Dorricott Racing fell fractions short of a second consecutive Indy Lights championship in 2000, but its trademarks for perseverance, competitiveness, work ethic, flexibility, and unity reaffirmed its stature as the premier team in the Dayton...
Dorricott Racing fell fractions short of a second consecutive Indy Lights championship in 2000, but its trademarks for perseverance, competitiveness, work ethic, flexibility, and unity reaffirmed its stature as the premier team in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship. Simply stated, it represented the values held and practiced by its team owners, Bob and Phyllis Dorricott.
A summation of the season found Dorricott Racing placing drivers in second, third, and sixth place in the Driver's Championship for the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights Championship. As a team, Dorricott Racing proved to be the best overall team in Indy Lights in terms of production, results, and clarity of mission for a second consecutive year.
Rookie Townsend Bell, of Costa Mesa, Calif., became the season's surprise as well as the next marquee name among up-and-coming American drivers. Bell powered his way into the spotlight with two pole positions, two victories, and leading the second most laps of any driver in Indy Lights in the DirecPC Lola. Track to track consistency was his winning formula as he finished second place in the championship with 146 points - only 10 shy of winning the Indy Lights title outright.
Casey Mears, of Bakersfield, Calif., surprised nobody with his endless abilities. The 1999 Indy Lights Championship runner-up tallied two poles and one win in the Dorricott Racing/Sooner Trailer Lola. He also completed the most laps of any Indy Lights driver (635 out of a possible 639 laps) while securing third place with 141 points.
Newcomer Jason Bright, of Gold Coast, Australia, immediately impacted the series with season opening back-to-back podium finishes and highlights that included a pole, a win, numerous other top-five showings, and a sixth place finish with 91 points.
The beginning of the 2000 Indy Lights season had all the elements of another banner year for Dorricott Racing. Mears, a returning four-year series veteran, was the series highest finishing returnee from 1999 and a sure favorite to compete for the Indy Lights crown. Freshman Bright and Bell also had realistic eyes for the championship and each sported the credentials and talent to back them.
The backbone of any team, however, is its crew and Dorricott Racing's success in 2000 depended on the expertise of a veteran staff. It was a team that again was composed of members who gave selflessly in seeing that all cars were properly prepared, safely assembled, and well engineered. The engineering strategies were left in the capable hands of Alec Purdy, Burke Harrison, and Gerald Tyler. Day to day operations were overseen by team manager Roger Mears and assistant team manager Shane Seneviratne.
The title chase began at Long Beach and ended 11 races later at Fontana's California Speedway. Long Beach prefaced the future as Bright finished second place in his first career Indy Lights race. Mears, meanwhile, started sixth on the 19-car grid and quietly held then improved one position to finish fifth place.
Long Beach's "hard luck award" went to Bell. Bell started 10th and was running a solid race early. Disaster literally struck him from behind on lap seven in the form of French driver Soheil Ayari.
Ayari, who was running 11th, misread his entry into a tight corner and struck the left rear side of Bell's DirecPC Lola to literally "punt" Bell out of the race. Bell was able to avoid wall contact but the car stalled on the back straight-away. Ayari continued to pit lane with minimal damage but retired from the race nonetheless. Bell was unable to re-start the car and was saddled with a 17th place finish.
Milwaukee was next on the 12-race schedule. Bright again ran an error-free race to finish second place for his second consecutive Indy Lights event. Mears and Bell also gained ambitious momentum with respective fifth and sixth place finishes.
A pre-race mini-drama, however, nearly ended Mears race before it started. A broken gear shifter and a last minute gear change had Mears and crew on pins and needles moments before the car was to be moved to the starting grid.
"Right before we were about to grid the car, LJ (chief mechanic John Martin Jr. ) put the car in gear so it wouldn't roll forward," said Mears. "The gear shifter broke. We grabbed some super glue to quickly repair the shifter. Then I put the team through a last minute scramble when I requested a gear change. The change really helped in the race so I'm glad I made it. My crew proved again that nobody works better under pressure than they."
Detroit's Belle Isle hosted round three where Mears finished a relatively uncontested third place. Bell delivered a solid seventh place finish after starting 12th. Bright's string of good fortune ended when a mid-race collision into a tire barrier forced him to retire early.
Bright resurrected at Portland in round four by leading Dorricott Racing to a decisive "1-2" finish. Bright's first career Indy Lights victory was enhanced by the respective second and seventh place finishes for Bell and Mears. Bright, who started from the outside pole, led 37 of 38 laps to cross the finish line 0.354-seconds ahead of Bell in an essentially caution free race. The 27 year-old Australian also set an Indy Lights race record speed of 102.226 mph around Portland's 12-turn, 1.967-mile permanent road circuit.
Portland was also pivotal for Bell as he won his first career Indy Lights pole with a record-shattering qualifying lap of 1:05.275 (108.593 mph).
The high speed banks of Michigan International Speedway loomed in round five but they didn't deter Mears from finishing in second place. It was Mears' second consecutive runner-up showing at Michigan Speedway but this was a literal thrill-a-minute, edge-of-your-seat race that was arguably the most competitive, dramatic, and entertaining Indy Lights event of the 2000 season.
Post-race protests and reviews led to a shuffling of the leader board with Mears and Bright winning favorable decisions. Despite finishing a controversial ninth place, Bright led the Dayton Indy Lights Championship with 57 points. Former points leader Scott Dixon, of New Zealand, went scoreless after finishing 13th to fall into a tie with Mears for second place with 56 points. Meanwhile, Bell quietly emerged as a bonafide title contender behind a fourth place finish. The 25 year-old Californian's competitive radar improved to fifth place with 43.
