A WEEKEND OF POLES, PODIUMS... AND A FIRST - It's been a weekend of poles, podiums and a first for Lynx Racing drivers Memo Gidley, Buddy Rice and Sara Senske at Cleveland and Pike's Peak... - KOOL/Toyota Atlantic driver Gidley scored his ...
A WEEKEND OF POLES, PODIUMS... AND A FIRST
- It's been a weekend of poles, podiums and a first for Lynx Racing drivers Memo Gidley, Buddy Rice and Sara Senske at Cleveland and Pike's Peak...
- KOOL/Toyota Atlantic driver Gidley scored his second pole of the year at the Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland and managed to increase his points lead despite being knocked out midway through the race...
- Atlantic driver Buddy Rice scored his second podium finish in a row and moved into a tie for second in the championship battle...
- Lynx driver Sara Senske, coming off a podium finish in the Russell/ USAC race at Sears Point, became the first female driver ever to score a podium finish in the Star Mazda event at Pike's Peak...
It's no bad weekend when three drivers on the same team score a pole position, a front-row start, two podium finishes and a historic first -- in two different events at different kinds of tracks in different parts of the country on the same weekend.
In the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship race at the Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland, Memo Gidley started on the pole (his second of the year) and dominated the race until contact with another car in turn one on lap 17 ended his race. And yet, proving that he's both lucky and fast, he managed to increase his points lead in the championship battle despite not finishing.
Gidley's Atlantic teammate, rookie Buddy Rice, started on the outside of the third row in sixth place and drove a trouble-free race to third -- his second podium finish in a row (he was third in Montreal). Rice, who started on the pole in his first-ever Atlantic race at Long Beach and won his second race at Nazareth, came to Cleveland fourth overall in the championship and is now tied for second.
Sara Senske, a rising star in the Star Formula Mazda Championship driving a Lynx Racing-sponsored car fielded by Kent Stacy's S3 Racing, started from the front row on the Pike's Peak oval, finished third in a caution-filled race and became the first female driver ever to score a podium finish in the fiercely-competitive Star Mazda series. Along with her third place finish in her first-ever Russell/USAC Silver Crown race at Sears Point two weeks ago, she too has now finished on the podium twice in a row.
If this litany of success makes it all sound easy and somewhat matter-of-fact, the truth is anything but.
The Lynx Racing KOOL/Toyota Atlantic team won the first four races of the year with the same tried-and-true Ralt RT41s that have taken Lynx drivers to two championships in a row. But Cleveland marked the team's debut of the controversial and unproven Atlantic series 'spec' car, the Swift 008.a, and the challenge was to maintain the winning momentum while going through the auto racing equivalent of a heart transplant.
A number of other 'wild card' factors contributed to a general atmosphere of confusion during the weekend. Three days before the race, teams were told that Yokohama tire engineers had decided the road course tire was unsafe and everyone would have to run on oval-track tires.
Then, arriving in Cleveland on Wednesday and expecting to move in and set up on schedule Thursday morning, teams discovered that they would not be allowed to move in until Friday morning. This forced them to unpack their 18-wheelers on a remote piece of property at Burke Lakefront Airport, work on the cars for a day, pack up the trucks, move to the paddock and unpack again.
And finally, event organizers had so many different series on the schedule (CART, Atlantic, Indy Lights, Barber Dodge and Trans Am) that the Atlantic cars didn't get on track for their first practice session until 5:05 p.m. Friday evening. This was followed by qualifying sessions at 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Saturday morning, with the 30-lap race scheduled to start at 3:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon.
"It was a brutal schedule for the guys who have to do the sweaty stuff, but when you’ve got a crew like we've got at Lynx, there can be profit in confusion," said Gidley, who put that long, long Friday to good use talking to CART teams about next year. "Everybody seemed to expect that, because we changed cars, it would take us a couple of races to get back up to speed. But we were never prepared to accept that, and we surprised a lot of people by taking the pole by two-tenths of a second. I had the best car in the race until the second-place car and I tangled in turn one and my suspension was bent too badly to continue. Otherwise the car was flawless and we'll be the team to beat next weekend at Toronto where we won last year."
The strange schedule at Cleveland rewarded drivers with previous experience, so rookie Rice spent most of his time on track learning both a new car and a new course.
"We've had a Swift since the start of the season, but I'd never driven it until the couple of hours of testing we got in before coming to Cleveland, so I had a lot to learn in a really short time," said Rice. "But Jim Griffith is such a great engineer that we were able to get my car just about perfect for the race. Unfortunately I started sixth and got held up by a couple of slower cars in the early laps, and the top three guys pulled away. I didn't have anyone to draft with, so I decided to just be careful and see what happened. It was only somebody's bad luck that got me on the podium, and I'm sorry it was Memo. But we scored some good points and moved up in the championship, and that's the name of the game at this point in the season."
Sara Senske, Lynx Racing's 19 year-old 'junior driver', changed horses for a weekend to run in the Russell/USAC Triple-Crown Pro Series event at the NASCAR Save Mart 350 weekend at Sears Point two weeks ago -- and earned her first taste of victory-podium champagne with a third-place finish.
Returning to her usual #19 Lynx Racing/S3 Racing Formula Mazda for the Star Mazda race at the midget/ARCA event at Pike’s Peak last weekend, she repeated the performance. Starting from the outside of the first row, she survived a crash-filled race to finish third and become the first female driver to stand on the victory podium in a Star Mazda race.
"I'm really proud to be the first female driver to get on the podium in a Star Mazda race, and I think it's because at this race I finally reached the psychological point where I felt really relaxed and focused on what I needed to do and I wanted to achieve," says Senske. "This was my first time at Pike's Peak, but I really like the track and was able to run with the front pack all through practice and qualifying. What got me during the race was my inexperience in dealing with re-starts where the guy up front speeds up and then slows down suddenly in the last turn before the start/finish line. Everybody slows down and bunches up and the front guy gets a big jump. I finally got it figured out, though, and managed to pass three cars on the outside during the final restart. It was a really good lesson, even if those last six laps were the longest of my life."
The Cleveland round of the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship will be televised on ESPN2, Sunday, July 19, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., with repeats on Sunday, August 9 at 4:30 a.m. and Thursday, August 13 at 5:00 a.m.
The next event for the Lynx Racing KOOL/Toyota Atlantic team is next weekend at the Molson Indy Toronto, one of the two races Gidley won last year. Senske's next event is the Star Mazda race at Laguna Seca on July 26.
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 has won two KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championships in a row, and both champions -- Patrick Carpentier in 1996 and Alex Barron in 1997 --– were immediately signed by CART teams. Carpentier, the 1997 CART "Rookie of the Year" with the Bettenhausen/Alumax team, now drives for Player's/Forsythe and has scored two pole positions so far this year. Barron won both Atlantic "Rookie of the Year" and the series championship in 1997, and now drives for Dan Gurney's All-American Racers.