California: Doran-Lista race report

Doran-Lista's Theys and Lienhard Jr. make It three for three in Grand Am Competition at California Speedway Saturday. FONTANA, Calif., March 23 - With Didier Theys of Scottsdale, Ariz. and Fredy Lienhard Jr. of Erlen, Switzerland and Santa ...

Doran-Lista's Theys and Lienhard Jr. make It three for three in Grand Am Competition at California Speedway Saturday.

FONTANA, Calif., March 23 - With Didier Theys of Scottsdale, Ariz. and Fredy Lienhard Jr. of Erlen, Switzerland and Santa Barbara, Calif. behind the wheel, the Doran-Lista Racing team of Lebanon, Ohio continued its perfect record in the Grand American Rolex Series Saturday at California Speedway, posting its third straight victory in the series from its third straight pole position.

It wasn't easy, however.

Theys had to charge through the field not once but twice. Lienhard had to fight off Chris Dyson in a spirited battle. The team had to change its engine even before the race started, and they had to change a flat right-front tire during the late stages of the race. After that the car's water temperature indicator flashed a warning, making the car's radiator suspicious. (There were reports that the car was leaking water, but later the telemetry straightened out.) Mother Nature affected the event too, with cold temperatures and even rain sprinkles at various times during the four-hour, 142-lap race.

Theys finally got the lead for good just 10 laps from the finish by simply running down the Dyson Crawford of James Weaver and Chris Dyson. Dyson was behind the wheel at the time, and Theys passed him with an inside move going into turn one.

The Doran-Lista team's margin of victory over the Dyson team was one lap.

The drama started early. The team decided to change its Judd engine as a precaution before the race after some of the telemetry foretold a potential problem. The rules stipulate that any team that changes its engine must give up its qualifying spot and report to the rear of the starting grid, so Theys had to carefully make his way up through the complete field once the green waved.

He flew. He was in seventh place by lap four; third by lap five and second by lap 15. He took the lead for the first time on lap 32 when Weaver pitted for fuel, tires and to let Dyson drive.

Theys pitted on lap 36 for fuel and to give the wheel over to Lienhard.

"I had no trouble really getting up through the field; I just had to take it easy," Theys said after his first stint. "At the beginning it was a little bit of a handful because it's a cold day and we're running a relatively hard tire compound in order to get two stints out of one set of tires. But there the last 10 or 12 laps or so I could stand on it and the balance of the car is now perfect."

Lienhard kept that lead, but it wasn't easy. A full-course caution for debris allowed Dyson to draw near, and on lap 56 the pair crossed the start/finish line side by side. Lienhard hung tough and fought Dyson off, and two laps later Dyson spun.

"I was surprised because I knew he was behind me, but all of a sudden he was right there beside me," Lienhard, who at 22 was making his first pro start, said later. "I thought, 'Just take it easy and everything will go well. Don't get nervous.' So, I just forgot about him and it worked. He got alongside me, but I think I was always ahead by at least one wheel. I don't think he ever passed me, but it's hard to tell."

Lienhard was still leading when he pitted for fuel and tires and to allow Theys to retake the wheel on lap 75. While that pit stop was going on the Dyson team retook the lead, but when the #16 had to pit itself on lap 83, Theys was able to regain the lead a lap later.

"I wanted Didier to take over because the races that I'm used to running are a lot shorter, and I was starting to lose my concentration," Lienhard said. "The races that I'm used to running are 20 minutes or a half-hour long, so this was enough for my first pro race.

"Plus, my dad said to take it easy," he added with a smile.

A little past the lap-100 mark the Doran-Lista #27 had nearly a half-second lead over the Dyson #16. Theys pitted for tires and fuel on lap 112 and lost the lead, but he regained it when the #16 pitted on the very next lap.

Less than 10 laps later, however, Theys radioed in that he had a puncture.

At first the team wanted to only change the flat tire, but that wasn't obvious on the pit stop on lap 119 so the crew changed all four tires. Upon examination later, it was the right front that had developed the hole.

That stop gave the lead and a 44-second advantage back to the Dyson #16. Dyson spun and then regrouped on lap 122 to allow Theys to cut the advantage to 20 seconds, and then Theys just proceeded to run Dyson down.

"This is a winning pace," Kevin Doran reported over the radio to Theys on lap 126. "This pace will give us time to win."

He was right, and Theys whittled down Dyson's advantage until he was able to make the winning move with 10 laps to go despite the water temperature scare on lap 133. Dyson spun in turn three at the very end, which padded Theys' advantage to almost a minute.

"It was a good race and it is great that we ended up with good results," Theys concluded. "Mr. Dallara builds a very good car and Kevin Doran is the best in car preparation. My teammate, Fredy, drove very well and our crew had great pit stops. Now we'll try to go on from here!"

-dlr/lm-

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers James Weaver , Didier Theys , Fredy Lienhard , Kevin Doran , Chris Dyson