FONTANA, Calif. (Oct. 31, 1999) - - Two years ago, Oriol Servia left his native Catalonia, in Spain, to pursue a dream of one day driving in the CART FedEx Championship Series. His avenue of choice was the PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship. Servia's most important achievement to date in attaining his goal was realized Sunday, Oct. 31, when he captured the 1999 PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship at California Speedway.
Although race honors went to Jonny Kane, who flew flag-to-flag for the victory, the drama of the weekend revolved around Servia and teammate Casey Mears, of Bakersfield, Calif. Mears entered the 12th and final round of the '99 Indy Lights season trailing Servia by 14 points, 130-116. A variety of finishing possibilities could have brought the title to either Servia or Mears.
Servia started on the outside pole while Mears started eighth. Dorricott Racing teammate Philipp Peter, of Monte Carlo, Monaco, started third. Polesitter Kane led the first of 50 scheduled laps around the 2.029-mile oval before Servia passed him for the lead on lap two. Servia's title hopes appeared dangerously threatened on lap four when an engine misfire plummeted Servia's Catalonia/RACC/Elf-sponsored Lola to as low as 18th during the next nine laps.
While Servia was dropping positions, Mears sliced through the field with the aid of a short caution period. A yellow flag was issued on lap 13 for debris in turn three. The race cleanly re-started on lap 15 where Mears moved to fourth place in turn one and third place at the exit of turn two. Mears then passed Ben Collins for second place on lap 17. Servia languished in 18th. Peter was caught outside the draft during the preceding two laps and dropped to 11th.
A second caution period was called on lap 24 when Ireland's Derek Higgins tangled with Englishman Guy Smith when Smith clipped Higgin's front wing with his with his right rear tire. Higgins continued but Smith's tire shredded sending him into the wall. Smith recovered from the wall and guided his car to a stop on the infield grass in turn four. He was uninjured. Higgins pitted twice in the next two laps to attached a new front nose assembly without dropping off the lead lap. Mears was in fourth place through the caution. Peter had improved to eighth.
A lap 30 re-start played well for Mears as he quickly jumped to third place and into second place by lap 32 before another yellow flag was issued. A crash in turn four with Rolando Quintanilla, of Mexico, caused the race's third caution period. Quintanilla was uninjured but Mears was forced to pit when he detected a vibration with a tire. Mears crew changed his left rear tire and then returned to pit lane one lap later for a last safety check.
The green flag waved on lap 40 but Mears had dropped to 15th. Servia was back up to 13th while Peter was seventh place. That was when Mears began to mount his patented "through the field" charge in a last ditch effort to catch and pass Servia.
Within three laps, Mears leaped past five cars, including Servia, to assume 10th. Title hopes for Mears, however, came to a close on lap 47 when a yellow flag for debris on the track was issued. The race re-started on a mixed green and white flag. Peter finished 10th place followed by Mears in 13th and Servia in 14th. Peter's ninth top-10 finish this season secured third place in the Indy Lights Championship.
"It was the most frustrating race of my life," said Servia. "My engine lost much of its power on the fourth or fifth lap. It ran awful in low revs but it worked well with higher revs. I couldn't maintain the motor too well during the cautions because it couldn't handle the lower rpm's. Cars that shouldn't pass me ripped by and there was nothing I could do about it. However, the whole point of this season was to win the Championship, and that has made it my greatest year in racing."
The race featured 13 official lead changes between five different drivers, and 48 unofficial lead changes during the 30 laps of green flag racing. Kane crossed the start-finish line 0.049-seconds ahead of Collins.
Indicative of how fast Mears was closing on the leaders during the waning laps was found in his fastest race lap. Mears recorded the fastest lap of the race with an official lap time/speed of 0:37.721-seconds = 193.643 mph on lap 45. Indy Lights records suggest this was the fastest officially clocked lap in Indy Lights history.
When all was said and done, Dorricott Racing completed one of the most spectacular seasons in the Indy Light history in claiming an unprecedented first, second, and third place in the championship. A number of other records were established that will be reviewed in a later release.
Mears received a $1,000 bonus as recipient of the MCI/WORLDCOM Fast Pace Award. He also clinched the Bosch Platinum+4 Speedway Challenge and its winner-take-all purse of $10,000 with a total of 70 points accumulated in this year's oval track races.