NA-F2000: Highcroft Racing Phoenix Preview

Highcroft Racing's Multi-Car 'Super Team' Is Structured for Success NEW MILFORD, Conn., March 16 - U.S. Formula 2000 driver and team owner Duncan Dayton has structured his New Milford, Conn.-based...

Highcroft Racing's Multi-Car 'Super Team' Is Structured for Success

NEW MILFORD, Conn., March 16 - U.S. Formula 2000 driver and team owner Duncan Dayton has structured his New Milford, Conn.-based Highcroft Racing Ltd. into a potent multi-car "super team" in the U.S. Formula 2000 series, following a similar path as teams like Roush, Yates, Hendrick and Sabco have taken in NASCAR Winston Cup.

All three of Highcroft Racing's drivers - Andy Lally of Northport, N.Y.; Jeff Shafer of North Hollywood, Calif.; and North Salem, N.Y.-based Dayton himself - are strong contenders to win any U.S. Formula 2000 race this year. And anyone who runs up front consistently has a good chance to win the championship in this 14-race open-wheel series, a primary training ground for Indy car hopefuls.

Dayton finished third in the 1997 F2000 point standings. The only two drivers who ranked above him are competing at the next level (SCCA KOOL/Toyota Atlantic and PPG-Dayton Indy Lights) in 1998. He has the most F2000 experience of any returning driver to the series this year, and there's no substitute for experience.

Dayton hand-chose two outstanding young drivers to be his teammates for 1998. They hail from different sides of the country; one is dark-haired and the other is blonde. But their similarities far outweigh their differences. They were born only nine days apart 23 years ago last month. They both want to win races and they both want to win the 1998 U.S. Formula 2000 national championship. They both have their hearts set on an Indy car career, and they're both very, very fast.

Lally finished fifth overall last year and was the series' "Rookie of the Year." He completed more laps than anyone else, 98.1579% of the total laps possible.

Shafer finished 12th overall in 1997, and like Dayton he had one victory.

Although winning races with an eye toward the championship is the objective of all three of Highcroft Racing's drivers, Dayton is running a three-car team primarily to achieve another goal - to sell race cars. Highcroft Racing Ltd. is the official importer of a brand-new chassis in U.S. Formula 2000 competition called the Bowman BC5. Running three cars in each event will provide much more data more quickly in testing and under race conditions than fielding just one car would, speeding the chassis' development and its allure to potential race car buyers.

The approach is working, because the Bowman chassis' initial foray into U.S. Formula 2000 competition turned heads. Van Diemen has been the dominant chassis since the series' inception. Other new chassis have made headlines in the series - most notably the Vector a few years ago and the Tatuus and the Nemesis last year - but none of the other newcomers had the number of cars that the British-built Bowman BC5 had at its debut.

There were five Bowmans entered in the U.S. F2000 season opener Jan. 23 at Walt Disney World Speedway in Florida, and two of them ended up in the top 10. Lally had the best results, qualifying tenth and finishing third for the first podium finish for both himself and Bowman in the series. Shafer started 15th and finished seventh. Dayton started third, just .012 of a second off the front row and only .233 of a second off Thiago Bezerra's new track record. He was running fourth in the race when he received a stop-and-go penalty for not being aligned correctly on a restart, and he ended up 23rd in the final rundown.

Another Bowman in the race, driven by series newcomer Dan Della Penna, was 25th. His car is fielded by AIM Motorsports, which also plans to field a Bowman for Anthony Simone this year. (Simone was involved in a heavy crash in practice and elected not to run the race.)

"Disney was a great learning experience for us," Dayton noted. "We were pleased to get off to such a great start, and now we're just going to get better and better."

Besides increasing the chances of success, the biggest advantage for a team in having multiple cars in one race is the opportunity to share information. Dayton stresses this area is where Highcroft Racing is going to pave the most new ground.

"Other new chassis manufacturers have done well in Formula 2000, but in most cases the best results have come primarily with one factory car," he noted. "There are going to be no secrets between us and our customers. If we hit on something that works, we're going to be walking down the pits as fast as we can to tell the other Bowman drivers. We are really going to support our customers. That support is what makes a Bowman the best buy."

