IRL: Rookie of the Year wants championship next year

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2000 - Airton Dare, the 2000 Rookie of the Year for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, will take $50,000 home Nov. 11 after the Indy Racing Northern Light Series Awards Ceremony at ...

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2000 - Airton Dare, the 2000 Rookie of the Year for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, will take $50,000 home Nov. 11 after the Indy Racing Northern Light Series Awards Ceremony at Indianapolis. But Dare and officials from TeamXtreme, the Rockwall, Texas-based team that fielded cars for Dare in 2000, are already working hard on 2001. Simply put, after flashes of success in 2000, they aim to contend for the 2001 Northern Light Cup. The Northern Light Cup and a $1 million bonus goes to the series points champion. Buddy Lazier will receive the Northern Light Cup for 2000 during the Awards Ceremony. Dare earned the Rookie of the Year honors by scoring 142 points this season, six points more than rookie runner-up Jeret Schroeder. Sarah Fisher finished third with 124 points, Sam Hornish fourth with 110 and Shigeaki Hattori fifth at 109. Dare finished 16th overall in the season points chase. "We planned from the beginning to run good and to win the Rookie of the Year award," said Dare, a 22-year-old native of Bauru, Brazil, who resides in Miami. "This is a big honor for us. The year was great for me except the DNF's. We had the problems with the motor at two races, the gearbox at Vegas and a few minor problems." Dare, driving the #88 Racing G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone, earned only two top-10 and one top-five finish all season. But the statistics are deceiving in terms of judging Dare's talent on the track. Dare failed to finish in five of the nine races in 2000, robbing Dare and TeamXtreme of the opportunity to capitalize on several brilliant runs. For instance, Dare was in command of the Vegas Indy 300 in April at Las Vegas Motor Speedway - only his third-career Northern Light Series start - when he came in for his final pit stop on Lap 171. As he left his pit stall, the gearbox malfunctioned. Dare and TeamXtreme experienced almost identical highs and lows at the next race, the 84th Indianapolis 500. The team made many adjustments to Dare's car early, and by Lap 102 Dare was running third behind Target/Chip Ganassi teammates Juan Montoya and Jimmy Vasser. But on Lap 127, Dare's day came to an end due to an engine problem, relegating him to a 25th-place finish. Dare was visibly upset as he exited his car in what he called his most disappointing moment of the year. "Vegas was special for me while I was leading," he said. "Also Indy was incredible when the car was running, and I was third. When I came to Indy, we already had the breakdown at Vegas, and I wasn't so upset with that. But we were running so well at Indy. I think both were really bad for me." After finishing 10th at the next race, the Casino Magic 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, the highlight of the year for Dare and TeamXtreme came at the Radisson Indy 200 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. Dare finished second after qualifying mid-pack in 16th. It was the best career finish for both Dare and the team. "Everything was perfect, we had no problems at all," said Dare. "We got that finish and knew that if everything worked right we could be a top-three team. It was great for me, but even more for the team. "We realized we could have won had we qualified in the top-five because we wouldn't have wasted so much time passing other cars." Like Dare, TeamXtreme only recently shed its rookie status in Northern Light Series competition. The team joined the league in 1998 as a one-car outfit. It now has two cars, as Jaques Lazier was Dare's teammate at the end of the season.

John Lopes, general manager for TeamXtreme, said the team is very lucky to have Dare's combination of youth, aggressiveness and maturity. Dare joined the team and the Northern Light Series in 2000 after competing in Indy Lights from 1997-99.

"We realized pretty quick that he's not a typical rookie driver," Lopes said. "He has the savvy and feedback of a veteran, and is very, very mature in and out of the race car. Certainly Airton had to learn the cars - there's a big difference between the Indy Lights cars and Indy Racing cars. But we were pleased with him right from the start."

Dare got his start in open-wheel, oval-track racing driving for Brian Stewart Racing in Indy Lights in 1997 and moved to Forsythe Championship Racing for the 1998-99 Indy Lights seasons. He earned a win at Detroit in 1998 and Nazareth in 1999.

Lopes said 2000 was the second in a three-year plan to bring TeamXtreme to a championship-contending level. The team will return in 2001 with the same driver, same engineer (Mark Weida) and same management, but the team is being reworked considerably.

"Our pit stops were good this year, but in the whole preparation of the cars, we lacked there a little this year," said Lopes. "Airton drove like a champion all year, and but for a couple mechanical failures, he might have finished in the top five in points, certainly the top 10. We've left the season very proud, having won Rookie of the Year, but we certainly are not satisfied with our performance overall. There is a huge sense of urgency and purpose in taking our team to the next level in 2001." Dare said he is happy with the home he has found with TeamXtreme and the Northern Light Series.

"I came from Indy Lights and had some offers to run a CART car, but right now I think I made the best choice," he said. "I had always run Indy Lights, which races a lot with CART so I had never seen an Indy Racing race before. I've got a contract for two years, and I feel today the Indy Racing Northern Light Series gives you a better series for the drivers."

There is a great deal of mutual respect among Northern Light Series competitors that reflects in the quality of the racing, Dare said. "Like the (June) race in Texas and all the races where you go side by side with the other drivers," said Dare. "It gives you confidence in the other guys and makes it possible to run side by side."

After successfully navigating 2000 and taking the Rookie of the Year honors, how does Dare compare himself to the rest of the Northern Light Series drivers?

"That's probably a question someone else has to answer," he said. "If you ask me, I will tell you that I'm at the same level as them (the veterans). Any driver you ask will say that, because everybody thinks they're the best, you know? If you think there's somebody better than you, that is because you 're not working hard enough or pushing hard to do it.

"If we had finished races in the position we were running at the time we had mechanical problems, we would have been fighting for the championship. We're not going to have these problems next year, and our goal is to fight for the championship next year."


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Shigeaki Hattori , Buddy Lazier , Airton Daré , Jimmy Vasser , Jeret Schroeder , Jaques Lazier  , Chip Ganassi , Sam Hornis