Scott Dixon won the 2003 IRL IndyCar Series after finishing second to Gil de Ferran in the final round - the Chevy 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway - but the race ended in a subdued atmosphere following a serious accident involving Kenny Brack and Tomas Scheckter on lap 188.
Brack was trying to pass Scheckter for third place when he made contact with the Target Ganassi car. Brack's car became airborne and broke apart against the safety fencing. Scheckter was unharmed but Brack was airlifted to Parkland Hospital in Dallas where he was reported to be in serious but stable condition.
With a large hole in the fence and a crowd of rescue workers trying to free Brack, the race was shortened by five laps. De Ferran, who said his dream was to win his final race, accomplished that, and Dixon, determined to add the IRL championship to his growing list of racing conquests, also reached his goal.
"It's been a strange year," Dixon said. "We've had lots of ups and downs. I think we could have tied it up pretty easily if he hadn't had small little problems. Championships are meant to be very difficult to win, and I'm glad it went our way."
De Ferran finished second in the final standings, 18 points behind Dixon. Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan, eliminated from contention when their wheels touched late in the race, finished third and fourth in the points, respectively. Sam Hornish Jr. faded to a 17th-place finish with mechanical trouble and finished fifth in points.
Dan Wheldon finished third in the race and claimed the IRL's rookie of the year prize. Vitor Meira, Bryan Herta and Scott Sharp rounded out the top six. But the spoils belonged to Dixon, the 23-year-old newcomer, and de Ferran, the 35-year-old veteran in his final race.
"I feel very grateful and fortunate to be able to do what I do and experience the emotions that I have been able to experience over the years," de Ferran said. "It really has been a wonderful journey, I have to say. For it to finish this way - winning the pole position and a victory and nearly a championship - is something that I will carry with me for many years to come."
Brack was airlifted to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, where he was listed in serious but stable condition and was reported to have suffered multiple fractures. He reportedly spoke with his wife, Anita, and Team Rahal officials before being transported to the air ambulance.
For de Ferran, the emotional send-off was completed by wise strategy. Forced to pit twice after his car was slightly damaged when Felipe Giaffone crashed midway through the race, de Ferran was able to save fuel while running in the pack, then stay out and assume the lead when the front-runners pitted.
"I was going down the grass at 200mph thinking, 'Okay, this is not much fun,'" de Ferran said. "I had some concern that I was going to end up in pit lane. Thankfully, none of that happened. ... From there, I really concentrated on saving fuel. I knew if I did that, my last stop was going to be very short. As the lead guys started to come into the pits for fuel, I turned the heat back on.
"From an emotional standpoint, it's hard," de Ferran said. "I'm being pulled every different direction. Here it is my last race, I won, but there's a big crash. I apologise for being a bit sombre."
Brack, who won the CART season finale in 2002 for Ganassi, was on the mind of members of Sunday's championship team, too.
"It was a bit of a problem for me," said Mike Hull, Ganassi's managing director. "It's great to hear he's okay. A great deal of the reason why we won this championship is Tomas Scheckter. To see what happened to those two guys today, emotionally, it means a lot to us. It's a very personal thing."
Other drivers had to deal with the emotions of missing a championship by a small measurement. Kanaan, most notably, appeared to have the car to win the race until his left rear and Castroneves' right front rubbed together on the 180th lap.
"Things like that can happen," Kanaan said. "It wasn't mechanical; it wasn't my fault. Things like that can happen, and, unfortunately, it happened to us today."
Wheldon, Kanaan's teammate with Andretti Green Racing, scored the rookie of the year award by outrunning Roger Yasukawa. It was Wheldon's sixth consecutive top-10 finish and his third straight top-five. "The last four or five races, this car has handled very well on superspeedways," Wheldon said. "Fortunately, we were able to run up front all day."
Abu Dhabi / Results
Standings / After 17 races
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|Emilia Romagna||Imola||18 Apr|
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Berlin / Results
|2||Nyck de Vries||47m23.447s|
Standings / After 11 races
|1||Antonio Felix da Costa||158|
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|Diriyah||Diriyah||26 Feb 2021|
|Diriyah||Diriyah||27 Feb 2021|
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