Hornish hopes for more speed, fortune

Updated: July 24, 2004, 7:03 PM ET
Associated Press

WEST ALLIS, Wis. -- Sam Hornish Jr. believes he can control 95 percent of what it takes to win races in the IndyCar series. The other 5 percent is giving him trouble this season.

"That other 5 percent is luck, not necessarily luck as in the horseshoe, but not being involved in other people's problems and being in the right place at the right time,'' Hornish said Friday after his first practice laps for Sunday's race at The Milwaukee Mile. "We just didn't have that at the beginning of the season.''

After taking the series championship in 2001 and 2002 and winning three races last year, Hornish comes into the Menards A.J. Foyt Indy 225 with just one victory in 2004 and no poles. The 25-year-old driver is in fifth place in the series standings, 125 points behind leader Tony Kanaan with eight races to go.

And Hornish, winless since the season-opening race, admits to poor driving at times. But bad luck also has hurt.

In the Indianapolis 500, the race the IRL's all-time winningest driver desperately wants to win, Hornish was taken out when Greg Ray and Darren Manning crashed in front of him and completed just 104 of 200 laps.

"Anything that could happen bad on the track happened right in front of us,'' Hornish said.

But he's in better shape at this point in the season than last year, when he won a race in August and two in September after improving his engine. At the end of the season, he left Pennzoil Panther Racing for Marlboro Team Penske.

In his last four races, Hornish has finished in the top 10 three times, including second last Saturday night in Nashville, Tenn.

And he said many of the races remaining are on tracks that suit his driving style -- including The Milwaukee Mile, where IndyCar Series debuts Sunday. He remembers coming to the track as a child. His mother, JoEllen, grew up in Milwaukee, and his grandmother lived here until about a decade ago.

Hornish likes the mostly flat oval's short straightaways and tight turns. He had the fastest practice speed of 164.868 mph during testing in mid-June.

But on Friday, teammate Helio Castroneves' practice speed of 166.150 was much faster. Hornish was ninth-fastest with a speed of 163.757.

Scott Dixon had the second-fastest lap, behind Castroneves and ahead of Vitor Meira.

There were two minor crashes during the afternoon practice sessions. A.J. Foyt IV, grandson of four-time Indy 500 winner and race namesake A.J. Foyt, hit the wall in turn four after just one lap. Kosuke Matsuura hit the wall in the same turn about 15 minutes later. Neither was hurt.

Castroneves expects a tough race. He said passing was very difficult and drivers were trying dozens of different lanes in practice.

"It's a big challenge,'' he said.

He also pointed to the track's history of Indy-style racing, which began with two events in 1911 featuring 10 drivers from the first Indianapolis 500.

"It's awesome to be back here,'' he said. "Everybody knows this place.''

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press