BROOKLYN, Mich. (July 23, 2000) - - Casey Mears finished second place but teammates Jason Bright and Townsend Bell also played starring roles in the Detroit News 100 at Michigan Speedway, Saturday, July 22. Felipe Giaffone, of...
BROOKLYN, Mich. (July 23, 2000) - - Casey Mears finished second place but teammates Jason Bright and Townsend Bell also played starring roles in the Detroit News 100 at Michigan Speedway, Saturday, July 22.
Felipe Giaffone, of Brazil, won the race although the final laps were shrouded in controversy. 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 undeniably 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 now leads the Dayton Indy Lights Championship with 57 points. Former points leader Scott Dixon, of New Zealand, went scoreless after finishing 13th and has fallen into a tie with Mears for second place and 56 points. Giaffone's victory positioned him to stalk the top-three leaders from fourth place with 53 points.
Meanwhile, Bell quietly emerged as a bonafide title contender behind a fourth place finish. The 25 year-old Californian's competitive radar is locked in fifth place with 43 points - well within range of making a run for the top spot. Each Dorricott driver had his share of challenges at Michigan and each responded with relentless arsenals of tact and savvy. Mears, who started fourth, immediately passed Tony Renna on the opening lap for third place. He then quickly squelched any hopes outside polesitter Chris Menninga might have had when he breezed past him on lap two.
Mears' stealth moves placed him directly behind polesitter Giaffone by lap three. Giaffone and Mears then spent the next 45 of the 50-lap, 100-mile race virtually nose-to-tail with Mears frequently within 18 inches or less of Giaffone's gearbox. Speeds exceeded 186 miles per hour but "ironman" stamina and concentration from Mears made this marathon draft arguably the "mother of all drafts."
"We talked as a team before the race about running together if we could," said Mears. "That was our top priority going into the race. Once the race began, I had to adjust to whatever the field was giving. If you try too hard to get your teammates caught up with you, you generally run into problems. I called Burke (Harrison) over the radio and told him to tell Giaffone that I'd stay behind him and perhaps we'd both be there at the end to do something about it. Unfortunately a yellow flag was issued about the time I wanted to make my move."
Bright qualified fifth but suffered a slow start that caused him to fall to ninth place by lap 10 on Michigan Speedway's two-mile oval. Bright then found his way back through the 18-car field and moved into fifth place by lap 14.
Disaster struck Bright on lap 20 when Jeff Simmons, of Indianapolis, Ind., attempted a pass. Rather than complete the pass on the outside, Simmons carelessly edged from high to low on the track and aggressively contacted Bright's right front wing. Bright suffered serious suspension damage and helplessly watched his right front wing fly into the outside wall.
"Simmons drove around my outside and started to squeeze me down," said Bright. "When you're in a draft and running as low as you can there isn't any room to give. I couldn't move my front end out of his way. He kept coming down then ran his left rear tire into my right front. That move bent my suspension and tore my front wing off. I came close to the wall but fortunately avoided contact."
Bright returned to pit lane where his Dorricott Racing crew replaced the damaged nose assembly and wing in under 25 seconds. He ran another lap under the yellow flag before returning to pit lane for one more cautionary look at his damaged suspension.
"The car's damage was hard to assess right away because the push through the corners after the contact was worsened by not having a front wing," said Bright. "I was trying to get a feel on whether I had a broken suspension and it didn't feel good. After the first pit stop, I came back for another check to be sure nothing was broken. Unfortunately we couldn't bend the steering arm as straight as we wanted."
Bright began a masterful recovery when the race resumed on lap 24. Pit stops dropped him to 17th but he charged back through the field and passed Bell for fourth place on lap 43. His momentum, however, began to wan on lap 44 due to the stress from the damaged suspension.
"The biggest problem I had after I returned to the race was a push," said Bright. "I moved from 17th to fourth because I was able to find some drafting partners. Unfortunately, my drafting was weak because the push moved me outside. I lost positions through the corners and that allowed others to go around and tuck inside of me. The only way I could have stayed up front would have been to catch Casey or Townsend. Nobody else would give up anything."
Bell performed as steady as Mears and Giaffone but his early laps weren't so kind. After starting ninth, Bell was unable to break from the pack and fell to 10th place on lap four. He carefully maneuvered back through the field and into fifth place on lap 11. He was fourth place by lap 14.
Bell dropped a position or two in later laps but essentially settled into fourth place. A post-race inspection of his car, however, offered a frightening revelation that he was very lucky to finish without crashing. Sometime during the race something cut into his right rear tire that was 36 inches in length.
"I had contact with four separate cars on four separate occasions and that made it interesting at 185 miles per hour," said Bell. "I know Simmons, Dixon, and Lavin all hit me during the race but I was also tagged from behind by somebody else. My car's left front, right front, left rear and right rear were all hit. I unknowingly ran most of the race with a yard-long cut in my right rear tire. It was unbelievable that Dayton Daytona race tire didn't blow."
Post-race controversy was born on lap 48 when a yellow flag was issued for Rodolfo Lavin, of Mexico, after he lost his front wing due to earlier contact with Dixon.
"When I drove by the debris, it looked mostly off line but somebody ran over it so CART had to do something about it," said Mears. "I was disappointed that the race was ending under caution but at the same time, Tony Renna had a good run going. Things worked out in my favor but when it was said and done the gods looked down on Giaffone."
Renna submitted a grievance following the race seeking to unseat Mears from second place and drop him to third. A post-race review by Indy Lights officials initially agreed with Renna's assertions, but a protest by Dorricott Racing that was later heard by the CART Protest Judges overturned the initial petition. Mears was declared the race runner-up while Giaffone remained the race winner. Renna was informed his finish would remain third place.
The final caution period also affected Bright. Andy Boss, of Narragansett, R.I., passed Bright under the caution but it wasn't until a post-race review by Indy Lights officials that Bright was moved from 10th to ninth place. The net result was Bright gained another championship point and assumed the series lead.
"It's great to leave Michigan leading the series," said Bright. "At least we gained some points although I would have liked more. The team did a great job at getting me in and out of the pits. Without them, we wouldn't have scored a point. It's quite an interesting day when you experience a major incident at 185 miles per hour on a superspeedway oval and still move into a championship lead."
Bright also won the MCI WORLCOM Fast Pace Award and received a $1,000 (USD) bonus for running the race's fastest lap at 0:37.689 seconds = 191.037 mph on lap 33.
Bell was awarded two Dayton Daytona racing tires for being the highest finishing Indy Lights rookie driver.
Mears assumed the lead in the Bosch Platinum+4 Speedway Challenge with 26 points, three points ahead of Giaffone. The winner-take-all $10,000 Bosch award is paid to the driver that earns the most points in the year's five oval track races. Mears, in fact, won this award last year.
Additionally, Mears was named to the Racing For Kids Award and presented with a $500 bonus. An additional $1,500 will be presented to a local Children's Hospital in Mears name. Race results, team, and sponsor information are available on Dorricott Racing's official web site, http://www.dorricottracing.com. Round six of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship will be at the Target Grand Prix of Chicago from Chicago Motor Speedway (Ill.) on Saturday, July 30.