Bowman Race Cars is headed by Vic and Steve Hollman, who have experience with kart, Formula Ford, Formula 3 and Formula 1 teams. The BC5 was designed by Sergio Rinland of the Benetton Formula 1 team, who has worked for several other F1 teams and Dan Gurney's CART champ car team.

"There are some really good people who want to make the Bowman go fast," noted Shafer. "They have plenty of resources and knowledge. I think the Bowman will be better than anything else by the end of the season just because of the people behind it, and it will be better than anything else even faster than that with a little luck.

"All the elements of a great racing team are there at Highcroft," he added. "On a good day anybody on the team can win. We've all proven ourselves to be front runners, and in my opinion the cars have the best people behind them to win races."

"The quality of the Bowman is exceptional," Lally agreed. "It's a great car to drive and it's easy to set up. With Jeff, Duncan and myself there is great potential for three front-running drivers to work together and benefit the team greatly. There is a lot of learning and a lot of teaching going on. Everyone tries different things and then we report back. If one guy finds one thing that works well, then we'll put it on all the cars. Everyone has the same goal: to go fast. I'd like to be in the top five in points leaving Phoenix, and my personal goal is to win the championship."

The Phoenix race which Lally mentioned is the second round of the 14-race series, a 50-lap event on the fast 1-mile oval at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) at noon this Sunday, March 22. Other events on the schedule, which is subject to change, are: a doubleheader at the Metro-Dade Motorsports Complex in Homestead, Fla. May 16-17; a doubleheader at Watkins Glen International in New York on May 29-30; the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course June 14; the Minneapolis street course June 28; a doubleheader at Charlotte (N.C.) Speedway July 24-25; Mid-Ohio again on Aug. 8; Atlanta Motor Speedway Aug. 29; and a doubleheader at Pikes Peak Int'l Raceway in Fountain, Colo. Sept. 26-27. The series uses oval superspeedways, road courses and street courses so that drivers get experience on various types of tracks.

Dayton and Shafer's only F2000 victories came at Phoenix last year, but on that complex's 1.51-mile road course, not the oval. Dayton led all the way in a Van Diemen for his victory last April, setting a new track record in the process. Shafer's triumph came in the lone Nemesis in the field in the other half of that doubleheader, which was only his fourth F2000 race ever.

Dayton started seventh in the F2000 race on Phoenix's oval last year. He finished second and set the fastest lap of the race at 129.203 mph, a new track record. He almost won the race too, finishing just 0.1 of a second behind Buddy Rice.

"I think we were faster than Buddy, but he got a better jump on the restarts because we chose the wrong start gears, and we had to settle for second," Dayton recalls. "We were really close though!"

In addition to his one road-course victory here at PIR last year, Dayton earned the pole for the second half of that road-course doubleheader and finished fifth in that race.

Shafer was involved in an accident early in the oval-track race here last year, and he had a rough trip in the first road-course race, starting 13th and finishing 27th. The team had engine problems early in the weekend and missed most of the practice sessions, which made his victory in the nightcap even more memorable. His victory came in only the fourth F2000 race of his career.

Lally was never out of the top 10 in the three races he competed in at PIR last year. He finished tenth on PIR's oval last year, which was only his second race on an oval ever. He had another tenth and a ninth on the road course. This Sunday, March 22, he'll be trying his hardest to get something both of his teammates already have: a F2000 victory at PIR. The event is a companion race to the Indy Racing League headliner.

The action starts with testing on Thursday, March 19. Practice sessions will be held from 9:45 a.m. to 10:25 a.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 1:55 p.m. on Friday, March 20. Time trials are set for 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 21, with a consy at 3:30 p.m. that day. There will be a 15-minute warm-up session at 10:45 a.m. on Sunday, March 22 prior to the 50-lapper at noon. The 36-car field will consist of the top 20 qualifiers, the top 14 finishers in the consy and two promoter's options.

The event will be taped by ESPN2. The initial air date is Sunday, April 5 at 11:30 a.m., with a repeat broadcast at 3 a.m. on Tuesday, April 7.

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