NA-F2000: Phoenix Highcroft Post-Race Report

Highcroft Drivers Record Two Top-10 Finishes Sunday at Phoenix PHOENIX, March 22 - Anyone who may have thought that the Bowman chassis' two top-10 finishes in the marque's very first U.S. Formula 2000...

Highcroft Drivers Record Two Top-10 Finishes Sunday at Phoenix

PHOENIX, March 22 - Anyone who may have thought that the Bowman chassis' two top-10 finishes in the marque's very first U.S. Formula 2000 race were just a case of beginner's luck became believers Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. Just as they did at the Walt Disney World Speedway season opener in January, Highcroft Racing posted two more solid top-10 runs with the British-built car, as Andy Lally finished fifth and Jeff Shafer placed ninth in the 50-lapper on the world's fastest 1-mile oval.

Lally, who lives in Northport, N.Y., started eighth. There were only three green-flag laps in the first nine circuits, but Lally had already moved into sixth by that point. He got fifth on lap 12. He dove by Ryan Hampton for fourth on the frontstretch with 18 laps down but Hampton got the spot back in turn three. Lally, whose car was set up for short runs due to the numerous cautions which historically occur in F2000 races at PIR, held off all challengers for his spot until the halfway point, when eventual third-place finisher Jonathan Bottoms wiggled under him in turn one on lap 26 right before another yellow. Lally stood on it once again on the restart on lap 32 and when the yellow waved again one lap later he had his fifth-place spot back. He got another opportunity to advance on a restart on lap 38 and he vaulted into fourth by diving under Bottoms on the frontstretch. He held fourth for eight laps, but his car started to get loose during long runs and he dropped back to fifth on lap 46 and sixth on lap 47. Sam Hornish Jr., who was third with two laps to go, was involved in an accident at the very end and crashed into the wall between turns one and two, giving the fifth position that Lally had held so long back to him. The race ended under yellow.

"It's awesome to come out here with a new car and really fight for it," Lally said. "We had planned for a lot of yellows, and the Highcroft team had my Bowman set up great. It loosened up on that long run there at the end, but it was a fast loose; it was still very driveable. My car was just great on the restarts. Now I have a podium and a fifth in the Bowman's first two races and I'm third in points. I'm happy!"

Lally had lots to deal with but Shafer seemed to almost always be in the middle of two or three-car duels enroute to his ninth-place finish. The North Hollywood, Calif. native started tenth, right behind Lally. He considered radioing to his teammate to see if he could tuck in behind him to try to work their way up through the field together, but he was immediately surrounded by other competitors so he quickly scrapped those plans.

Shafer moved into eighth on the start but he slipped to ninth on lap 11, caught up in a three-car battle. Two laps later he was part of another three-abreast war but he held everyone off to maintain his spot. He moved up to seventh with 10 laps to go, but the dicing was intense and when the checkered waved he crossed the line in ninth.

"I was in the thick of it the majority of the time," Shafer said. "My car was very good at the start of a run, but then it would get loose as the tires would heat up. I had a good race though. A couple of times guys got under me in turn one and pushed me close to the wall. I had to lift a couple of times. Derek [Daly] was spotting for me, and he was a big help.

"I had really good gears for the restarts, and that helped. There was a big improvement in my Bowman since Disney, and it was good to begin with. It's only going to get better, too.

"I ran quicker laps than what we ran in practice and I had a clean race, and that's all we could ask for really," he summarized.

Duncan Dayton, the North Salem, N.Y.-based driver who owns the New Milford, Conn.-based team and the official importer of the Bowman chassis, had an up-and-down weekend. The development of the Bowman is his primary objective this season, so he experimented with his set-up for qualifying and ended up 20th. The Highcroft crew made some more changes in the practice right after time trials and he was back up to being fourth-fastest in that session.

He passed six cars at the start of the race like they were standing still, but his impressive charge came to a premature end when he was involved in an accident with James Yott and Christian Coggins in turn one. He ended up 33rd in the official rundown.

"I didn't hit hard at all, but it was disappointing to be out so early," Dayton said. "I forgot how hard it can be to start in the middle of the pack! I'm usually well ahead of situations like what developed here today.

"I'm pleased with the way Andy's Bowman performed and I'm pleased with the way my car stood up. We learned a lot and I'm already looking forward to Homestead." (The next two F2000 races are scheduled for the Metro-Dade Motorsports Complex in Homestead, Fla. on May 16-17.)

David Besnard led every lap to win the PIR race over Robby McGehee, Bottoms, Hampton and Lally. Besnard also set the fastest lap of the race, but Dayton still holds that record here with a lap at 129.203 mph set last year.

Sunday's 50-lap race, a companion event to the Dura-Lube 200 Pep Boys Indy Racing League headliner, will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Sunday, April 5 from 11:30 a.m. to noon ET. It is scheduled to be rebroadcast at 3 a.m. ET on April 7.

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