INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 27, 2001) - American Casey Mears, a 23-year-old Dayton Indy Lights Series and Indy Racing League veteran, will drive the Pioneer-WorldCom/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Reynard beginning with Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston. It...
INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 27, 2001) - American Casey Mears, a 23-year-old Dayton Indy Lights Series and Indy Racing League veteran, will drive the Pioneer-WorldCom/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Reynard beginning with Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston.
It will be the #66 entry's first race since a horrific accident in Lausitz, Germany Sept. 15 involving two-time series champion Alex Zanardi, and Mears' first CART FedEx Championship Series appearance since his fourth-place finish for Team Rahal at last year's season finale at Fontana, Calif. Zanardi lost both of his legs in the incident during the closing laps of the American Memorial 500, but is recovering exceptionally well in Berlin Marzahn Hospital. The team withdrew his car at last weekend's stop in Corby, England.
"Obviously, we've got a very close eye on how things are progressing with Alex's recovery. Apparently all the thoughts and prayers people keep sending his way are working, because he is in relatively good spirits and doctors expect a full recovery, aided with the use of artificial legs," said team owner Morris Nunn. "Alex's wife, Daniela, has strongly urged us to continue with the Pioneer-WorldCom car. And although judgment, being the better part of valor, led us to withdraw the car last weekend, we are looking to come back strong at Houston with young American Casey Mears."
Mears, according to Nunn, was one of the strongest candidates to take over the #66 car because, among other criteria, he had strong showings last season at Houston, Laguna Seca and Fontana - three of the final four stops on this season's CART circuit. Mears won the Indy Lights pole at Houston and Laguna Seca in 2000, winning the race at Houston and finishing second at Laguna Seca. He followed that with a near-podium finish in his Champ Car debut at Fontana.
"Casey's experience at those three events was a big plus for him in our search for a driver," Nunn said. "Plus, he already has a strong relationship with our sponsor WorldCom, and it's a great opportunity for us to showcase a young American driver."
Mears' Indy Lights victory at Houston and runner-up finish at Laguna Seca propelled him to a third-place finish in the series point standings and helped earn him an Indy Racing League ride with WorldCom sponsorship for three events this season. There, he drove for Galles Racing as teammate to former CART champion Al Unser, Jr., and fellow IRL rookie and Indy Lights graduate Didier Andre. His only finish was 11th at Homestead while an electrical problem cut short his day at Phoenix, and an accident took him out of the race at Atlanta.
"First of all, I just want to say I was shocked, along with the rest of the racing universe, at what happened to Alex," said Mears, who resides in Bakersfield, Calif., and is the son of off-road racing champion and two-time Indy 500 starter Roger Mears, as well as the nephew of four-time Indy 500 winner and three-time CART champion Rick Mears. "Alex has an incredible amount of fans and loyal supporters, and I am definitely one of the biggest. With that, I am very thankful for this tremendous opportunity. Fortunately, we get to start this run at racetracks that I am very familiar with. I'm looking forward to driving for Mo Nunn, and I just hope I can help carry on the legacy of Alex Zanardi."
Officials from Pioneer Electronics USA and WorldCom were delighted at the prospects of the youthful Mears taking over the reins of their #66 Mo Nunn Racing entry beginning with the Grand Prix of Houston.
"Pioneer fully supports Morris Nunn's decision to bring Casey to the team for the remainder of this season," said Ed Sachs, executive vice president of Pioneer's Mobile Entertainment Division. "As you can imagine, there were many drivers to consider. However, with Casey's experience on three of the four remaining circuits, he became the natural choice. Pioneer is excited to see American driver Casey Mears get this opportunity and we wish him the best of luck."
"We've supported Casey for a couple of years, now, so it's obviously no secret that we believe in this young race car driver," added Andy Deas, director of WorldCom's Sports Marketing division. "We're proud to do our part as he finally gets his chance to be recognized and prove to us all how he can perform on the variety of circuits that remain in the FedEx World Series."
The CART FedEx Championship Series resumes Oct. 5-7 on the streets of downtown Houston, Round 18 of 21 on the 2001 schedule