ONE FINAL FLING WITH LADY LUCK The odd dance in which Lynx Racing and Lady Luck have been engaged for the last three-quarters of the 1998 KOOL/Toyota Atlantic season took another strange turn in the streets of Houston last weekend, ...
ONE FINAL FLING WITH LADY LUCK
The odd dance in which Lynx Racing and Lady Luck have been engaged for the last three-quarters of the 1998 KOOL/Toyota Atlantic season took another strange turn in the streets of Houston last weekend, including a last-minute driver change, a rain-shortened race, equivocal results, personal vindication and a quartet of accolades.
Sound confusing? It was. And it went this way... one of the team's two regular drivers, Buddy Rice, contracted what was thought to be food poisoning on Wednesday (gotta watch out for that truck stop chicken-fried steak...). On Thursday, the condition was re-diagnosed as appendicitis and Rice had emergency surgery that evening. The arthroscopic procedure (involving three tiny incisions, fiber optics and a laser) went so well he was intending to try and drive on Friday, but was overruled in the interests of safety by series doctors and team owners Peggy Haas and Jackie Doty.
As a result, Lynx team manager Steve Cameron found himself in one of those "...the star broke his leg, you'll have to go on in his place," situations that make great urban fables but never happen in real life... except this time.
Not that it was much of a stretch for the 38-year old New Zealander. Though he'd not driven in an Atlantic race since Montreal in 1995, he regularly drives during Lynx testing sessions and his resume includes finishing second in the 1992 Atlantic championship and a pair of wins in the 24 Hours of Daytona.
"We might have chosen to not run the car when the team decided Buddy couldn't drive, but Peggy and Jackie offered me the opportunity and I couldn’t resist," says Cameron. "I had a great time, and I hope I proved that Bobby Rahal isn't the only 'old guy' out there who can go fast. This race was also an opportunity for me to get some current experience that I feel will translate into better communication with the drivers and better results for the team next year. And I really want to thank Buddy not for only letting me use his car and his driving suit, but for taking an active part in helping make the best of the situation."
The weekend's on-track activities started well enough, with regular driver Memo Gidley fastest in the first practice session on Friday morning and Cameron in 10th. When qualifying was said and done, however, difficulties of getting in a clean lap on the 1.5-mile, 10-turn circuit saw the duo gridded 9th and 13th.
"The car felt really good in the first session and I felt like we might be able to make a statement by closing out the season with a win," says Gidley, who won three of the first four races of the season. "But during qualifying, I just couldn't get a clean lap. The track is wide and relatively smooth, but so short that somebody going slow three or four corners ahead has an accordion effect back to where you are. There was an accident just as the green flag dropped, and I was able to move up from ninth to fifth on the re-start, but the group of cars at the front were all so evenly matched that we were running nose to tail. With several yellow flags and the race ending ten laps early due to rain, there just wasn’t any opportunity to move up. This has been an unusually tough season for us, but no team ever worked harder or smarter, and I'm proud to have been a part of it."
Gidley's fifth-place finish was sufficient to clinch third-place in the 1998 KOOL/ Toyota Atlantic Championship. Andrew Bordin, who won at Vancouver, finished second, and Lee Bentham was the overall champion. Interestingly, both Gidley and Anthony Lazzaro, each of whom won three races, scored more victories in the season than Bentham, who only won twice, but took the title with consistency.
Cameron's Houston race was similarly hobbled by circumstance, though he drove hard and smart and did manage to pass several highly-regarded young drivers to finish eighth. His drive did, however, earn him both the "KOOL Move of The Race" award and the Yokohama "Now You've Got Control" award.
Nor was that the end of the weekend's accolades. At the Atlantic series season-end banquet, held the Sunday evening after the race, both Gidley and Rice were presented with prestigious awards. Chris Kneifel, Chief Instructor at the Mid-Ohio Racing School presented Gidley with "The Mid-Ohio School Achievement Award." The criteria for this award presented by the Mid-Ohio School, the coaching arm of the series, is based on racecraft, sportsmanship, on-track decision-making ability, the desire to improve, technical understanding, along with consistency and off-track professionalism.
Buddy Rice was presented with the "Gilles Villeneuve Award" by Chief Steward K.C. Van Niman. This award, instituted in 1989 by Atlantic Champion Steve Shelton, is presented to the driver who possesses extraordinary ability and has that special star quality who has distinguished himself through sportsmanship, dedication and perseverance.
Gidley is in discussion with several teams about moving up to CART next year, but Rice will return for the 1999 KOOL/Toyota Atlantic season.
Lynx Racing, now entering its eighth year of operation, is a uniquely successful driver development team owned by two women, Peggy Haas and Jackie Doty. The team is dedicated to seeking out young drivers with championship potential but without financial resources and helping them make the jump to the top levels of the sport.
In addition to the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship, Lynx Racing has a 'junior team', DSTP Motorsports (also owned by a woman, Dede Rushton), operating one step down on the ladder, in the U.S. F2000 series. Lynx also fields an effort, in conjunction with Kent Stacy's S3 Racing, in the Star Formula Mazda Championship for Lynx Racing driver Sara Senske, 20, of Kennewick, Washington.
Senske, who is currently 7th in the Formula Mazda Championship points battle, will be racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend, as the support event for the IRL race. Senske started this race, her first-ever oval track event, from the pole last year. Her season concludes with an event on the road course at Phoenix International Raceway on November 14.
Although she will be participating in off-season testing with the DSTP team, plans currently call for Senske to return for a second full season in Formula Mazda in 1999.