Hornish and Helio Castroneves battled it out with Panther Racing's Tomas Scheckter for second position. A grass fire brought out the yellow flag on Lap 153 and the field tightened up. All signs pointed toward a close finish. But on the Lap 159 restart, all hell broke loose.
Kousuke Matsuura, last season's Rookie of the Year, made a charge on Scheckter, who was fending off his position with Castroneves. The Japanese driver went three-wide on the outside. Bad decision. Coming around Turn 4, Matsuura's No. 55 car oversteered off of the extreme banking. The combination of cold tires and tire marbling on the little used outside line took control of his car. He lost traction and the car dove straight in front of Scheckter and speared into Scott Sharp, pushing Sharp into the infield.
Scheckter spun backward and into the wall. Seven other cars went down in the crash, including Patrick's. Although all of the drivers walked away from the accident, the Rahal rookie seemed the most shaken. Everything happening in front of her, she had nowhere to go but straight down the inside. She tried to squeeze past Carpenter, who seemed to have slowed down, but didn't quite make it. The contact spun her backward and hard into the wall. Her car bounced off the wall, across the track and rolled to a stop on the infield. She was taken to Florida Baptist Hospital where she was released with a minor concussion.
The race restarted with 30 laps to go. Wheldon's car was clearly a class up on the rest of the field as he padded his lead. At one point he was averaging 213MPH, two MPH faster than his pursuers. Meanwhile, Tony Kanaan quickly stormed into the race for second. He first cut between the Penske cars, then pulled in front. But in the final turn of the final lap, Hornish reclaimed second by a hair. Vitor Meira took fourth for Honda.
"Obviously, it's a fantastic way to start the season," said Wheldon, who led for 158 of the 200 laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "I think we should rename this race 'The Honda Indy 300', because Honda obviously was very strong today. Around this place, if you have a fast car that handles well, even in traffic, you can get to the front whenever you want to. The power I had from Honda was exceptional, and I had a very good car in terms of balance and setup."