PHOENIX, Tuesday, March 21, 2000 -- Buddy Lazier felt poorly enough considering he was battling a stomach virus and had just qualified a miserable 24th for last Sunday's MCI WorldCom Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. Then he returned to...
PHOENIX, Tuesday, March 21, 2000 -- Buddy Lazier felt poorly enough considering he was battling a stomach virus and had just qualified a miserable 24th for last Sunday's MCI WorldCom Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. Then he returned to his transporter and felt even worse when he saw his mechanics unloading the backup car.
"I thought it was our old Dallara, and I started arguing that wasn't the way to go," Lazier said Tuesday.
But it wasn't a Dallara. It was the team's new, untested and unprepared Riley & Scott chassis. The one delivered 10 days earlier for use in the Indianapolis 500 in May.
Twenty-four hours later, 90-year-old Grandma Lazier was sitting on the chassis beaming happily as grandson Buddy celebrated his third Indy Racing Northern Light Series victory in 35 races. He had driven from 26th and last place to first place, a first for the series.
Lazier was frightened by the handling of his primary Delta Faucet/Coors Light/Tae-Bo Hemelgarn Racing Riley & Scott/Oldsmobile/Firestone car, as the team thought it might have been damaged in a small fire during a recent test session. But today it is the other Indy Racing competitors who are beginning to feel a little fear.
The season is two races old, and Lazier leads the standings with 90 points. In January at Orlando, he finished second to provide Riley & Scott its best finish in 20 races. Now, he has given the Indianapolis-based chassis builder its first victory.
Not only that, Lazier warns: "It'll continue to be better. It will be an awesome car."
Team owner Ron Hemelgarn, with input from team manager Lee Kunzman and engineer Ron Dawes, decided to switch to the Riley & Scott for 2000 after Reynard became a partner in the venture early last year, said 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Lazier. The experience of Reynard's Bruce Ashmore was critical to the decision.
Although the chassis is built in England, the suspension pieces and other parts are made in the Riley & Scott shops located just south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The car is assembled there, too.
"Ron wanted this to be an all-American race car," Lazier said.
Hemelgarn felt the combined resources of the two firms would result in the building of a superior racing machine. But Lazier said it has been "a little tricky" in the early going.
The primary car had a problem all race drivers dread: The rear end wanted to steer the car in the turns. The difficulty occurs when the car reaches its maximum speed during qualifying and explains why Lazier qualified a lowly 24th in the 26-car field.
Lazier said he expects Riley & Scott to have this handling aberration cured by the next Indy Racing event April 22 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He also foresees the car being lightened by the time it reaches Indy in May.
"We had no expectations whatsoever about being a contender," Lazier said about driving the quickly assembled backup car.
But he had two things in his favor in the race. The speeds were slower than qualifying, thus diminishing the handling problem. And he was racing on Firestone tires, which he said fit his driving style.
"My style is to be aggressive into the corners," Lazier said. "With Goodyears, you have to use finesse. Firestones reward aggressiveness. Firestones are a big gain for us."
In the race, it took Lazier only 24 laps to advance into a striking position of 12th. It required longer to charge up on the front runners, but by Lap 140 he had exploded into third and 10 laps later he was second. He got his first lead on Lap 151, and took it for good on Lap 161. From there it was just a matter of pulling away from runner-up Scott Goodyear. The margin at the end was 4.191 seconds.
"It was just a wonderful day," Lazier said. "Going from last to first was incredible."
Lazier also got a little revenge on the track that was the site of one of the low points of his career. He broke his back in numerous places in a crash in 1996 but rebounded to win the Indianapolis 500 two months later.
"It sure made me feel I had conquered some demons," he said about his latest victory.
Lazier calls the Vegas race on the 1½-mile oval a good warm-up for Indy.
"It will be a test," he said. "But every race counts toward the championship. All three chassis (also G Force) have not run on the mile-and-a-halfs yet. It'll be interesting to see which chassis runs best."
Certainly, there won't be any R & R by the other teams as they try to keep pace with the R & S.
Riley & Scott Indy Racing History
1997 - New Hampshire: Car made its debut with Mark Dismore driving. He qualified it, but Riley & Scott's Mark Scott decided to withdraw it and race it for the first time at Las Vegas. Las Vegas: Stan Wattles started 25th-finished eighth; Mike Shank 28-16.
1998 - Orlando: Eliseo Salazar 26-12; Stan Wattles 18-22. Phoenix: Salazar 6-23. Indy: Wattles 29-28. Texas: Wattles 26-10. New Hampshire: Salazar 17-6; Wattles 26-17. Dover: Scott Harrington 22-22. Charlotte: Andy Michner 16-12. Pikes Peak: Michner 20-17. Atlanta: Michner 14-9. Texas: Wattles 26-8; Michner 27-15. Las Vegas: Wattles 25-13; Jim Guthrie 19-24.
1999 - Orlando: Michner 27-18. Phoenix: Michner 26-13. Indy: Raul Boesel 33-12. Texas: Boesel 23-23. Pikes Peak: Boesel 20-18. Atlanta: Boesel 25-11. Dover, Pikes Peak, Las Vegas and Texas: Did not compete.
2000 - Orlando: Buddy Lazier 5-2; Eddie Cheever Jr. 6-3. Phoenix: Lazier 25-1; Sarah Fisher 21-13.