March 24 in Motorsports History: Hornish edges Lazier in thriller at Fontana

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Any time Indy cars race on a superspeedway, fans should expect a lot of lead changes and an exciting finish.

The 2002 IRL race at California Speedway (now Auto Club Speedway) delivered just that.

While California had established itself as a regular stop on the CART and NASCAR circuits since 1997, the IRL was a new attraction at the facility in 2002.

Sam Hornish Jr. celebrates after winning the 2002 Yamaha 400 at California Speedway. Photo: INDYCAR

The crowd for the race was nothing to write home about, as only 20,000 spectators were in attendance at the 91,000 seat facility. But those who did show up likely did not regret their decision.

The Yamaha Indy 400 featured 39 lead changes between eight drivers, with the race coming down to a side-by-side battle for the win by Sam Hornish Jr, and Jaques Lazier in the final laps.

Lazier and Eddie Cheever Jr. were battling out for the lead in the remaining laps when Cheever’s engine blew on Lap 191. Hornish, who was sitting in the third position at the time, then moved up to second and began using the draft to catch up to Lazier.

With five laps remaining, Hornish was within striking distance of Lazier. With two laps remaining, both drivers were side by side.

Hornish then passed Lazier on the frontstretch to take the lead, but Lazier quickly regained control, passing Hornish on the inside as both drivers raced out of Turn 2.

Tucking in behind Lazier down the backstrech, Hornish went high going into Turn 3 and held a slight advantage over Lazier exiting Turn 4.  The cars then raced side by side to the finish line, but Hornish was able to narrowly hold on to win by 0.028 seconds.

“That was a lot of fun all the way down to the end,” Hornish told ESPN in victory lane. “With five laps to go, it didn’t matter who was going to win it. It was going to be a great race.”

At the time, the finish was the second-closest in IndyCar history. Later in the 2002 season, Hornish would win in the current closest finish in IndyCar history, defeating Al Unser Jr. by 0.0024 seconds to win at Chicagoland Speedway.

California Speedway continued to host the IRL through the 2005 season, while CART held its last race at the facility in November 2002 ( a CART race was originally scheduled for the 2003 season but eventually was canceled because of wildfires in the nearby San Bernadino Mountains). The reunified IndyCar Series eventually made a four-year return to the facility from 2012-15.

Also on this date:

1960: Scott Pruett was born on this date in Roseville, California. Pruett is tied with Bill Abuerlen as the winningest driver in IMSA history, with 60 victories.

1991: Ayrton Senna finally wins the Grand Prix of Brazil, his home race. Senna went on to win his third and final Formula One World Championship later that season.

2019: Colton Herta became the youngest winner in IndyCar history by taking the checkered flag in the inaugural IndyCar Classic at Circuit of Americas. Herta was 18 years, 11 months, and 25 days old.

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Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.