DETROIT (October 24) - Dorricott-Mears Racing teammates Oriol Servia (Catalonia/RACC/Elf Lola) and Casey Mears (Sooner Trailer/American Racing Custom Wheels Lola) will wage a final battle for the series title when the PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship closes its 1999 season this weekend at California Speedway.
The 50-lap/100-mile Indy Lights sprint on the two-mile superspeedway, which is being presented by The Los Angeles Times, will set the stage for Sunday's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota which in turn closes the FedEx Championship Series season on CART's final race weekend of the year. The PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship is completing its 14th season as the "Official Development Series" of CART.
The Indy Lights race is scheduled to start at 9:50 a.m. PT on Sunday and can be seen later that day in a one-hour show on ESPN2 at 6:30 p.m. ET (3:30 p.m. PT). An encore telecast will air later Sunday evening at 11:30 p.m. ET (8:30 p.m. PT).
Servia, a 25-year-old series sophomore from the Catalonia region of Spain, has led the championship since June but missed a chance to clinch the title last month at Laguna Seca Raceway, where Mears, 21, finished ahead of him. Servia leads Mears by 14 points heading to Fontana, 130 - 116, and they are the only drivers still alive in the championship after 11 of 12 races.
Although several championship scenarios could play out, Mears realistically needs to score his first race win if he has any chance of catching his teammate.
If Mears scores the maximum 22 available points - 20 for a win and single bonus points for winning the pole and leading the most race laps - Servia can still claim the crown by finishing fifth. If neither driver earns the pole point in Friday's qualifying, Servia's magic number drops to a sixth. If both drivers fail to score bonus points, Servia needs only to finish in seventh place to earn his first North American motorsports title.
Broken down another way, Servia - the series pole leader with three top qualifying efforts - can clinch if he earns either bonus point and finishes seventh. If he sweeps both bonuses, Servia only needs to finish eighth to take the crown.
But what if Servia fails to finish in the points at all in Fontana? Mears still needs to finish at least second or couple one bonus point with a third-place showing. All tiebreaker scenarios favor Servia, unless Mears wins.
Although the odds are against him, Mears has the right bloodlines and superspeedway experience to pull of a championship-winning victory. He is the nephew of legendary Champ Car driver Rick Mears and the son of Dorricott-Mears team manager Roger Mears, an accomplished driver in his own right. Casey challenged for the lead in the Indy Lights races at Fontana the last two years and barely missed his first win at Michigan Speedway - California Speedway's sister facility - last July. He crossed the line just .002 of a second behind winner Philipp Peter (Red Bull/Remus/ESTEBE Lola) in one of the closest finishes in recorded motorsports history.
Peter, an Austrian, is the third driver on the powerhouse Dorricott-Mears team. He is out of title contention but has won three races this season (Long Beach, Portland & Michigan), the only driver from the team to score a victory. His title hopes faded after some poor results on the short oval tracks this season, but Peter can still mathematically edge Mears for second in the championship. He led all but one race lap in the Michigan victory.
Joining the three Dorricott-Mears drivers as favorites for the Fontana win is Brazilian Felipe Giaffone (Hollywood/Comet Lola). He finished second at Fontana last year and placed third at Michigan in July. Giaffone also heads to the high-speed California track with two teammates for the first time at Conquest Racing. Giaffone and rookie Chris Menninga (Cambridge Health/Mi-Jack Lola) will be joined by debuting Mexican driver Rolando Quintanilla (Telmex/Tecate/Quaker State/Transportes Quintanilla Lola), a 19-year-old Pepperdine University student with oval track experience in Formula Ford 2000 and Formula Mazda competition. Quintanilla is the son of Roberto Quintanilla, a regular Indy Lights competitor in the early 1990s.
Peter joins Derek Higgins (Quaker State Mexico Lola) as the year's only multiple race winners with victories at Milwaukee, Cleveland and The Detroit News Challenge. His rookie teammate Mario Dominguez (Herdez/Quaker "Viva Mexico" Lola) also scored a victory for Team Mexico Quaker Herdez when he led every lap from the Sea-Doo/Ski-Doo pole at Miami, his very first race on an oval. His best race since then was at Michigan where he charged from sixth to fourth on the last lap.
Scott Dixon (Diagem/Speedbet Lola), another 19-year-old, is fourth in the championship with 88 points and leads the Rookie of the Year standings by 20 points. The New Zealander led every lap from the Sea-Doo/Ski-Doo pole to win his first North American race in Chicago on August 22. His teammate Ben Collins (Hays Home Delivery Services Lola) is also in his rookie season with Johansson Motorsports.
Three other race winners join Peter, Higgins, Dominguez and Dixon so far in 1999. Airton Dare (Banestado Lola) won on the Nazareth Speedway oval in April while Didier Andre (Motorola/Playstation Lola) scored one race ago at Laguna Seca. The other winner is American Geoff Boss (Cross Pens/Powerware/Lacoste) who led every lap from the pole to win in Toronto, his first Indy Lights triumph and the first for Lucas Place Motorsports. He joins his brother and teammate Andy Boss, who drives an identical Cross Pens/Powerware/Lacoste Lola, at Lucas Place.
Mears, Menninga and the Boss brothers lead a series-high entry of seven drivers from the United States for the California finale. Three are from California including Mears, of Bakersfield, Long Beach's David Pook (Sage & Clay/Quickline Lola) and Santa Monica resident Cory Witherill (WSA Health Care Lola). The final American is Tony Renna (Motorola/PacWest Lola), last year's pole winner at Fontana who went on to finish third in the race. Renna was a late entry for injured rookie Boris Derichebourg who broke his leg in a passenger car accident in Paris earlier this month. Renna's last start was at Toronto with PacWest in July.
Another rookie contender is Jonny Kane (KOOL Lola) who won the pole at Michigan in July. His top finish of the season was third on the Detroit road course in August.
Veteran Rodolfo Lavin (Corona/Modelo Lola), who qualified and finished a career-best eighth at Michigan in July, completes the California Speedway entry.