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DETROIT (July 26, 2000) - The closest points race in the 15-year history of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship heads to Chicago Motor Speedway this weekend where CART's top-rung development series will set the stage for the Target Grand Prix ...

DETROIT (July 26, 2000) - The closest points race in the 15-year history of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship heads to Chicago Motor Speedway this weekend where CART's top-rung development series will set the stage for the Target Grand Prix Presented by Energizer FedEx Championship Series race Sunday, July 30.

A 97-lap (99.813 miles) Dayton Indy Lights sprint race on the 1.029-mile oval is scheduled to start at 12:15 p.m. local time on Sunday and can be seen in same day coverage in a one-hour show on ESPN2 at 11:30 p.m. ET (10:30 p.m. CT/8:30 p.m. PT). Two days of practice and Saturday's single-car qualifying precede the race which is Round Six of 12 events on the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights Championship tour.

The top-three drivers in the championship - rookie Jason Bright (Dorricott Racing Lola), defending Chicago winner Scott Dixon (Invensys/Powerware/PacWest Lights Lola) and top American Casey Mears (Dorricott Racing/Sooner Trailer - are nearly deadlocked at the top of the points chart. Bright, a first-year Australian, took the championship lead last week at Michigan Speedway but is just one point clear of Dixon and Mears who are tied for second. Bright has 57 points while Dixon and Mears each have 56.

The battle extends beyond the top-three, however, as Brazilian Felipe Giaffone (Hollywood Lola) entered the championship race after scoring his first Indy Lights win at Michigan in The Detroit News 100. Giaffone, 25, led every lap from the pole to score a maximum 22-point sweep on the Michigan Speedway. He has jumped to fourth in the championship with 53 points, just four points shy of Bright.

While it is likely that one of the top four drivers will leave Chicago with the points lead, any one in the top seven could also depart the Windy City at the top of the points chart. Rookie Townsend Bell (DirecPC Lola), Mario Dominguez (Herdez/Pegaso/Quaker State Lola) and rookie Jeff Simmons (KOOL Lola) also have a mathematical chance to take the points lead as the Dayton Indy Lights season hits the halfway point. Bell, the Portland pole winner and teammates with Bright and Mears at Dorricott, is fifth in the championship with 43 points, Dominguez is sixth with 41 points and Simmons falls in seventh with 35 points.

Following CART's points system, an Indy Lights victory is worth 20 points with single bonus points awarded to each race's pole winner and lap leader. Points are awarded to the top-12 finishers at each race.

Bright, 27, won his first race at Portland late last month and has finished in the top-two in three of the year's first five races. He and Dixon, a New Zealander, are rivals from competition Down Under where they competed against each other in the 1997 Formula Holden Championship, a series comparable to Indy Lights. Bright won the Holden title that year while Dixon captured that crown in 1998.

Dixon, 20, turned to Indy Lights last year and won his first race and pole at Chicago, then driving for Johansson Motorsports. He has switched to PacWest Lights this season and won the year's opening races at Long Beach and Milwaukee in addition to a fourth-place finish at Detroit.

Dixon has finished the last two races at Portland and Michigan, but contact incidents have produced low finishes and just two championship points for an 11th place at Portland. A win at Chicago, however, could give Dixon his third consecutive sweep on a one-mile oval after last year's win here and the convincing Milwaukee victory from the pole last month.

Mears, 22, is the only driver in the top four who hasn't scored a victory, but his trademark consistency has placed him in the thick of the points race for the second straight year. He matched his career-best finish of second at Michigan last week and also place third at Detroit and fifth at Long Beach and Milwaukee. He joins Dominguez and Geoff Boss (Cross Pens/Lacoste/ITIS Lola) as the only drivers in the series to earn points at every race this season. Mears finished third at Chicago last year.

