SUNNYVALE, Calif. (Oct. 25, 2000) - Two things are certain as the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights Championship is decided this weekend at California Speedway in The Indy Lights 100, Presented by the Los Angeles Times. First, Dorricott ...
SUNNYVALE, Calif. (Oct. 25, 2000) - Two things are certain as the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights Championship is decided this weekend at California Speedway in The Indy Lights 100, Presented by the Los Angeles Times. First, Dorricott Racing's Townsend Bell, of Costa Mesa, Calif., and Casey Mears, of Bakersfield, Calif., are looking to cap one of the greatest comebacks in Indy Lights history by winning the driver's championship. In turn, Dorricott Racing is chasing its second consecutive Indy Lights crown. Second, teammate Jason Bright isn't the least biased in which teammate wins the title as long as he wins the race. This year's Indy Lights season closer marks the fourth appearance of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship on the 2.029-mile oval in Fontana, Calif. A pre-registered field of 18 drivers representing six countries is expected to take the green flag at 9:30 a.m. (PT) for 50 laps (101.45 miles), setting the stage for the CART FedEx Championship Series Marlboro 500 later that day. What makes this a historic race is it is the closest championship to be decided in a season finale in the 15-year history of Indy Lights. The script is simple but the drama has mounted during the past three races. Coming to Fontana, New Zealander Scott Dixon leads Bell by four points 134-130. Mears is only five points shy with 129 points. No other driver has a chance to win the Indy Lights championship, but never in series history has a decision come down to three drivers in the final race of a season.
Dixon appeared to have the championship in hand after a ninth round victory at Laguna Seca Raceway. He was on cruise control at that point with a commanding 42-point lead over second-place Bell, 134-92. Mears, who won the pole and finished second place at Laguna Seca, was in third place with 91 points. Three events remained. Then a strange thing happened as Dixon and the Indy Lights series began to set their eyes on the year-end Awards Banquet at the Ontario Convention Center. Somebody failed to tell Bell, Mears, and Dorricott Racing's crew that they didn't have a chance for the title. Dixon then contracted a severe case of "racing heartburn." He failed to scored a point in the next two races at St. Louis and Houston. An error in St. Louis teamed him with a wall. A crash he didn't cause pricked him in Houston. Meanwhile, Bell won the pole and race at St. Louis with Mears finishing in second place. They reversed positions at Houston with Mears winning the pole and his first career Indy Lights race while Bell secured second place. The result was a 38-point positive swing for both. It's worth noting that Bell and Mears have been consistent oval track performers this season. In 326 oval laps run to date, Bell and Mears have completed 325 and 322 laps, respectively. Furthermore, Mears overall consistently in finishing races is evidenced by his completion of 585 laps out of a possible 589 to date.
California Speedway will also mark Casey Mears' Champ Car debut. Three-time Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) champion and Team Rahal owner Bobby Rahal is providing Mears the opportunity to drive a third Team Rahal entry at Fontana. Mears will pilot the No. 91 WorldCom/Team Rahal Ford-Cosworth XF Reynard.
"I am very pleased that Casey has been given the opportunity to drive a Champ Car at Fontana through the joint efforts of Team Rahal and WorldCom," said Dorricott Racing owner Bob Dorricott. "This will be a tremendous challenge for Casey to be competing for the Dayton Indy Lights championship and driving his first Champ Car competition on the same weekend. It takes a very special driver to be able to focus on two entirely different race cars over a race weekend. I believe Casey has that ability."
Bright, of Gold Coast, Australia, is seeking to improve his overall series standing. Although he and Tony Renna are currently tied for fifth place, a victory at Fontana could vault Bright as high as fourth place in the Indy Lights championship. Momentum may be on his side. Bright is returning to the U.S. after a heralded and successful Champ Car debut at Surfers Paradise. Bright was running as high as fifth place late in the race before suffering damage to his car that was caused by a crash in front of him. Bright won at Portland in June following consecutive second-place finishes in the season opening events at Long Beach and Milwaukee. He was also third place at St. Louis. Bright has qualified well too. Besides starting fifth at Michigan in his first career superspeedway race, he opened his Indy Lights campaign by starting third at Long Beach, second at Milwaukee and Portland, fifth at Detroit, and eighth place at Laguna Seca. He set a track record in winning the pole in round seven at Mid-Ohio before finishing third place.
Same day televised coverage of the Indy Lights season finale will be on ESPN2, Sunday, Oct 29, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. ET (3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. PT). An encore showing will air on ESPN2 on Tuesday, Oct. 31, at 4:00 a.m. ET (1:00 a.m. PT).