Indy lights news and notes 2000-08-04

DETROIT (Aug. 4, 2000) - Cristiano da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) became the eighth different graduate of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship to win a CART FedEx Championship Series race when he scored his first victory Sunday...

DETROIT (Aug. 4, 2000) - Cristiano da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) became the eighth different graduate of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship to win a CART FedEx Championship Series race when he scored his first victory Sunday in the Target Grand Prix Presented by Energizer at Chicago Motor Speedway.

Da Matta's win is the 35th overall Champ Car victory and fourth of the season for Indy Lights grads in CART's big show. Da Matta also joins Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) as first time FedEx winners this year who came directly out of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship.

Da Matta, the 1998 Dayton Indy Lights champion, led the final 51 of 225 laps in Chicago to give Cal Wells and PPI Motorsports their first FedEx win. Da Matta joins a distinguished group of drivers from CART's top-rung development series that have won in Champ Car competition.

In addition to da Matta and Castroneves, other Indy Lights grads that have won in CART Champ Car competition include Paul Tracy (1990 Indy Lights champion), Adrian Fernandez (1992 Indy Lights Rookie of the Year), Bryan Herta (1993 Indy Lights champion) the late Greg Moore (1995 Indy Lights champion), Tony Kanaan (1997 Indy Lights champion) and the retired Andre Ribeiro (1994 Indy Lights Rookie of the Year).

Tracy won earlier this year at Long Beach while Fernandez was victorious in Rio. Tracy earned the first Champ Car win for and Indy Lights graduate in the 1993 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.


The majority of Dayton Indy Lights Championship teams and drivers traveled straight from Round Six at Chicago Motor Speedway last weekend to Gateway International Raceway where an unofficial group test was held Wednesday. Although official lap times were not recorded, championship points leader Scott Dixon (Invensys/Powerware/PacWest Lights Lola) was generally considered the fastest driver at the single-day session with a lap in the 29.2 second range on the 1.270-mile oval. Dixon has won the last three Dayton Indy Lights short-oval races with victories at Chicago last year and this past weekend split by a win at The Milwaukee Mile in June.

"Scott's real comfortable on these tracks," said PacWest Lights Team Manager Paul "Ziggy" Harcus. "Early on at Chicago, before he took the lead, I thought we were going to have a real race on our hands, but once he got by the leaders, he was gone."

Drivers reportedly lapping within a few 1/10ths of Dixon included his teammate Tony Renna (Motorola/PacWest Lights Lola), rookie Jeff Simmons (KOOL Lola) and Cory Witherill (WSA Healthcare Lola) who now drives for 1998 Gateway winners Indy Regency Racing. Renna ran a best lap of 29.4 seconds before he was uninjured in an accident that ended his day.

"Tony was having a bit of trouble with the bump in Turn Three," Harcus said. "He was trying a few different lines through there and he might have hit the bump. He hit the wall in Turn Three and ended up in Turn Four. The car has a hole in the tub and heavy left-side damage, but Tony checked out OK and was back working out yesterday. We plan to give him and Scott another go at Putnam Park on Monday."

Simmons also lapped in the 29.4 range and recorded 180 laps testing the set up that his brother and current engineer Chris Simmons used to set the track qualifying record of 29.033 seconds (157.478 mph) at Gateway in 1997 in a KOOL Lola. Senior Team KOOL driver Jonny Kane (KOOL Lola) stepped into his teammates race car at the end of the day and managed to record 34 laps on the Gateway oval. Kane was uninjured in a qualifying accident at Chicago but missed that race and the majority of the Gateway test while the team repairs his damaged race car.

Witherill has run just two races with Indy Regency but hit on a combination at Gateway that had them lapping in the mid-29-second range. Indy Regency won the 1998 Gateway race with Shigeaki Hattori, which was the last time Indy Lights appeared at the St. Louis track.

"It felt good out there," Witherill said. "It's a great track. We're a new team, but the group is working well together and we have all put a lot of effort into getting ready."

In addition to Renna, Todd Snyder ( Lola) also wrote off a tub when he hit the Turn Two wall at Gateway. Snyder was uninjured.