Giaffone, the only Brazilian in the series this year, won his first career race at Michigan in his 40th start in four seasons of competition. He has proven strong on oval tracks in the past and finished eighth at Chicago in 1999 in addition to winning the pole at Milwaukee.

Bell, Dominguez and Simmons have kept in contention for the title with consistent showings in each of the year's five races. Bell, 25, combined his Portland pole with a season's best fourth place at Michigan last week. Dominguez, 25, finished third at Milwaukee last month and placed fifth at Chicago last year. Simmons, 23, has a season's best finish of third at Portland in addition to fourth at Long Beach.

Among the drivers on the fringe of the points race who could make championship moves at Chicago are American Tony Renna (Motorola/PacWest Lights Lola), Detroit winner Jonny Kane (KOOL Lola) and Iowa-resident Chris Menninga (Mi-Jack Lola).

Renna, 10th in the championship with 30 points, has had his best races this season on oval tracks. He led the opening laps at Milwaukee before retiring with an oil leak and was set to challenge Giaffone and Mears for the lead at Michigan before a race-ending caution period. His Michigan finish of third is his best of the season.

Kane won from the pole at Detroit but has literally endured an up-and-down season that has him at eighth in the championship with 32 points. The low point was a heavy roll-over accident at Milwaukee last month where Kane was lucky to escape serious injury when wheel failure sent his race car into the Turn 4 wall. The car broke apart and slid on its side for several hundred feet before Kane emerged sore but unscathed.

Menninga earned a career-best second-place starting position at Michigan last week and joined teammate Giaffone on the front row. He was running in the lead pack until Kane slid into him on lap 27, ending the day for both drivers. Menninga's best career race finish was fourth at Milwaukee last month where he ran as high as third. He finished 10th at Chicago last year, one position behind Kane.

Half of the full-time Dayton Indy Lights starting field in 2000 is made up of American drivers with Mears, Bell, Simmons, Renna, Menninga and Boss all from the United States. Other American drivers include Cory Witherill (WSA Healthcare Lola), rookie Todd Snyder ( Lola) and Andy Boss (Cross Pens/Lacoste/ITIS Lola), Geoff's younger brother and teammate. Witherill is in his second race with new team Indy Regency Racing while Snyder is coming off his best finish of fifth at Michigan last week.

Next to the United States, Mexico has the most drivers entered in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship at five. Dominguez, the only driver in the series to complete all 258 laps (427.878 miles) run in the year's first five races, in the on-track leader of the group that included one other veteran and three rookies.

Rodolfo Lavin (Corona/Modelo/ Lola) had one of his best races in his 52nd career Indy Lights start at Michigan. After qualifying a career-best sixth, Lavin ran as high as third before a late-race contact incident dropped him a lap down.

The rookie trio includes Rolando Quintanilla (Telmex/Prodigy Internet Lola), Luis Diaz (Quaker State Mexico Lola) and Rudy Junco (Mexpro/ Lola). Quintanilla earned his first career Indy Lights points with an eighth place finish at Michigan last week, Diaz teams with Dominguez at Team Mexico Quaker Herdez and Junco drives for the first-year Team Mexpro operation.

The Chicago race is also the third round of the Bosch Platinum +4 Speedway Challenge. This winner-take-all award of $10,000 will be paid to the driver earning the most points in this year's five Dayton Indy Lights Championship oval track races. After the year's first two oval races at Milwaukee and Michigan, defending Bosch winner Mears is again out front with 26 points. Giaffone is second with 23 points and Dixon is third with 22. Other circle track races on the Bosch schedule include Gateway International Raceway (Sept. 17) and the season ending Indy Lights 100 Presented by The Los Angeles Times at California Speedway (Oct. 29).

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Casey Mears , Cory Witherill , Scott Dixon , Townsend Bell , Luis Diaz , Rolando Quintanilla , Jonny Kane , Rodolfo Lavin , Tony Renna , Jason Bright , Jeff Simmons , Geoff Boss , Todd Snyder , Rudy Junco