GALLOPING TOWARD GATEWAY WITH ONE FOOT IN A BUCKET Lynx Racing, one of the most successful 'driver development' teams in auto racing today, will be competing in the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic support race at Gateway International Raceway...
GALLOPING TOWARD GATEWAY WITH ONE FOOT IN A BUCKET
Lynx Racing, one of the most successful 'driver development' teams in auto racing today, will be competing in the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic support race at Gateway International Raceway during the Motorola 300 weekend, May 22-23.
The Atlantic Championship, now in its 25th year, is to CART racing what triple-A baseball is to the major leagues; and Lynx Racing is the dominant team in that series.
Lynx driver Patrick Carpentier won the championship in 1996, and now drives for Player's/Forsythe. Alex Barron, now driving for Dan Gurney's All-American Racers, won the title for Lynx in 1997, his rookie year.
Lynx Racing's current drivers, Memo Gidley and Buddy Rice, have won the first two races of the 1998 season and are galloping toward Gateway with a championship hat trick in mind.
At the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, rookie Rice was on the pole but Gidley, who finished second in the series last year, put on a masterful display of car control and won in the rain. At the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota at Nazareth, Rice was again on the pole and won with a fluid, dominant performance that saw him lap all but the top three cars. Rice's victory marked the fourth year in a row that a Lynx Racing driver has won the Atlantic event at Nazareth (Carpentier in 1995 and 1996, Barron in 1997).
If it all seems somehow pre-destined and lacking in drama, a closer look at the circumstances suggests otherwise.
"This is the first time that the Atlantic series has been to Gateway," says Gidley, 28, of Novato, California. "That should make the racing even more competitive than usual because none of the teams has any experience in setting up the cars for this track. But Lynx has won the last three Atlantic oval races in a row and I'm confident of our ability to quickly find a competitive setup."
As the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship arrives in Gateway for the third event of a 13-race season, Gidley leads the points standings with 33. Canadian Andrew Bordin is in second with 32, and Rice is hot on their heels in third with 25 points.
"Two wins in two races is a great way to start the season and it gives the team a real feeling of confidence," says Rice, 22, of Phoenix, Arizona. "And it's a good thing, too, because with the new rules for Gateway we’re going to need every advantage we can get to have a chance at the championship."
The situation Gidley and Rice are referring to is this: a new 'spec' car, the Swift 008.a, was introduced at the beginning of this year and the previously-dominant cars in the series, the Ralt RT-41, was grandfathered in until the end of the 1999 season.
The Atlantic series, now owned by CART, has enacted a series of new rules, to be in force at Gateway, designed to artificially slow the Ralts still being used by virtually all the top teams in the series (including Lynx) and force them to change over to the Swift.
These rules include requiring use of the dual-element road course wing instead of the lower-drag, single-element 'speedway' wing, and a mandated 14-degree angle for that wing, which will create still more aerodynamic drag.
The cars must also run a 5/8-in. 'plank'-- literally a piece of plywood bolted to the underside of the car -- which will require raising the ride height and decreasing the efficiency of the aerodynamic downforce tunnels under the car.
The cumulative effect for teams still racing Ralts might be described metaphorically as running the 100-yard dash with one foot in a bucket.
"Lynx and all the other top teams, on the basis of pre-season testing, chose to run the Ralts and continue development on the Swifts with a view toward changing over in mid-season," says Lynx Racing team manager Steve Cameron. "As the Swifts develop they will undoubtedly be a good car and inherently faster than the Ralts, but these new rules designed to make this happen artificially have trashed everyone's plans and escalated the cost of being competitive in the series even more. But we'll manage, because our job as a team is to help Lynx drivers win races and move up to CART."
Atlantic action at Gateway starts with an exclusive, all-day test session for all the cars in the series on Wednesday, May 20. There are two practice sessions on Thursday, May 21, 8:45 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. Single-car qualifying will take place 5:00 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.
There will be a 15-minute warm-up session on Friday, May 21, 1:30 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. The 50-lap / 63.50-mile KOOL/Toyota Atlantic race will take the green flag at 4:30 p.m. Friday afternoon.
The event will be televised on ESPN2, Saturday, May 30, 1:00-2:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Gateway marks the first race of three consecutive events, including the Miller 200 at Milwaukee on May 30 and the Grand Prix Player’s du Canada (Formula One) on June 6.
Lynx Racing, now entering its ninth 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 and helping them make the jump to the top levels of the sport.
Lynx Racing's 1995-1996 driver, Patrick Carpentier, won nine of 12 races -- eight of them in a row from the pole -- on his way to the 1996 Atlantic championship. He went on to win the 1997 CART "Rookie of the Year" award with the Bettenhausen/Alumax team and is driving for Player’s/Forsythe in 1998. He qualified on the pole at Nazareth.
The team's 1997 driver, Alex Barron, in only his second year of racing cars after a long, multi-championship career in karting, won both the series championship and the "Rookie of the Year" award. He was quickly signed by Dan Gurney's All-American Racers and was the highest-finishing Toyota-powered car at both Homestead and Rio.
Also for 1998, Lynx Racing continues its relationship with the first female driver in the team's history, an 18-year old karting champion from Kennewick, Washington named Sara Senske. She races in the ultra-competitive Star Formula Mazda Championship, driving a car sponsored by Lynx Racing and fielded by S3 Racing.
During the Gateway weekend, Senske will be racing her Formula Mazda in an event at the Seattle International Raceway in Kent, Washington.