DETROIT, Mich. (June 19, 2000) - Casey Mears showed how discretion can be the better part of valor as he finished a relatively uncontested third place in round three of the 12-race Dayton Indy Lights Championship at the Tenneco...
DETROIT, Mich. (June 19, 2000) - Casey Mears showed how discretion can be the better part of valor as he finished a relatively uncontested third place in round three of the 12-race Dayton Indy Lights Championship at the Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit, Sunday, June 18.
Detroit was likewise kind to Mears teammate Townsend Bell, of Costa Mesa, Calif. Bell delivered a solid seventh place finish after starting 12th and distinguished himself as the highest finishing rookie. Bell also won the Dayton Daytona "Move to the Front" award for improving five race positions and a bonus reward of four Dayton Daytona racing tires.
Dorricott Racing's third driver, Jason Bright, of Gold Coast, Australia, unfortunately didn't fair as well. A mid-race collision into a tire barrier forced him to retire early.
Race winner Jonny Kane, of Ireland, took the checkered flag 2.902-seconds ahead of runner-up Felipe Giaffone, of Brazil, in the 32-lap/75.072 mile Indy Lights sprint around Belle Isle's 2.346-mile, 14-turn temporary road course.
Mears qualified on the outside pole with a time of 1:21.892 = 103.131 mph - his best career Indy Lights race start to date. His previous best was last year at Nazareth where he started third and finished in third place. Kane won the pole with an Indy Lights track record of 1:21.840 = 103.196 mph.
The most crucial part of the race for Mears occurred early when the race start was "yellow flagged" due to a misaligned field. Although the race cleanly started on lap two, the opening lap "wave off" worked against Mears as Giaffone passed him in the first corner.
"The approach for the first start was great for me," said Mears. "I pretty well kept up with Jonny (Kane) but for some reason we were waved off. Jonny had a good jump on the second time around and that gave Felipe the room he needed to slip past me on the inside of turn one. I held the outside position as best I could so nobody else could pass."
Mears fell in line behind Giaffone with Dixon and Bright in hot pursuit. Mexico's Mario Dominguez then found a clean line around Bright and successfully completed the pass on lap three for fifth place.
Bright's day came to an abrupt end on lap 12 when he made hard contact with the Turn 12 tire barrier and slid to a stop against the wall between Turns 13 and 14. Bright was uninjured but the car suffered extensive left front wing, nose, tire, and suspension damage.
"I was settling into a race pace when I got caught out in Turn 12," said Bright. "I underbraked and locked up the rear wheels when I exited the corner. I may have entered with too much speed to miss the tire barrier or I may have touched a painted line or a wet patch." The race resumed on lap 16 with Dixon making a zealous attempt to pass Mears ala Giaffone - on the inside of turn one. Mears, however, staved off Dixon's charge. A Tony Renna crash into the wall in Turn Five on lap 23 brought the final full course caution of the race. Renna's car suffered major damage to its left side but Renna was uninjured.
A "now or never" feeling settled over the remaining field with Dixon and Mears feeling it the most. The race re-started on lap 26 with Dixon immediately trying to pressure Mears out of his line of drive through turn one. Mears responded by positioning the Dorricott Racing/Sooner Trailer Lola in the only passing angle Dixon could support.
"I was concerned about Scott Dixon on the re-starts," said Mears. "Otherwise, I felt I had a quicker car and could pull away from him on the straight-aways. He closed on me near the end of the race but his advantage was definitely on the re-starts. He must have had a little different gear ratio. When I took off, my second gear was too short and my third gear was weak and tall. He pulled me coming out of the last corner on the front straight-away. I had to fight Dixon off during the first part of that lap and then I focused on catching Giaffone."
While Mears was protecting his position, Bell was stealthily improving his. The yellow flags helped Bell and his DirecPC Lola move higher in the field without any added risks. Bell had already passed one car on the opening lap to move into 11th place, and he assumed ninth place after Bright's crash.
Bell then read two other passing opportunities that tailored his finish. Bell scooted past Andy Boss on the first-restart on lap 16 to move into eighth place. He then took advantage of Todd Snyder on the final re-start to muscle into seventh place
"It's always a better alternative to finish higher than you qualify and that was the case for the DirecPC Lola today," said Bell. "My crew gave me a good car and certainly a car that was better than 12th on the starting grid. Unfortunately, I made a mistake in qualifying but that was yesterday so it became more a matter of improving and moving forward. We knew we had a faster car than many of those right in front of me but I wanted to be sure to finish the race too."
By virtue of scoring his sixth career podium finish in Indy Lights competition, Mears moved from third to second place in the Indy Lights championship with 34 points. New Zealand's Scott Dixon leads the series with 54 points. Bright didn't score any points but remains very much in the Indy Lights title chase with 32 points and tied with Kane for third place. Bell earned six points and moved to ninth place in the championship with 14 points.
"It was my best career finish on a road course," said Mears. "That says a lot for Dorricott Racing and ultimately to my new engineer, Burke Harrison. I'm very grateful to be working with him this year. Burke does a great job and helped to make me quick every track we've raced or tested. It's allowing me to show my abilities on road courses."
Race results, team, and sponsor information are available on Dorricott Racing's official web site, http://www.dorricottracing.com. Round four of the 12-race Dayton Indy Lights Championship will be held at Portland International Raceway (Ore.) in the Freightliner/G.I. Joe's 200, Sunday, June 25.