Road America Lynx Racing Preview

* Lynx Racing has won the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic race at the Texaco/ Havoline 200 at Road America two years in a row... * Patrick Carpentier won the pole, the series championship and the race, in that order, in 1996; he now drives in CART for ...

* Lynx Racing has won the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic race at the Texaco/ Havoline 200 at Road America two years in a row...

* Patrick Carpentier won the pole, the series championship and the race, in that order, in 1996; he now drives in CART for Player's/Forsythe...

* Alex Barron won the 1997 race in a raging downpour, conditions so bad they postponed the CART race until Monday; he went on to win both the 'Rookie of the Year' award and series title, and now drives in CART for Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers...

* 1998 Lynx drivers Memo Gidley and Buddy Rice won the first four races of the season, but have struggled to find grip and reliability since switching from Ralts to Swifts in mid-season...

* Lynx Racing, owned by Peggy Haas and Jackie Doty, is now in its ninth year and has become one of the top driver development programs in open wheel racing today.

Lynx Racing, having won the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship in 1996 and 1997 -- and the first four races of 1998 -- now finds itself reaching for redemption at Road America, a track where it has won the last two years in a row.

And what years they were. In 1996, Patrick Carpentier was so far ahead by the time he got to Road America that the single point he got for winning the pole was enough to win the championship. He won 9 of 12 races that year, eight of them in a row from the pole, and was quickly signed by the Bettenhausen/Alumax team. He won the 1997 CART "Rookie of the Year" award and now drives for Player's/Forsythe.

In 1997, Lynx driver Alex Barron won in a deluge of such biblical proportions that the CART race -- with Patrick Carpentier on the pole -- had to be postponed until Monday. Barron, in his one year in Atlantic, won five races, the "Rookie of the Year" award and the series championship.

He now drives for Dan Gurney's All-American Racers, and his technical expertise is such that he was chosen to debut the team's all-new Eagle at Mid-Ohio, where he finished 16th.

Barron's 1997 Lynx Racing teammate, Memo Gidley, won two races that year (Toronto and Vancouver), as well as the "Player's Challenge" for the driver scoring the most points in the four Canadian rounds of the championship. Pre-season pundits picked him as the driver to beat in 1998, and he proved them correct by winning three of the first four races (Long Beach, Gateway and Milwaukee).

Gidley's new teammate, Buddy Rice, quickly had the press calling him a "remarkable rookie" when he won the pole in his first-ever Atlantic race at Long Beach, and took both the pole and the win in the next race at Nazareth.

And then, as they put it, "... a wheel came off." In the fifth race of the season, at Montreal, the draconian weight and aerodynamic penalties imposed on the dominant Ralt RT-41s used by many top teams had the desired effect and, although Buddy Rice managed to lead the first few laps and finish third, the race was won by the Player's team driving the new Swift 008.a that will be the 'spec' car for the 1999 season.

Lynx was forced to switch to Swifts much earlier than planned, and, with little opportunity for testing, debuted the cars at Cleveland. Gidley took the pole with a new track record, and was dominating the race until sidelined after tangling with the second-place car. Rice again brought his car home in third, but the team's commanding lead in the championship was beginning to melt like an ice cream cone on a summer afternoon.

And it kept dripping all over the team's fingers for the next three races, becoming a predictable scenario of Lynx drivers either carrying ill-handling cars on their back to barely respectable finishes or sitting on the sidelines with something broken. And the Player's team, who went through this painful process early in the season, kept winning.

"It's been a difficult time because the Swifts just don't respond to setup changes in a predictable way," says Gidley, 28, of Novato, California. "But going through this together has made us stronger, and nobody on the team is giving up. We've been wearing out our laptops and data system software trying to get this car figured out, and we're almost there. The silver lining, from a driver's standpoint, is that we’ll have to learn new cars every year when we get to CART, so it's been a great education."

So, coming into the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic support race at the Texaco/ Havoline 200 at Road America on August 16, the situation is this; Player's driver Lee Bentham sits atop the points with 121, and his teammate Alexandre Tagliani is in second with 99. Lynx driver Memo Gidley is tied for third with Andrew Bordin, both with 98 points. Matt Sielsky is in fifth with 87 and Buddy Rice is in sixth with 86. Bordin, Sielsky and Rice are all Atlantic rookies.

But with 20 points awarded for a win, and four races left on the schedule (Road America, Vancouver on September 5, Laguna Seca on September 12 and Houston on October 4), the outcome is far from decided.

"Hey, the fat lady hasn't even started clearing her throat yet," says Rice, 22, of Phoenix, Arizona. "The new car has been a little more difficult to figure out than anyone expected, but basically we've just had a run of mechanical bad luck with transmission parts breaking, electrical problems, and so on. The guys on the crew have been working like heroes, and we have the technical side fairly well figured out, so what we really need now is a little good luck."

On-track Atlantic activities at Road America begin with a test day on Thursday, August 13. There is a single practice session at 9:40 a.m. on Friday, August 14, and a single qualifying session at 11:15 a.m. on Saturday, August 15. The 17-lap race is scheduled to take the green flag at 12:15 p.m., Sunday, August 16. The race will be televised on ESPN2 at 2:30 p.m., Saturday, August 22.

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Memo Gidley , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Barron , Dan Gurney , Buddy Rice , Andrew Bordin , Lee Bentham