DETROIT (Sept. 27, 2000) - Points leader Scott Dixon (Invensys/Powerware/PacWest Lights Lola) will have a second chance to clinch the Dayton Indy Lights Championship driver's title when CART's top-level development series debuts this weekend at...
DETROIT (Sept. 27, 2000) - Points leader Scott Dixon (Invensys/Powerware/PacWest Lights Lola) will have a second chance to clinch the Dayton Indy Lights Championship driver's title when CART's top-level development series debuts this weekend at the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston. The Texas race, the first Lone Star State appearance of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship in the 15-year history of the series, is Round 11 of twelve races on the 2000 schedule.
A 50-lap (76.350 miles) Dayton Indy Lights sprint on the 1.527-mile street circuit at 12:30 p.m. local time on Sunday will set the stage for the featured Texaco Grand Prix of Houston FedEx Championship Series race that runs later that afternoon. The Dayton Indy Lights race will be telecast on ESPN2 on Sunday, Oct. 8, at 6 p.m. ET (3 p.m. PT).
Dixon, who has a 20 point lead on nearest challenger Townsend Bell (DirecPC Lola), 134 - 114, needs to gain two more points on the competition at Houston to clinch his first North American auto racing title. Any combination of finishes that sees Dixon leave Texas 22 points in front - the maximum available in the year's final race at California Speedway, Oct. 29 - will give the 20-year-old New Zealander his fifth auto racing title in seven years. Following CART's point system, an Indy Lights race win is worth 20 points with single bonus points awarded to each race's pole winner and lap leader. Ties are broken by total race wins, which gives Dixon, the year's only multi-race winner with five victories, the edge.
Dixon faced identical circumstances one event ago in Round 10 at Gateway International Raceway, Sept. 17, but failed to finish a race for the first time this season when he hit the wall between Turns 3 and 4 while running second to Bell in the early going. Dixon was uninjured, but lost more than half of his points lead to Bell who led every lap from the pole for his second win of the season. Needing just two points to clinch, Dixon instead earned none for just the second time this season while Bell did all that he could by scoring his first 22-point sweep.
Gateway is the only blemish on an otherwise outstanding season for Dixon. Driving this year for PacWest Lights in his second Indy Lights season, Dixon won the year's opening races at Long Beach and Milwaukee and picked up a victory at Chicago for the second year in a row in July. He then scored back-to-back wins at Vancouver and Laguna Seca Raceway earlier this month to build a seemingly insurmountable 42-point championship lead heading into Gateway.
Bell took full advantage of Dixon's miscue and has emerged as the New Zealander's strongest challenger in the second half of the season. Bell kept second-place finisher Dixon behind him to win his first race at Mid-Ohio last month and also maintains a healthy lead in the Rookie of the Year standings. Bell currently has a 23-point lead in the rookie points race over Dorricott Racing teammate Jason Bright (Dorricott Racing Lola) and will wrap up the first-year driver award at Houston if he finishes ahead of Bright. In addition to Bell, Bright and two other drivers remain mathematically alive in the overall championship. Bell's other Dorricott Racing teammate Casey Mears (Dorricott Racing/Sooner Trailer Lola) and Bright finished second and third, respectively, at Gateway, the first time one team has swept the top-three finishing positions in an Indy Lights race. Mears remains a distant threat in the championship with 107 points in third place while Bright is hanging on with 91 points in fifth position. Mears has finished second in the last two races and three times in total this season in addition to winning his first pole at Laguna Seca. Bright, who won at Portland in June, briefly led the championship by a single point following Round Five at Michigan Speedway in July only to be sidelined with a lower back injury in a Friday practice crash one race later at Chicago. Bright, an Australian, is the only driver other than Dixon to lead the championship this season.
Mears spent last week testing CART Champ Cars with Team Rahal and Target/Chip Ganassi Racing as he eyes moving up the ladder next season. He ran with Rahal at California Speedway and joined the Target team at Firebird International Raceway near Phoenix.
The only other driver still factoring into the points race is Michigan winner Felipe Giaffone (Hollywood Lola) who is fourth in the standings with 97 points. Although his title chances are slim at this stage of the season, Giaffone is having the best season of his four years in Indy Lights. In addition to the Michigan win, the Brazilian has three other podium finishes and a pair of poles at Michigan and Vancouver.
The year's only other race winner is reigning Rookie of the Year Jonny Kane (KOOL Lola) who was eliminated from championship contention after Laguna Seca. Although Kane dominated from the pole to win at Detroit, he has endured an up-and-down season, and his championship bid never recovered from missing the Chicago race after a qualifying accident left his race car beyond repair for the weekend.
Dixon's teammate Tony Renna (Motorola/PacWest Lights Lola) and Kane's KOOL partner Jeff Simmons (KOOL Lola) have also shown well in the series this year. Renna has finished no lower than sixth in the last seven races in a streak that includes season's best, back-to-back third-place finishes at Michigan and Chicago. Simmons, who challenged Bell for the rookie title earlier in the season, also recorded back-to-back third-place showings at Vancouver and Laguna Seca in addition to finishing third earlier in the season at Portland.
Austin, Texas native Chris Menninga (Mi-Jack Lola) won his first pole at Chicago and had one of his best races of the season at Gateway where he finished fifth. His top 2000 finish was fourth at Milwaukee. Menninga is teammates with Giaffone at Conquest Racing.
Bell, Mears, Simmons, Renna and Menninga are part of a series-high entry of seven Americans heading to Houston. Brothers Geoff Boss (Cross Pens/Lacoste/ITIS Lola) and Andy Boss (Cross Pens/Lacoste/ITIS Lola) complete the line up, driving for Lucas Motorsports. The U.S. currently leads the Dayton Indy Lights Nation's Cup standings by 28 points over Dixon's single-handed effort on behalf of New Zealand that has produced 134 points. The U.S. will clinch the award for the second straight year if Dixon cannot move New Zealand to within 22 points of the Americans in Texas.
Mexico also has a strong entry of five drivers set for Houston, a group led by 1999 Miami winner Mario Dominguez (Herdez/Pegaso/Quaker State Lola). Dominguez has a season's best finish of third at Milwaukee. Other drivers from Mexico heading to Houston include veteran Rodolfo Lavin (Corona/Modelo/SportsYA.com Lola) and rookies Luis Diaz (Quaker State Lola), Rolando Quintanilla (Telmex/Prodigy Internet Lola) and Rudy Junco (Mexpro/PrecioBase.com Lola). Dominguez and Diaz are teammates at Team Mexico Quaker/Herdez, Lavin drives for Brian Stewart Racing and Quintanilla is teammates with Giaffone and Menninga at Conquest.
Junco teams with veteran Derek Higgins (Mexpro/PreciBase.com Lola), a four-time Dayton Indy Lights race winner who is running five of the year's final six races with the first-year team. Higgins gave the first-year Mexpro team its best results to date with seventh-place finishes at Mid-Ohio and Vancouver.