Lights head to Mid-Ohio

DETROIT (Aug. 9, 2000) - The Dayton Indy Lights Championship will make its first appearance at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in five years this weekend when CART's top-rung development series begins the second half of its 12-race season with the...

DETROIT (Aug. 9, 2000) - The Dayton Indy Lights Championship will make its first appearance at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in five years this weekend when CART's top-rung development series begins the second half of its 12-race season with the featured support race for the Miller Lite 200.

A 34-lap Dayton Indy Lights sprint race at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday will set the stage for the FedEx Championship Series Miller Lite 200 that takes to the 2.258-mile road course that afternoon. The Dayton Indy Lights race will be telecast in same-day coverage on ESPN2 in a one-hour show later on Sunday at 11:30 p.m. ET. (8:30 p.m. PT). Two days of practice and qualifying and a race-day warm up at 8:15 a.m. will precede Sunday's Dayton Indy Lights race.

Indy Lights last appeared at Mid-Ohio in 1994 when Andre Ribeiro and Columbus, Ohio-based Tasman Motorsports won their second of four races that season. Ribeiro, who later won three CART Champ Car races with Tasman, retired at the end of1998 while Tasman later merged with Forsythe Championship Racing which left Indy Lights after last season.

None of the drivers entered for Sunday's race and only two teams - Brian Stewart Racing and Dorricott Racing - have Indy Lights race experience at Mid-Ohio. A two-day group test held at the track this past May provided most drivers and teams with their first Indy Lights laps on the Buckeye road course.

A new generation of drivers is led by New Zealander Scott Dixon (Invensys/Powerware/PacWest Lights Lola) who won half of the year's first six races. The 20-year old series sophomore leads the championship heading to Mid-Ohio with 77 points, 12 points ahead of nearest challenger Felipe Giaffone (Hollywood Lola). Dixon has won races at Long Beach, Milwaukee and two-weeks ago in Chicago where he took the points lead for the second time this season.

Dixon teams with Florida's Tony Renna (Motorola/PacWest Lights Lola) who has moved into the championship picture with top-four finishes in the last three races. Renna finished fourth at Portland in June and scored a pair of third-place finishes at Michigan and Chicago, respectively, last month. He is now sixth in the championship with 44 points.

Giaffone and Renna are split in the championship by Dorricott's three-driver lineup of Casey Mears (Dorricott Racing/Sooner Trailer Lola), Townsend Bell (DirecPC Lola) and Australian Jason Bright (Dorricott Racing Lola). Americans Mears and Bell are tied for third in the championship with 59 points apiece. Mears finished second to Giaffone at Michigan while Bell earned runner-up honors at Portland and Chicago. Bell also won his first Indy Lights pole at Portland.

Bright edged Dixon for the championship lead by a single point following Round Five at Michigan, but he has not raced since then. Bright's championship bid has taken a blow after he was sidelined with a severe back muscle injury in a Friday practice accident at Chicago.

Bright, who earned his first Indy Lights victory at Portland, spent a night in the hospital, missed the Chicago race and may also sit out this weekend if the injury fails to improve. He did not participate in a Dorricott team test on the Putnam Park road course in Indiana on Monday and his status remains day-to-day heading to Mid-Ohio. He is fifth in the championship with 57 points.

Giaffone earned his first win in four years of Indy Lights competition in The Detroit News 100 at Michigan. He drives for Conquest Racing which is owned and operated by 1991 Indy Lights champion Eric Bachelart. Other drivers on the Conquest team include rookie Rolando Quintanilla (Telmex/Prodigy Internet Lola) and American Chris Menninga (Mi-Jack Lola) who won his first Indy Lights pole at Chicago. Menninga also took a trip to the hospital after a late-race accident with Mears in Chicago, but he was released after x-rays revealed no injuries and will be racing at Mid-Ohio. Mears was not injured in the Chicago incident.

The year's only other race winner, Jonny Kane (KOOL Lola), scored at Detroit in June but has not earned a point since that victory. He failed to finish at Portland and Michigan and also missed the Chicago race when an accident in qualifying left him uninjured but without a race car to drive for the weekend. He still ranks in the top 10 in the championship with 32 points but nothing short of a win at Mid-Ohio is needed if Kane is going to make a second-half charge at the title.

Kane's rookie teammate Jeff Simmons (KOOL Lola) and top Mexican driver Mario Dominguez (Herdez/Pegaso/Quaker State Lola) complete the top-10 drivers in the championship. Simmons, the two-time reigning Barber Dodge Pro Series champion, is eighth in the championship with 42 points, one point behind Dominguez who is seventh in the standings. Each driver has earned a season's best finish of third place with Simmons reaching the podium at Portland and Dominguez cracking the top-three at Milwaukee.

Brothers Geoff Boss (Cross Pens/Lacoste/ITIS Lola) and Andy Boss (Cross Pens/Lacoste/ITIS Lola) have been successful at Mid-Ohio in Barber Dodge competition and join Renna, Menninga and Simmons as former standouts from that series now in Indy Lights. The Boss brothers race for Lucas Motorsports Ltd., a team based in Dublin, Ohio that is owned by former Tasman crew member Chris Lucas.

Dominguez leads a group of five Mexican drivers that includes Quintanilla, two more rookies and another veteran driver coming off a career weekend. Rodolfo Lavin (Corona/Modelo/SportsYA.com Lola) had the best race of his career in his 53rd Indy Lights start at Chicago. He finished fifth after running as high as fourth, and his total of 22 points in the first half of the year is more than he has ever scored in any one of his previous four seasons in the series. In addition to Quintanilla, the rookie trio includes Luis Diaz (Quaker State Mexico Lola) and Rudy Junco (Mexpro/PrecioBase.com Lola). Diaz teams with Dominguez at Team Mexico Quaker Herdez and Junco drives for the first-year Team Mexpro operation that uses equipment purchased from the disbanded Tasman/Forsythe team.

Joining Junco at Mexpro in a second entry will be four-time Indy Lights winner Derek Higgins (Mexpro/PrecioBase.com Lola) who will make his first start with the team at Mid-Ohio after serving as Junco's driving coach for the first half of the season. Higgins, who won at Cleveland last year, also filled in for Bright at Chicago last week in a one-off appearance with Dorricott where he finished 13th. Higgins was uninjured in a testing accident at Putnam Park on Monday and his Mexpro Lola will be repaired in time for Mid-Ohio.

In addition to the original telecast, the Mid-Ohio Dayton Indy Lights race will be reaired on ESPN2, early Tuesday, Aug. 15 at 4:00 a.m. ET (1:00 a.m. PT).

-CART-

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Casey Mears , Scott Dixon , Chris Menninga , Townsend Bell , Luis Diaz , Derek Higgins , Rolando Quintanilla , Jonny Kane , Rodolfo Lavin , Tony Renna , Jason Bright , Jeff Simmons , Geoff Boss , Andre Ribeiro , Rudy Junco
Teams Conquest Racing