INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2001 - Like thoroughbred horses just before the start of the Kentucky Derby, Galles Racing rookie teammates Casey Mears and Didier Andre cannot wait to get out of the gate and go racing in the 2001 Indy Racing ...
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2001 - Like thoroughbred horses just before the start of the Kentucky Derby, Galles Racing rookie teammates Casey Mears and Didier Andre cannot wait to get out of the gate and go racing in the 2001 Indy Racing Northern Light Series season.
They will get their chance when the 13-race season begins March 18 at the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Rick Galles, owner of Galles Racing, announced Jan. 15 that Mears, 22, and Andre, 26, would compete alongside Galles Racing veteran and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. in 2001. All three drivers will race with G Force chassis, Oldsmobile engines and Firestone tires.
PlayStation France will sponsor Andre's car for the full season. Mears' CBS Sportsline.com-sponsored car is scheduled to compete in at least the first four races (Phoenix through the Indianapolis 500), and Galles said he is "90 percent sure" that Mears will race the full season.
Mears completed the Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program on April 12, 2000, but did not secure a ride for the race. The only experience between Mears and Andre in major-league superspeedway competition is when Mears competed for Team Rahal in the final CART race of the 2000 season at California Speedway. Mears finished fourth in a race that saw a rain delay, 11 cautions and high attrition.
"One thing I like about Casey, particularly at Fontana, was the fact that he got through one of the toughest mechanical races I've ever seen," said Galles. "There were so many failures and crashes, and so many things happening with the rain delay and everything else. He was able to keep his cool and finish fourth. "We like to finish races and be competitive. Anybody can go out and lead one lap or run one quick lap, but to run 250 of them and to be as quick at the end as you are the beginning is something I like in a driver."
Both Mears and Andre have spent the last few years in Indy Lights competition, but their backgrounds before Indy Lights are different. Mears, of Bakersfield, Calif., is the son of two-time Indianapolis 500 competitor Roger Mears, and nephew of four-time "500" winner and three-time CART series champion Rick Mears. His racing career began in karts, followed by the off-road stadium SuperLite Series. He won the Jim Russell USAC Triple Crown Championship in 1995 and debuted in Indy Lights in 1996.
Mears scored nine top-five finishes and one victory (at Houston) in 12 Indy Lights starts in 2000. He finished third in the Indy Lights point standings for Dorricott Racing, a team that his father managed.
Mears said racing in Indy Lights cars, which are similar to Northern Light Series cars from the standpoint of having downforce-creating front and rear wings, is going to be a blessing as the drivers prepare for the 2000 season.
"The Indy Lights are going to be a very good proving ground for the IRL," he said. "I learned a ton at the superspeedways. A lot of the superspeedway races in Indy Lights are going to relate to a lot of the races at the IRL. "I've always had a blast on the ovals. They're definitely a lot different than the road course and street courses, in that it's a fine-tuning deal. You tune your car to the end of the race. There's drafting techniques, and the mindset is different and a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to taking what I've learned in Indy Lights and applying it to an IRL car."
Mears said that having Unser as a teammate will also be a major factor in his and Andre's development in 2001.
"I'm very excited about it," said Mears. "The last two or three years Al ran for (Team) Penske, I was a young driver in Indy Lights trying to move up through the ranks and every chance I had to talk to Al, he was very supportive and always giving me help. I know that Al's going to be a big help for Didier and I this year. Just as he wants to do well and go fast, I think he wants to see us do well."
Galles said his confidence in Mears is boosted because, like Unser, Mears is from a family steeped in racing success.
"The one thing that Casey has got that makes him understand what a big deal this is, is having grown up in a family with racers and learning the mentality of racing and racing people," he said. "I've seen that so much in the Andrettis and Al Jr., and even my son when he was racing."
Andre, a native of Lyon, France, now lives in Albuquerque, N.M., to be close to Galles Racing's headquarters. He also started his racing career in karts, winning four French championships from 1990-93. He competed in the French Formula Campus championship in 1993 and 1994 and moved up to French Formula 3 cars in 1995.
Andre scored his first Indy Lights victory for PacWest Racing at Laguna Seca in 1998, his second year in the series. He won at Laguna Seca again in 1999 with PacWest.
Andre didn't compete in Indy Lights in 2000 but kept busy in the road-racing ranks by competing in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of LeMans.
He will take his Northern Light Series rookie test Feb. 7 at Phoenix. The next order of business will be getting acclimated to the 650-horsepower Northern Light Series car.
"We're going to pretty much test before all the races, so I'm going to have some experience from each track," said Andre. "Everything is going to come naturally. I'm part of a big family (Galles Racing) that knows what they're doing. They can help me, and with Al and Casey we're going to work together to put all three cars on top of the Northern Light Series.
"I don't want to say I want to be in the top five or six for the first few races, or whatever. Of course my goal is to be Rookie of the Year. It's going to be a big challenge with my teammate, because he's going to have the same car as myself."
Some observers might consider creating a three-car team with two rookies to be a major risk, but Galles said Mears and Andre have a level of maturity that will make the transition a success.
"The thing we really like in both Didier and Casey is their unselfishness and their desire to work with the team," Galles said. "It's something we demand, but you can demand that sometimes and not get it. That was one of the priorities in picking both of them, is that they can work with their people, and this thing just won't work with three of them (drivers) if they don't feel that way. "And both these young guys are fast. They've proven they can win and run with anybody. We looked at those elements and chose them."