1999 - A COMING OF AGE FOR DORRICOTT RACING
(SUNNYVALE, Calif.) - - If a standard for high achievement could be established for the PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship, Dorricott Racing's three-car effort in 1999 would arguably be that standard. It was a team that will be remembered for its perseverance, work ethic, flexibility, and unity. It was also a team that delivered measurable results that in many cases were unparalleled in Indy Lights history. In short, 1999 PPG-Dayton Indy Lights champion Dorricott Racing was the result of many years of experience, leadership, and inspiration from its owners, Bob and Phyllis Dorricott.
The season started with an upbeat when the Dorricott's introduced a crack three-man engineering staff composed of Alec Purdy and Ray Minato, and overseen by veteran open-wheel engineer Alain Clarinval.
Dorricott Racing took another fateful step soon after when it merged with Team Mears, of Bakersfield, Calif. Part of the merger included the addition of talented driver Casey Mears to Dorricott's returning driver line-up of Oriol Servia, of Pals, Catalonia, Spain, and Philipp Peter, of Monte Carlo, Monaco.
The infusion of new equipment, personnel, experience, and knowledge further expanded when former Team Mears manager and co-owner Roger Mears agreed to become team manager of Dorricott Racing. Mears was a proven motorsports champion, ranging from Indy cars to NASCAR Super Trucks and punctuated by his legendary off-road racing career. His managerial experience in off-road and Indy Lights competition offered a unique perspective that Dorricott Racing couldn't resist.
Bob Dorricott's public welcome and acknowledgment of Mears as team manager proved nearly prophetic of pending success when Dorricott said, "Having Roger Mears join Dorricott Racing as team manager places the final touch on what is developing into an extremely talented ensemble of racing professionals. Roger possesses all the key intangibles and professional experience to successfully run every aspect of a team's operation, both on and off the race track."
The unlikely union of drivers Oriol Servia, Philipp Peter, and Casey Mears became the envy of opposing team owners. Each driver repeatedly exemplified throughout the 12-race season the importance of team over self - an attitude notoriously absent among other multi-driver teams. Perhaps of greater importance to each driver was a deep bond of friendship that formed between them and was rooted in trust and respect.
Most of Dorricott Racing's success in 1999 can be traced to dedicated team members who gave selflessly in seeing that all cars were well prepared, safely assembled, and well engineered.
1999 PPG-Dayton Indy Lights champion Oriol Servia is the first to say he would not have won the championship if not for the outstanding performances of Clarinval and chief mechanic Andy Nagy. Nagy directed talented mechanic Kerry Dunn, and mechanic/truck driver David (Hoser) Hughes in preparing Servia's No. 32 Catalonia/ RACC/Elf Lola.
Casey Mears proved his driver prowess in the No. 30 Sooner Trailer/American Racing Wheels Lola, but the expertise of Minato and chief mechanic Dave Smith propelled him in the right direction. Veteran mechanic Fritz Kroyer and mechanic/truck driver Mike Wagner provided the wear-for-all needed to overcome a variety of mechanical challenges.
Philipp Peter's handiwork was supported by Purdy's engineering and the capable leadership of chief mechanic and Dorricott Racing crew chief John Martin Jr. Mechanic Bill Dieterle and shock specialist Eric Jones succeeded in making Peter front-runner competitive by race start.
Truck drivers Todd Allen and Jimmy Robinson employed multiple skills ranging from overall car preparation to electrical and internal video maintenance. Robinson also assume duties as team chef. Team members, guests, sponsors, and media were particularly treated by Robinson's delicious and freshly prepared meals at each venue.
Shane Seneviratne assumed duties of assistant team manager alongside his role as Dorricott Racing's systems analyst. Seneviratne's logistical management and computer expertise proved an invaluable asset in day-to-day team operations. Championship chemistry showed early but certain instances stood out. Dorricott Racing's first major test came at Homestead where race week began shakily when Peter crashed on the first day of a two-day, series administered test session early in the week. Peter's No. 31 Red Bull/Remus/Estebe/Chicco d' Oro Lola was essentially "totaled," but the crew prepared another car in time for Friday's official practice sessions. Misfortune struck again when he crashed during the second of three official practice sessions. Peter suffered severe bruises to his left foot and knee while his car was irreparably damaged.
After sitting out Saturday's practice and qualifying sessions, the team decided it would prepare another car for Peter. A virtual "team all-nighter" created a car suitable to start the race albeit from the rear of the 17-car field. Sore knee, foot, and muscles notwithstanding, Peter participated in the morning warm-up and ran an error-free race to finish 13th.
"I was pleased get into the race (Homestead) but the success was my teammates," said Peter. "They were the ones that stayed up all night to put my car together and prepare it for the race. They were the most supportive in encouraging me to race if I felt physically capable. The team did a great job at providing me the opportunity to even be in the race. It was tougher for them than it was for me."
Milwaukee offered another challenge when the Mears crew discovered a blown cylinder in the motor during the pre-race warm-up. The entire team scrambled to replace the broken motor with a new one - and very little precious time to do so. A complete engine change was accomplished in 70 minutes allowing him to make the grid. Mears, who qualified sixth, was literally rolled onto the track as the rest of the 19-car field had been given the command to "start" their engines. He was allowed to assume his starting position by blending into the field as it came around the one-mile oval on the second pace lap. Mears finished second place.
"We lost a cylinder during the final laps of the warm-up session," said Mears. "We didn't even know how bad it was at the time because I was already slowing. We didn't know we were facing a last minute motor replacement situation until a little later when the crew began running their engine check. It was remarkable how the entire team became involved in changing the motor. It just wasn't my crew. All the crew members from all three Dorricott cars came together and did an amazing job."
Individual achievements were closely tied to the crews dedication for superior results. A starring example came at Michigan Speedway in one of the most exciting and historic races in PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship history. Peter and Mears literally battled nose-to-tail for more than 96 miles before Peter prevailed over Mears by a scant 0.002-seconds - the closest race finish in the history of Indy Lights and CART-sanctioned events.
The previous closest victory in Indy Lights history was when Calvin Fish defeated Mike Groff by 0.028-seconds at Nazareth Speedway in 1988. The former record for the closest victory in CART-sanctioned history was Mark Blundell's 0.027-second victory over Gil de Ferran at Portland in 1997. 1999 was historic for the PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship due to the record breaking and record creating success of Dorricott Racing. It was a team that stood above all others and likely set the standard for many seasons to come. At a minimum, Dorricott Racing was recognized as a team "coming of age."