1999 SEASON REVIEW -- WHELDON COMPLETES BRITISH INVASION, TOPS CAMIRAND FOR F2000 CHAMPIONSHIPS
FAIRFIELD, N.J. (Nov. 10, 1999) -- In 1999, Dan Wheldon gave England something more to cheer about in the U.S. F2000 National Championship Presented by Speedvision. After years of chassis dominance by English manufacturer Van Diemen, Wheldon became the first British--and European--driver to take the title, but not without a fight from the best North America had to offer.
The 10th season of U.S. F2000 competition started with a race which would be representative of the way the remainder of the season would go. Reigning Rookie of the Year Marc-Antoine Camirand (No. 96 Key Motorsport Van Diemen Ford) took the opening round but rookie sensation, Wheldon (No. 5 Jayhard/Primus Racing Van Diemen Ford), surprised everyone with his speed at his first-ever oval race finishing second, with Steve Rikert (No. 4 Richard Morgan Racing Van Diemen Ford) finishing third. Camirand, Wheldon and Rikert would never fall out of the top-three in points, but the three shuffled positions for the remainder of the season.
Wheldon came from England looking to win the Rookie of the Year title, and went home with the Championship. While most expected him to be quick on the road courses, he was impressive with his quick grasp of oval racing. Wheldon started the session off in fine form, posting two second-place finishes and capturing his first career win in his second U.S. F2000 race. Wheldon dominated the oval rounds to capture the IRL-sponsored Road To Indy Oval Crown Championship. Other than a crash in the first part of the Mosport doubleheader and a disastrous Road Atlanta doubleheader (two mechanical failures) he was on the podium every single race. Wheldon went on to win six races, including the final three, post 11 top-10 finishes, four pole positions and score 315 points to capture the Championship by 49 over Camirand.
"Racing with Primus [Racing] as the number one driver, I was after the Championship right from the start," said Wheldon. "I knew winning the Championship would be tough, but thought both the team and I were up to the task. Winning the Championship is very special. I've won a lot of races, but never won a championship in my life. My engineer John Hayes honed me into a champion this year and I really need to thank my team."
Coming into the 1999 U.S. F2000 season, Camirand was viewed by many as sure bet to battle for the Championship, which he solidified with a dominating run at the opener in Phoenix. As the season progressed, Camirand showed both savvy and experience--particularly evident when the pressure was on. Upon his first trip to his native Canada, the 19-year-old led the most laps and won the race at Mosport. However, it was the race in his home town of Trois-Rivieres, Quebec which would prove to be his shining moment. Under media and hometown pressure usually reserved for CART drivers, Camirand dominated the weekend capturing the pole position, leading every lap, posting the fastest race lap and winning the race. Camirand won three races in 1999, recorded six podium finishes and two poles. In the end though, his title aspirations came up short due to inconsistency, finishing second in the Championship with 266 points.
Rikert was a model of consistency all season. He started the season with nine straight top-10 finishes, with a season highlight of his win at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Rikert's season-long consistency secured third in the Championship with 201 points off of 11 top-10s and three podium finishes.
T.J. Bell (No. 23 Eldorado/Bell Helmets/Cape/MiR Van Diemen Ford) parlayed his natural speed into some great drives in 1999. While he never captured that elusive win he did post seven top-five finishes and three podiums. Bell finished fourth in the standings, with 199 points.
Rookie Mark Dismore (No. 13 Monster.com Van Diemen Ford) had what, under normal circumstances, might have a been a Rookie of the Year season, if not for his teammate Wheldon. En route to a fifth place finish in the 1999 Championship, Dismore displayed that his dad (IRL driver Mark Dismore) isn't the only one with talent in the family. Dismore posted eight top-fives, three podium finishes and one pole position, at his home track of Mid-Ohio.
The 1999 U.S. F2000 season saw the debut of the new French-built Mygale chassis in America, with considerable success experienced by Bobby Oergel (No. 19 DSTP/Quicksilver Mygale Ford). While developing the car as the year progressed, Oergel was still able to be competitive week in and week out, capturing the marque's first ever pole position at Lowe's Motor Speedway. In the final season for the team in U.S. F2000 (moving up to KOOL/Toyota Atlantic in 2000), Oergel posted three podium finishes, five top-five finishes and 195 points for sixth in the final standings.
As the year progressed it became apparent that Daniel Muniz (No. 7 Texaco-Havoline/Visa Aval Van Diemen Ford) was a driver to be watched. In his rookie season with Primus Racing, Muniz got quicker at each race, and broke through to the podium in the final race, with a second at Sebring. Muniz completed more laps than anyone (352 of a possible 362), and was presented the Mid-Ohio School Driver Achievement Award.
Jonathan Bottoms (No. 3 Roppe/Team Great Northern Van Diemen Ford) didn't make it back to victory lane in 1999, but he found consistency to go with his speed to post 10 top-10 finishes and finish with 145 points, eighth in the Championship.
The U.S. F2000 National Championship has propelled drivers to the upper echleons of racing. Not suprisingly the class of 1999 will continue this trend. One driver moving up is Rolando Quintanilla (No. 40 Quaker State/Tecate/Transportes Quintanilla Van Diemen Ford). Quantinalla used seven top-10 finishes, one podium finish and ninth place finish in the Championship to secure a ride in the PPG- Dayton Indy Lights series in 2000.
While only competing nine of the 14 races in 1999, Aaron Justus (No. 24 Torco Racing Lubricants/Cape/MiR Van Diemen Ford) finished tenth in the Championship. Justus was fast whenever he competed, recording two wins (Lowe's Motor Speedway and Road Atlanta) and four poles in nine events.
Many have branded him a perfect test driver, but Andy Lally (No. 72 Tyrolean Auto Sport Carbir Ford) is great race driver too. Joining the new Carbir factory team mid-season Lally immediately paid dividends, capturing the marque's first-ever win at Road Atlanta. Lally would post five podium finishes en route to 11th in the Championship.
One of the biggest surprises of the season was on the Mid-Ohio CART weekend, when Irishman and Eddie Irvine-prodigy Jeff Wright (No. 24 Cape Motorsports car) stunned the field by capturing his first- ever win in only his second U.S. F2000 race in a rain soaked affair. Wright looks to return to the series full-time in 2000.
Guy Cosmo (No. 12 KC Trade Insurance/Nordan Composites/Valvoline Van Diemen Ford) captured the eight-race 1999 American Continental Championship for older cars, topping Mike Durand and Brett Harrison.