MONTEREY, Calif. (Sept. 11, 2000) - - The Yahoo! Sports Monterey Challenge at Laguna Seca Raceway, Sunday, Sept. 10, was bitter-sweet for Casey Mears, of Bakersfield, Calif. Mears won his first career Indy Lights pole and then scored a ...
MONTEREY, Calif. (Sept. 11, 2000) - - The Yahoo! Sports Monterey Challenge at Laguna Seca Raceway, Sunday, Sept. 10, was bitter-sweet for Casey Mears, of Bakersfield, Calif. Mears won his first career Indy Lights pole and then scored a second place finish in the ninth round of the 12-race Dayton Indy Lights Championship. His runner-up showing breathed new life into a late season title challenge. It was, however, one position short of what Mears had sought - a race victory. That prize went to Scott Dixon, of New Zealand, who earned his fifth Indy Lights victory this season. Starting on the outside pole, Dixon passed Mears in turn two on lap three and held the lead for the remainder of the 34-lap race around Laguna Seca's 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course. Dixon crossed the finish line 2.885-seconds ahead of Mears at an average race speed of 88.088 mph for the 76.092 mile race.
"Scott was faster at the start of the race than I was mainly because my car was bottoming out on a full fuel tank," said Mears. "I also had too much front brake bias. It caused me to enter turn two too deep and I locked up my brakes. Scott was able to take advantage and slip inside me. Once my fuel load lightened and I got my brake bias back, I ran consistently faster laps. Unfortunately, it was a little too late to make up the difference."
The race was nightmarish for Townsend Bell, of Costa Mesa, Calif., and uninspiring for Australian Jason Bright. The race endured three caution periods but the first one was indirectly responsible for Bell not being able to complete the race. The first caution was issued on lap 11 for debris on the track following contact in turn two between debuting rookie Waldemar Coronas, of Argentina, and Rodolfo Lavin, of Mexico.
Bell, who started 11th, had fallen a couple of positions on the race start but he slyly maneuvered up into the top 10 by lap 10. However, disaster struck shortly after the first re-start on lap 15 when former Dorricott Racing substitute driver Derek Higgins, of Ireland, and Bell came together.
Higgins attempted an inside pass of Bell while entering the 180 degree second corner and drove his right front tire into Bell's left side tub and rear tire. The impact jettisoned Bell off course and into the turn two wall. Higgins continued to a 14th place finish while Bell was unable to continue and relegated to an unjust 18th place. Bell was uninjured in the incident.
"Higgins was very aggressive on that re-start," said Bell. "He tried to stuff his wheels inside me in turn two even though I had beaten him to the spot and he wasn't as fast through the corners. His wheels struck mine and shot me into the nearby wall. I'm sure he has a different point of view but that's what I saw and that was it."
Bright, meanwhile, had his share of misadventure early in the race. Bright fell from the race pace on the start and lost a couple of positions after qualifying ninth. He, too, battled back into the mix but the "pass unfriendly" nature of Laguna Seca hampered him from improving much more on lost ground. Bright was forced to settle for eighth place.
Dixon left Laguna Seca with a commanding 42-point championship lead over second-place Bell, 134-92. Mears scored 16 points for his runner-up finish to improve to 91 points, and move into a tie for third place with Brazilian Felipe Giaffone. Bright is in sixth place with 77 points.
Bell maintained his grip for Indy Lights Rookie-of-the-Year by 14 points over Jeff Simmons, 92-78. Bright's 77 points places him third among eligible rookie candidates.
Mears received two Dayton Daytona racing tires and a $1,000 bonus for being the top qualifier. He placed his Dorricott Racing/Sooner Trailer Lola on the pole with a time of 1:15.891 = 106.163 mph.
ESPN2 has scheduled an encore telecast of the Laguna Seca Indy Lights race Wednesday, Sept. 13, from 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. ET (2:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. PT).
Race results, team, and sponsor information are available on Dorricott Racing's official web site, http://www.dorricottracing.com. Round 10 of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship will be around the high speed short oval of Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill., at the Motorola 300, Sunday, Sept. 17.