July 23, 2000, Michigan Speedway: Substitute driver Memo Gidley gave the Della Penna team their best result of the season today, finishing tenth in his first career five-hundred-mile event. Filling in for Norberto Fontana, Gidley started ...
July 23, 2000, Michigan Speedway: Substitute driver Memo Gidley gave the Della Penna team their best result of the season today, finishing tenth in his first career five-hundred-mile event. Filling in for Norberto Fontana, Gidley started twenty-first, and spent the opening portion of the race struggling with an oversteer condition. The handling problem could not be adjusted on-the-fly due to the absence of a weight jacker on Gidley's #10 DirecTV Toyota-Reynard-Firestone. While preparing the car on Saturday night, the hardworking Della Penna crew had been unable to get the weight jacker to function properly, and therefore elected to remove it from the car rather than risk a dangerous malfunction.
Gidley began to have fun in the cockpit shortly after the midpoint of the race as his car became progressively more stable. The team had been making chassis and wing adjustments during each pit stop, and by lap 150 Gidley was running competitive times with the race leaders. Shortly thereafter, Alex Tagliani's spin brought out the yellow flag, and team owner John Della Penna gave his driver a pep talk: "This is like going to college; it's a crash course. We have eighty-five laps to go, and we are in fifteenth place, four laps behind the leaders."
Just prior to the restart, Gidley found himself lined up directly behind the lead group. While many of the leaders pursued a single-stop strategy by dialed down their fuel mixture, Gidley made a bold charge through the ten-car pack, eventually passing leader Helio Castroneves while running the fastest lap on the track. Gidley's unusual charge perplexed track announcers, team spotters and spectators, but by regaining a lap he was now in position to attacked the drivers in thirteenth and fourteenth place. Gidley successfully picked up both positions, and attrition pulled him into tenth place at the finish. Gidley will drive a second race for Della Penna next weekend in the Target Grand Prix at Chicago Motor Speedway.
"I could go a thousand miles," exclaimed a smiling Gidley immediately after the race. "The car was so loose in the beginning you just couldn't imagine. I was literally a sitting duck out there, and your heart's in your mouth the whole time. You're just trying to stay out of the way, but every time you get passed it takes air off your wings and it's like hitting black ice at over two hundred miles per hour."
"We worked on the wings a little, and that wasn't it. So we made an extra stop and manually jacked the weight on the suspension. The car started handling better, so we dialed some wing back out of the car, and two-thirds into the race the car was fast as hell."
Asked about his banshee run through the lead group, Gidley said "That was no problem. I've seen it before in my mind, but now it's happening for real. We had a winning-quality car in the last third of the race, but you have to be fast the whole time. So you learn, you come back, and you beat 'em next time. Speed's not the problem: we got that. We just have to be consistent."
Praising his new friends at Della Penna Racing, Gidley noted "there are teams that have a lot more people and spend a lot more money that didn't finish this race. All the guys here probably worked twice as hard as anyone this weekend, and we finished tenth. Now I've worked with everybody on the team, they understand what I need to get out of the car, and they know if we get it then we're going to be fast. So everybody's going to have that in the back of their mind going to Chicago."