VANCOUVER, B.C., Canada (Sept. 3, 2000) - A day that started with incredible potential faded in disappointment for Dorricott Racing and drivers Jason Bright, Casey Mears, and Townsend Bell at the Molson Indy Vancouver, Sunday, Sept. 3, in...
VANCOUVER, B.C., Canada (Sept. 3, 2000) - A day that started with incredible potential faded in disappointment for Dorricott Racing and drivers Jason Bright, Casey Mears, and Townsend Bell at the Molson Indy Vancouver, Sunday, Sept. 3, in round eight of the 12-race Dayton Indy Lights Championship.
The start of the 42-lap race around Vancouver's 1.781-mile temporary street circuit was disastrous for Bright, of Gold Coast, Australia. Chris Menninga, of Pella, Iowa, literally "railroaded" Bright against the wall in the first corner moments after the race began. Menninga, who started 13th in the 17-car field, made an uncontrolled dash along the inside of the front straight-away but lost control while braking into turn one. Bright, who started ninth, made every effort to avoid contact but was tagged when Menninga slid past. Menninga ended up against the tire barriers alongside another innocent victim, Luis Diaz, of Mexico. CART officials immediately issued a full course caution.
"I was watching for incidents as I approached the first corner on the race start," said Bright. "Chris Menninga lost control behind me so I tried to move as far left as possible so he could slide past me on the inside. He still hit me. You'd think after a couple of years of running this level a fellow would know what not to do on a race start particularly entering the first turn. It's frustrating. It damaged our championship hopes but fortunately didn't eliminate them. It was bad enough that we had a lot of trouble in practice and qualifying this weekend. We predictably thought we could make up positions during the race. Being taken out on the first lap in the first turn isn't something we can fathom."
Bright's chances to score championship points ended in turn one. He was able to return to pit lane for extensive repairs of the steering elements and front suspension before resuming the race on lap 17. Bright dropped to fifth place in the Indy Lights championship with 72 points.
Bell's race start was less portentous. The 25-year old Indy Lights rookie from Costa Mesa, Calif., started fifth but maneuvered into fourth place before the end of the lap. It proved to be a shining moment and pivotal in his pursuit of an Indy Lights Championship. Bell's pass secured a fourth place finish and 12 valuable championship points to keep his title hopes afloat while in second place with 92 points. Race winner Scott Dixon, of New Zealand, maintained his hold on first place with 113 points.
"I was able to slip inside Jonny Kane at the start but that was it for my passing," said Bell. "For whatever reason, I didn't have the straight-away speed I needed to challenge Simmons or Dixon. I only caught Simmons when he made a mistake and he didn't make many. I pressured him but he ran a solid race. I'm happy to score double-digit points and move on to Laguna Seca. I'm still in the hunt for a title and I'm fortunate there are four races remaining for me to catch Dixon."
Bell extended his lead for Indy Lights Rookie-of-the-Year to 20 points over his closest challenger Bright, 92-72.
It proved to be a discount day for Mears too. The talented Indy Lights veteran from Bakersfield, Calif., was unintentionally short changed by Menninga's first lap crash. Mears had begun a first lap charge after starting 12th and had already moved to 11th when the yellow flag was issued. Mears was poised to pass a few more cars but the yellow flag improved him three positions to eighth nonetheless. Vancouver's tight quarters, however, prevented Mears from moving any higher. His eighth place finish earned five championship points and placed him fourth place overall with 74 points.
"Considering how the weekend went it's positive that we were able to make the necessary improvements to field a competitive car," said Mears. "I had to deal with more push than I wanted but it was manageable. We overestimated the degree of push the car would have during the race. My engineer, Burke Harrison, did a great job of making last minute changes to the set-up that helped minimize what would have been horrible push. All in all, it was one of those weekends where we just had to hang in there and earn whatever points we could."