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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Andretti United team names drivers for inaugural Extreme E season

Extreme E drivers Andretti
Extreme E
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The Extreme E team formed by Andretti Autosport and United Autosports named Catie Munnings and Timmy Hansen as its drivers Monday for the series’ inaugural 2021 season.

Munnings is a successful veteran of rally series. Hansen is a past winner and champion in the World Rallycross Championship.

They both will race in the environmentally conscious electric SUV series that will hold events in five areas around the world that are threatened by climate change. Chip Ganassi Racing and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton also are fielding cars in Extreme E, which will feature male and female co-drivers on every team.

Catie Munnings

“I’m so excited to join Andretti United Extreme E,” Munnings said in a release. ““I was really intrigued when I first heard about Extreme E, I just knew I had to be involved. The male / female racing partnership is a fantastic and exciting new concept. The season has incredible locations and the racing will be very exciting. It will be a new challenge for the teams and drivers, and I’m so thrilled to be working with such a strong team.

“The championship is a really innovative concept, it’s combining motorsport and science and will produce an important legacy in each race location. Bringing the platform that motorsport has in line with the awareness that the planet needs right now is awesome and a really important message.”

Timmy Hansen

Said Hansen: “Going into the Extreme E will be a new chapter in my career, one that I am extremely excited about. It is something brand new, not only for me, but the whole of motorsport. The format is something

we’ve never seen before. I’m also delighted to be able to carry the message of something bigger – talking about the environment and doing something good for the world – that’s something that really drives me. It’s going to be a big adventure in life to see these locations and I’m going to do my best in carrying this responsibility and hopefully making people aware of the challenges we have in the world, together with our passion for racing.”