Round six at Chicago Motor Speedway faded Bright's title hopes but offered a mid-season lift for Bell. Bell became the "hottest" driver in Indy Lights behind an impressive second place finish.
Scott Dixon won the 97-lap race around Chicago's 1.029-mile oval by 3.551-seconds over Bell to return to the top of the leader board. However, Bell's finish along with outside polesitter Mears in 10th place moved the talented duo into a tie for third place with 59 points. Bright was forced to sit on the sidelines at Chicago due to injuries suffered during a Friday practice session crash. Bright, who led the championship coming to Chicago, left in fifth place with 57 points.
The second half of the season began with earnest at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Bell continued his torrid pace by convincingly earning his first career Indy Lights victory. He started from the outside pole but led all 34 race laps to cross the finish line 0.381-seconds ahead of series leader Dixon. Bell's victory was enhanced by impressive finishes from Bright and Mears, who finished third and fifth place, respectively.
Mid-Ohio was also a sort of vindication for Bright. Bright was coming off a painful injury at Chicago and equally painful therapy sessions. He nonetheless won the pole with a record setting qualifying time of 1:15.094 ñ08.248 mph.
Vancouver, B.C., hosted round eight but it was a disappointing weekend for Dorricott Racing. Bell continued his string of top-five finishes with a solid fourth place showing. However, trackside mayhem from other drivers left Mears and Bright in the lurch with respective eight and 14th place finishes.
Picturesque Laguna Seca Raceway was the next tour stop and it proved bittersweet for Mears. He won his first career Indy Lights pole and then scored a second place finish to breathe new life into his season. Dixon won the race for his fifth win of the season.
Laguna Seca was nightmarish for Bell and Bright. The race endured three caution periods but the first one was indirectly responsible for Bell not being able to complete the race. A caution was issued on lap 11 for debris on the track following contact in turn two between debuting rookie Waldemar Coronas, of Argentina, and Rodolfo Lavin, of Mexico.
Bell, who started 11th, had fallen a couple of positions on the race start but he slyly maneuvered up into the top 10 by lap 10. Disaster struck on the lap 15 re-start Derek Higgins, of Ireland, and Bell came together.
Higgins attempted an inside pass of Bell while entering the 180 degree second corner and drove his right front tire into Bell's left side tub and rear tire. The impact jettisoned Bell off course and into the turn two wall. Higgins continued to a 14th place finish while Bell was unable to continue and relegated to an unjust 18th place. Bell was uninjured in the incident.
"Higgins was very aggressive on that re-start," said Bell. "He tried to stuff his wheels inside me in turn two even though I had beaten him to the spot and he wasn't as fast through the corners. His wheels struck mine and shot me into the nearby wall. I'm sure he has a different point of view but that's what I saw and that was it."
Bright, meanwhile, fell from the race pace on the start and lost a couple of positions after qualifying ninth. He, battled back but the "pass unfriendly" nature of Laguna Seca impeded much improvement. Bright was forced to settle for eighth place.
Round 10 at St. Louis's Gateway International Raceway was "all Dorricott, all day," as Dorricott Racing finished an unprecedented Indy Lights race finish of first, second, and third place.
Bell started from the pole and led the Dorricott charge in flying flag-to-flag for his second Indy Lights victory of the season. Meanwhile Mears and Bright finished second and third place, respectively. No three-car team in the 15-year history of Indy Lights had ever swept the top three spots in a single race. Furthermore, no team in recorded motorsports history has ever finished first, second, and third place in a race with each respective car number in the sequential order of one, two, and three. Bell drove the No. 1 DirecPC Lola. Mears was in the No. 2 Dorricott Racing/Sooner Trailer Lola, while Bright piloted the No. 3 car.
Bell crossed the finish line 6.757-seconds ahead of Mears after leading all 79 race laps race around Gateway's 1.27-mile oval at an average speed of 125.507 mph. Of utmost important to all three Dorricott drivers, series leader Dixon failed to finish the race. Dorricott Racing remained in the title hunt.
With the season literally hinging on round 11 at Houston, Mears took control of his destiny by winning the pole, dominating the race, and capturing his first career Indy Lights win in four seasons of active Indy Lights competition. Houston was also his fifth podium finish in 2000.
Mears maneuvered through the 1.527-mile, 10-turn downtown street circuit in a caution marred race that lowered the average race speed to 68.017 mph. He crossed the finish line 1.241-seconds ahead of Bell, who started on the outside pole. Bright's day became a proverbial nightmare when he became entangled in a four-car melee on lap 21. Bright's misfortune cost him a 16th place finish.
California Speedway was the final stop for the 2000 Indy Lights circuit and a good race for Bell. He started 14th then put on a show that was "second to none" as he diced his way through an 18-car field to earn second place and secure runner-up honors in the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights Championship.
Dixon won the race and, in turn, the Dayton Indy Lights Championship. Dixon led 48 of the 50-lap race around the 2.029-mile superspeedway oval to set an Indy Lights track record average race speed of 183.672 mph. Bell, however, came within a 0.016-seconds of catching Dixon at the finish line. Mears had an "up and down day" after starting third but held on for a fourth place finish. Bright languished to a season concluding 14th place.
2000 was a solid year for Dorricott Racing. The team represented high values on and off the track. It continued to set the standard for championship teams in Indy Lights. At a minimum, Dorricott Racing became recognized as a team that had "come of age."
James R. Hyneman