Chris Menninga (Mi-Jack Lola), who was released with no apparent injuries from Loyola University Medical Center after a late-race accident with Casey Mears (Dorricott Racing/Sooner Trailer Lola) Sunday at Chicago, returned to the cockpit at the Gateway test. Mears was uninjured in the incident.

"I am feeling OK but I didn't last too long at the test Wednesday," Menninga said. "I am still pretty sore and didn't' feel 100% in the car, but its was good to get back in and do a few laps. We were pretty quick right off the bat and got into the 29-second bracket, but it was a good move to quit early. I will be ready for Mid-Ohio."

Jason Bright (Dorricott Racing Lola) skipped the Gateway test while he recovers from a lower back injury sustained in a Friday practice accident at Chicago. He is currently recuperating in Indianapolis and is scheduled to see Dr. Terry Trammell of the CART Medical Staff on Monday.

"I am going to take it a day at a time because right now I am not seeing the progress I would like to see," Bright said. "I am going to give it everything I can to be at Mid-Ohio."


Four-time Dayton Indy Lights Championship race winner Derek Higgins (Mexpro/Precio Lola) will return to the cockpit at Mid-Ohio in a second entry from first-year team Mexpro Racing. Higgins has been a coach for Mexpro's rookie driver Rudy Junco (Mexpro/Precio Lola) all year, but Mid-Ohio will mark his first Indy Lights start since the 1999 finale at California Speedway. He is scheduled to drive in five of the year's remaining six races with the team and will miss only Round 10 at Gateway.


The Dayton Indy Lights Championship and Dayton Tire will make a media tour stop in Dayton, Ohio next Tuesday prior to Round Seven of the series that weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Dayton Tire was founded in its namesake city in 1905 and still maintains strong ties to Ohio. Although the company is now based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the Dayton Daytona racing tires used in Indy Lights are made in Ohio and several members of the Dayton Racing team call the Buckeye State home.

The media promotion will be conducted at Dayton Tire Sales at 3091 South Dixie Ave. and will feature Dorricott Racing and its trio of Lola T97/20 race cars, the Dayton Tire transporter and the Dayton Mustang Pace Car. Members of Dorricott's driving team of Townsend Bell (DirecPC Lola), Mears and possibly Bright are also scheduled to attend.

The event is scheduled from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. and media interested in attending can contact Indy Lights Public Relations Director Adam Saal at (321) 868-3428.


Following his first Dayton Indy Lights Championship win two weeks ago in The Detroit News 100, Felipe Giaffone (Hollywood Lola) is completing his first Champ Car test with Mo Nunn Racing today at Sebring International Raceway in Florida. Giaffone, who is second in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship points race behind Dixon, 77 - 65, is sharing the car with Kanaan who is testing his road course skills while still recovering from injuries sustained in his accident in Detroit in June.

"Yesterday was pretty fun," Giaffone said after his Thursday run in the Hollywood Mercedes-Benz Reynard. "Before I got here, I thought maybe I just couldn't drive the car because it has too much power. But then, once I got in, I started getting used to everything, and Tony was giving me some tips along the way that helped me a lot. By the end of the day I was pretty happy. I didn't push too hard because I didn't want to make any mistakes. I think I did okay, but it was only a half a day. I'm not yet 100% comfortable in the car. Maybe that will come today."


Bell, an avid baseball fan, will be the guest of honor at a Columbus Clippers baseball game this Thursday where he will throw out the first pitch. Bell, who has his own "baseball card" from sponsor DirecPC, will also sign autographs for fans prior to the game, which is scheduled to start at 7:15 p.m. ET. Comparable to the relationship between the Dayton Indy Lights Championship and the FedEx Championship Series, the Clippers are a Triple-A farm team for the New York Yankees.

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Felipe Giaffone , Shigeaki Hattori , Cory Witherill , Adrian Fernandez , Paul Tracy , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Chris Menninga , Townsend Bell , Derek Higgins , Jonny Kane , Tony Renna , Jason Bright , Jeff Simmons , Todd Snyder , Greg Moore , Rudy Junco , Cristiano da Matta , Mo Nunn