HOUSTON, Texas (Sept. 29 2000) - Rookie Jason Bright (Dorricott Racing Lola) established the track record for the Dayton Indy Lights Championship Friday at the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston where CART's top-rung development series made its...
HOUSTON, Texas (Sept. 29 2000) - Rookie Jason Bright (Dorricott Racing Lola) established the track record for the Dayton Indy Lights Championship Friday at the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston where CART's top-rung development series made its Texas debut.
Bright drove one lap around the 1.527-mile track at an average speed of 83.336 mph (65.964 seconds) and topped a field of 16 other drivers. Geoff Boss (Cross Pens/Lacoste/ITIS Lola) had the best run of his 2000 season to take second on the overnight grid with a lap at 83.247 mph (66.035 seconds) while Mario Dominguez (Herdez "Viva Mexico" Lola) nailed third spot with a lap at an average speed of 83.010 mph (65.233 seconds).
"We've made key improvements over the last couple of races," Bright said. "A couple of mechanical problems got in our way (in the last street race) at Vancouver. We had a much better car than we showed. We caught up on missed testing after St. Louis. We headed straight to Topeka after Gateway. I think we learned more in that one day of testing than we had in most of our testing for the year. We're finally back to where we were before we crashed at Chicago. We fell in the points in quite a hurry so I'm sure we can move back up in a hurry. We've had some hard times in a couple of races and it's come back to bite me. I've had five podiums out of the seven races I've finished, but three DNFs will kill you every time. This track is certainly bumpy. It's something we addressed at Topeka. We worked to make our shock package as good as it can be on a rough track. We're running a much better shock package than we ran before. The first practice was on a green track. We made a couple of changes for qualifying and the new rubber laid down from the Champ Cars helped. I was able to make my best time on our first set of tires. There's probably more left in the car."
Boss has not recorded a top-five all season, but appears headed for a turn around at Houston. The street course layout is similar to the Molson Indy Toronto circuit where Boss dominated for his only series win last year.
"We did not test anywhere before coming here," Boss said. "The engineer that I have had the past three races is also doing work for an Atlantics team. So we had been here before and knew something about the track and particular what to set up for in theory, the bumps. I think that has helped because we rolled off with a pretty good car this morning and we made just a couple subtle changes for this afternoon which I believe help a lot."
Dominguez has a season's-best finish of third at Milwaukee but was hoping for more success this year. He may also be on the brink of ending the season on a high note at Houston.
"This season has been full of ups and downs," Dominguez said. "This race is very important because of all the people we have here and this is our home race (for Mexico). There is more pressure at this race because everybody wants us to perform well here but I think everybody is working good toward winning our first race of the season."
Both Boss and Dominguez recorded their fast laps in the final three minutes of the session that were run after a lengthy caution for an accident involving Tony Renna (Motorola/PacWest Lights Lola) and Andy Boss (Cross Pens/Lacoste/ITIS Lola). Neither driver was injured but the downtime forced teams to decide on going back out or saving their race cars and tires until Saturday's final session. Among the drivers not returning to the track was Jonny Kane (KOOL Lola) who had been fastest in morning practice and was second quickest at the time of the qualifying caution.
"It is looking promising as we were quickest this morning and second quickest just before we stopped for the red flag," Kane said. "Now we have two new sets of tires for tomorrow so we will have to decide whether to keep them both for qualifying or run one set in free practice. We didn't go out at the end as we decided that we could probably go quicker than we had already but I didn't think that we would get the very best out of the tires. There is only a couple of laps when you can get a good time out of them so I think it is better to save them for a good go tomorrow. We are in good shape but it is going to be very close tomorrow."
Derek Higgins (Mexpro/PrecioBase.com Lola) qualified fourth fastest at an average speed of 82.905 mph (66.307 seconds) in just his fourth race start with Team Mexpro. If the time holds, it will be the best qualifying for the first-year Mexpro team. Felipe Giaffone (Hollywood Lola) rounded out the top five at an average speed of 82.858 mph (66.345 seconds).
Casey Mears (Dorricott Racing/Sooner Trailer Lola) was seventh fastest.
"Jason's car found the grip we've been searching for," Mears said about his teammate Bright. "We'll compare notes in debriefing and possibly make some adjustments based on those conversations. The car is so close to being where I want it for this circuit but we haven't found the final bits of the puzzle to make it really competitive."
Championship contenders Townsend Bell (DirecPC Lola) and Scott Dixon (Invensys/Powerware/PacWest Lights Lola) were not in the front half of the field Friday. Bell clocked in eighth fastest while Dixon struggled with an electrical problem in morning practice and a fuel pressure problem in qualifying and is a distant 14th in the field.
"We've definitely improved from practice but we still have too many unresolved problems that are affecting the car's overall performance," Bell said. "I think the car is handling well enough to be a top-five qualifier but we have to make the most out of fine tuning the car. I didn't run a clean lap so that didn't help either. We deserve to be where we are right now."
"We've just had problem after problem today so I'm obviously not very pleased with our position," Dixon said. "This morning we lost a lot of time because of an electrical problem. We had no dash lights, no shift lights, etc. We were able to fix that problem between sessions, but now we've got a problem with our fuel pressure. There is something inside the tank that is malfunctioning, so we need to correct that problem tonight. If there is a bright side, we've still got another day of practice, qualifying, and we still have two sets of tires for qualifying tomorrow."
Sunday's Dayton Indy Lights race will be telecast on ESPN2 one week from today, Oct. 8, at 6 p.m. ET (3 p.m. PT).