ROUGH DAY AT CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY FOR DORRICOTT TRIO; SERVIA ESCAPES BACK-STRAIGHT CATASTROPHE
FONTANA, Calif. (Nov 1, 1998) - - A race that oozed with incredible potential fell short of fulfillment for Philipp Peter, Oriol Servia, and Bud Kaeding in the 14th and final event of the 1998 PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship at the California Speedway, Saturday, Oct. 31. Posture and position became the focus of the 50-lap race around California Speedway's 2.029-mile high speed oval as polesitter Tony Renna was quickly joined by teammates Mark Hotchkis and Felipe Giaffone midway through the first lap. Peter, who qualified fifth, missed out on the swiftly formed draft and fell to seventh place on lap one. The next two laps remained uneventful but the fortunes of Servia, who started 11th, dramatically changed on lap four.
The 26-car field compacted as it entered the back straight-away with Servia in the middle of a three-car wave near the center of the straight-away. The inside car closed any available lower line for Servia, who was subsequently struck on the outside by Brazilian driver Sergio Paese. As Paese's Lola began to slide sideways and in front of Servia, Servia's Catalonia/Elf/RACC/ Heritage Bank/SyberVision Lola perpendicularly lodged to the left side of Paese's car as both cars careened down the back straight at speeds exceeding 180 m.p.h. Servia's car then literally crawled up and over Paese, striking Paese on his head, and continuing airborne. Servia narrowly avoided an end-over-end flip before landing on all four tires and sliding to a stop on the grassy infield hundreds of feet from the initial impact. Both drivers were miraculously uninjured.
"I felt good about the way the race was developing until the crash," said Servia. "I felt I had the set-up and power to catch the front row. The car's performance was strong and probably good enough to challenge for a top spot. Then I found myself sandwiched between a couple of cars and the space between our wheels closed. The next thing I knew, I felt wheel contact and the car flew into the air.
"The crash played out so fast when I left the ground, but then it felt like a half an hour when I was airborne. I was so excited that I felt everything. Life around me seemed to be in slow motion even though I know it was happening fast. Then I started to think about how and when I was going to hit the ground. At least the car didn't flip over."
When the race resumed on lap 11, Peter was 11th and maintained that position for the next four laps before moving into 10th place on lap 16. The characteristic "give-and-take" of high speed oval racing allowed Peter to align and draft with a couple of others during the next four laps in which he boosted himself to seventh place on lap 20. Peter held in seventh place through lap 25 before a break in his drafting dropped him to 10th.
Kaeding, in the meantime, worked through early "ups and downs" and broke into the top 20 on lap 27 when he moved to 17th. The remainder of the race was a lap-by-lap ebb-and-flow for the 18-year-old Indy Lights rookie and sprint car star, who finished 16th after starting 15th. Peter continued to fluctuate between 10th and 16th place during the second half of the race, and finished 12th place in his Sebring/Red Bull/ESTEBE/SyberVision Lola.
"I learned too late how to best pace myself for this type of race" said Peter. "I lack experience on superspeedways. I missed maybe three-quarters of the race at Michigan when a tire blew. "I was able to stay sixth, seventh, or eighth at the beginning, but then Felipe Giaffone put me down to the white line and I lost positions. I also had problems shifting from fourth to fifth gear. It was forcing me into the rev limiter. Otherwise, the car ran well for the most part. I was only 1.366-seconds behind first place but I definitely need more experience in high speed oval racing with this type of car. Position and placement is critical. I tried to follow the cars in front of me that were running well and keep the right distance."
Peter addressed another concern that was echoed by Kaeding regarding too many drivers failing to pay attention to whom and how many cars were immediately around them.
"There were too many people trying to overtake without watching who was beside them," said Peter. "There were plenty of times when I had to lift off the accelerator to avoid contact, which only set me back."
Despite finishing 25th and scoreless for the race, Servia's season ending 73 points placed him seventh place in the PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship. The 25 year-old Catalonian also finished third place in the Indy Lights Rookie-of-the-Year standings. Guy Smith claimed rookie honors with 110 points.
Peter's 12th place showing scored one championship point and secured 11th place in the Indy Lights championship with 62 points. Dorricott Racing is a year-round professional motorsports organization based at Sears Point International Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.