Lynx Racing Long Beach Preview

Celebrating its 25th anniversary with a season-opener at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 4, the stepping-stone KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship is a tangle of new cars, new tires, new rules, new teams, a new sanctioning...

Celebrating its 25th anniversary with a season-opener at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 4, the stepping-stone KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship is a tangle of new cars, new tires, new rules, new teams, a new sanctioning body and a small army of new drivers. Insiders expect an interesting season, and give the opening weekend a 50/50 chance of turning into either comedy or drama, possibly both. If there is an oasis of relative calm in the middle of this storm of change, it is Lynx Racing, the 'driver development' team owned by Peggy Haas and Jackie Doty. Lynx has won the Atlantic championship the last two years in a row and is the front-runner to start the season with a win. The team's 1997 Atlantic championship winner, rookie Alex Barron, has departed to drive for Dan Gurney's All-American Racers this season, but Memo Gidley, who won two races and finished second overall in 1997, also his rookie season, is returning with a year's worth of experience under his seat belt. Gidley will be partnered on the Lynx Atlantic team in 1998 with Buddy Rice, who had a standout season driving for the Lynx Racing 'junior team,' DSTP Motorsports, in the U.S. F2000 Championship last year. Those changes aside, the main structure of this unique and successful team returns unchanged, including team manager Steve Cameron and engineer Jim Griffith. The team has even kept its championship-winning car from last year to fall back on... just in case. "Finishing 1-2 with a pair of rookies last season gave the team a lot of useful experience in coping with the unknown," says Gidley, 28, of Novato, California. "The biggest lesson we learned last year was how to get the most out of the resources and time available, which was really useful in the off-season because the new cars were late and there weren't enough tires for testing and it rained every time we scheduled a test day. So we focused on getting the new car figured out as quickly as possible and on making sure last year's cars were ready to race. We still haven't decided which car we'll use at Long Beach, but it probably won't even matter because in circumstances like this the best team will win, and that's why I'm smiling." Despite his 'new guy' status on the Lynx Racing Atlantic team, Rice has three useful advantages. First, Lynx and DSTP Motorsports have the same team manager (Steve Cameron) and engineer (Jim Griffith) so he's familiar with the people and procedures. Second, the crew likes him and thinks he's a winner, which is no small matter when you're at the track until midnight trying to figure out how to get another half-second out of the car. And third, he and Gidley genuinely like each other, which will accelerate his learning curve dramatically. "Having everybody already on the same wavelength at the start of the season is a huge advantage," says Rice, 22, of Phoenix, Arizona. "People think that having the fastest car is all it takes to win a race, but the chemistry of the team is just as important, because if everybody isn't working together, youre not going to have the fastest car. The relationship between a driver and his engineer is another thing that's important, and Jimmy G (Lynx engineer Jim Griffith) and I get along really well. Lynx finished 1-2 last year with Memo and Alex both rookies, and I'm not sure how we can improve on that, but well be trying." The Atlantic series will compete this season in new 'spec' open-wheel race cars built by Swift, equipped with a CART-style 'sequential' gearbox and new 15-in. Yokohama tires (vs. 13-in. in previous seasons). In limited pre-season testing, last year's Ralt RT-41 (still legal for competition in 1998-1999), fitted with the new tires, proved to be about a second per lap faster than the new Swift. Several rules changes designed to handicap the Ralts and make them slower than the Swifts have been drafted and may or may not be implemented for Long Beach; consequently, top teams who kept last year's cars will be waiting until the last possible minute to decide which car to run in the race. Adding more variables to the Long Beach mix are several new teams, no fewer than 13 rookies and a change of series sanctioning bodies from SCCA to CART; CART is in the process of using its IPO funds to purchase the Indy Lights series from Pat Patrick, and an announcement of the Atlantic series sale to CART is expected shortly. The series is currently co-owned by Vicki O'Conner and Player's/Forsythe team owner Gerry Forsythe. CART is also shopping for a driving school, probably Skip Barber, to complete the creation of a 'ladder' for young drivers to climb. KOOL/Toyota Atlantic activities leading up to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach include a mandatory two-day 'spring training/pre-qualifying' for the 40+ cars entered; and at least a few won't make the cut because the track at Long Beach won't accommodate so many cars. The sesssion will take place Monday-Tuesday, March 30-31 at the Buttonwillow track outside Bakersfield, California. At-the-track action starts with an 8:00-8:30 a.m. practice session, Friday, April 3. Preliminary qualifying will take place 4:45-5:15 p.m. Friday afternoon. Final qualifying to set the starting grid for the race takes place 12:00-12:30 p.m., Saturday, April 4, with the 38-lap race scheduled to take the green flag at 4:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon. The event will be televised on ESPN2, Saturday, April 11, 4:30-5:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Lynx Racing, now entering its ninth year of operation, is a uniquely successful driver development team owned by two women, Peggy Haas and Jackie Doty. The team is dedicated to seeking out young drivers with championship potential and helping them make the jump to the top levels of the sport. Lynx Racing's 1995-1996 driver, Patrick Carpentier, won nine of 12 races -- eight of them in a row from the pole -- on his way to the 1996 Atlantic championship. He went on to win the 1997 CART "Rookie of the Year" award with the Bettenhausen/Alumax team and will drive for Player's/Forsythe in 1998. In the first race of the CART season, at Homestead, Florida, he ran as high as fifth before finishing 11th. The team's 1997 driver, Alex Barron, in only his second year of racing cars after a long, multi-championship career in karting, won both the series championship and the "Rookie of the Year" award. He was quickly signed by Dan Gurney's All-American Racers and finished 17th at Homestead, the highest-finishing Toyota-powered car. Also in 1998, Lynx Racing continues its relationship with the first female driver in the team's history, an 18-year old karting champion from Kennewick, Washington named Sara Senske. She races in the ultra-competitive Star Formula Mazda Championship, driving a car sponsored by Lynx Racing and fielded by S3 Racing. In her first race of the season, with the IRL cars at Phoenix on March 21, she qualified on the front row, 1/100th of a second off pole, set the fastest race lap and finished fifth. For further information, please visit the Lynx Racing web site at:

http://www.lynxracing.com

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Series Atlantic
Drivers Memo Gidley , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Barron , Dan Gurney , Skip Barber , Steve Cameron