PPG-Datyon Indy Lights Laguna Seca Preview

DETROIT (September 9) - Second-year driver Oriol Servia (Catalonia/RACC/Elf Lola) could win the 1999 PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship drivers title on the home track of his team, Dorricott-Mears Racing, when Round 11 of CART's "Official ...

DETROIT (September 9) - Second-year driver Oriol Servia (Catalonia/RACC/Elf Lola) could win the 1999 PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship drivers title on the home track of his team, Dorricott-Mears Racing, when Round 11 of CART's "Official Development Series" takes to Laguna Seca Raceway this weekend.

Sunday's Indy Lights race - which can be seen in same-day coverage in a one-hour show on ESPN2 at 11:30 p.m. ET (8:30 p.m. PT) - will close the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey weekend with a 34 lap (76.092 miles) race that is scheduled to start at 2:45 p.m. PT. The race follows the featured Shell 300 FedEx Championship Series event that runs earlier on Sunday at Noon.

Dorricott-Mears Racing is an all-California collaboration owned by Sunnyvale and Monterey resident Bob Dorricott Sr. who is in his first year of a partnership with Bakersfield's famous Mears Gang family of racers. Former Off-Road Racing champion and Champ Car veteran Roger Mears is team manager while three-time CART champion Rick Mears serves as a team advisor.

Team drivers include Servia, Casey Mears (Sooner Trailer/American Racing Custom Wheels Lola) and Philipp Peter (Red Bull/Remus/ESTEBE Lola) who head to Laguna as the only ones still alive in the 1999 championship with two races remaining. Servia took the points lead in Round Six at Cleveland in June. One race later in Toronto, Mears and Peter joined him at the top of the points chart to place a three-way lock on the championship that is still going strong. The trio is the first team in the 14-year history of Indy Lights to have all three of its drivers lead the standings for more than one race. Servia leads with 124 points, Mears has 106 points and Peter is in third with 93 points.

With a maximum 22 points available to a driver in a race - 20 for a win and bonus points for the pole winner and race lap leader - Servia's 18 point lead over Mears is a strong advantage. If Servia leaves Laguna Seca 23-points clear of Mears and Peter, the 25-year-old driver from the Catalonia region of Spain will win his first North American motorsports championship.

The Dorricott-Mears domination has been anchored by consistency. As a group, the Dorricott-Mears squad has finished all but one race (29 of 30 starts) while Servia and Mears have scored points in each of the 10 races run this season. Peter, an Austrian, finished out of the points only in the Miami opener, but recovered for three race wins at Long Beach, Portland and The Detroit News 100 at Michigan. In addition to a series-leading run of three Sea-Doo/Ski-Doo poles (Nazareth, Portland & Detroit) Servia has finished second five times in the last eight races. Californian Mears, Roger's son, finished second at Milwaukee and Michigan and is the only driver in the series to complete all 601 laps (871.110 miles) run this season.

While the competition has been eliminated from the championship by the Dorricott-Mears powerhouse, several drivers will look to end their seasons on a high note at both Laguna Seca and the season-ending race at California Speedway, October 31.

Felipe Giaffone (Hollywood/Comet Lola) is fourth in the championship with 78 points and is the fastest driver in the series this year to not win a race. He has a pair of Sea-Doo/Ski-Doo poles and points-paying finishes in the last five races, but a variety of early season problems put Giaffone's title hopes behind from the beginning.

Peter joins Derek Higgins (Quaker State Mexico Lola) as the year's only repeat race winner with victories at Milwaukee, Cleveland and The Detroit News Challenge two races ago where he charged from seventh on the grid for the victory. He finished third at Laguna Seca last year and will be among the drivers to watch this weekend.

Higgins' rookie teammate Mario Dominguez (Herdez/Quaker "Viva Mexico" Lola) also scored a victory for Team Mexico Quaker Herdez when he led every lap from the Sea-Doo/Ski-Doo pole at Miami, his very first race on an oval. His best race since then was at Michigan where he charged from sixth to fourth on the last lap. He also finished fifth at Chicago and has now his shifted his focus to the Rookie of the Year championship.

The rookie leader is also the most recent winner in the series. Nineteen-year-old New Zealander Scott Dixon (Diagem/Speedbet Lola) led every lap from the Sea-Doo/Ski-Doo pole to win his first North American race in Chicago on August 22. He is now sixth in the championship with 72 points, but a full 16 tallies ahead of Dominguez, his nearest rookie rival. Like Servia in the main championship race, if Dixon leaves Laguna Seca 23 points ahead of all other first-year drivers, the Rookie honor will be his.

Two other race winners join Peter, Higgins, Dominguez and Dixon so far in 1999. Airton Dare (Banestado Lola) won his second career race on the Nazareth Speedway oval in April but his bid to win the 1999 title was crushed by DNFs (Did Not Finish) in the last four races. American Geoff Boss (Cross Pens/Powerware/Lacoste) in turn led every lap from the pole to win in Toronto, his first Indy Lights triumph and the first for Lucas Place Motorsports. He joins his brother and teammate Andy Boss, who drives an identical Cross Pens/Powerware/Lacoste Lola, at Lucas Place.

Another rookie contender is Jonny Kane (KOOL Lola). He finished ninth at Chicago, but one race earlier at Detroit Kane earned his first podium finish where he came home third after qualifying second. One race before that, Kane won the pole at Michigan, another first for the rookie from Northern Ireland. His 54 points trail top rookie Dixon by 18, but Kane, a road racing veteran, should be right at home at Laguna Seca.

Dixon drives for Johansson Motorsports, the 1998 Rookie of the Year winning team with Guy Smith. Smith has moved to Forsythe Championship Racing this year, but his spot at Johansson has been filled by another Englishman, Ben Collins (Hays Home Delivery Services/Diagem Lola). A fifth-place finish at Nazareth is the best showing of the year for Collins.

Smith, who drives the Swift Caravans Lola, scored a season's best second place finish at Chicago one race ago, but his season has largely been a disappointment. The only other top showing was a third-place finish at Portland.

Defending Laguna Seca winner Didier Andre (Motorola/Playstation Lola) was another pre-season favorite for the title who struggled in 1999. His best finish was a third place at Toronto with PacWest Racing Group, but a string of virtually every type of bad luck racing can offer prevented a title bid. His new teammate at PacWest is his countryman Boris Derichebourg (CFF/Motorola/PacWest Lola), a 21-year-old Formula 3000 veteran who debuted at Detroit. Derichebourg was also entered at Chicago but missed the race after a practice accident. Laguna Seca will be his second Indy Lights race and first on this track.

Another driver debuting at Monterey is Luis Diaz who will run a third Team Mexico Quaker Herdez entry alongside Higgins and Dominguez this weekend. Diaz, 22, has a variety of open-wheel racing experience in his home country including Formula 3 and Formula Reynard.

In total, three drivers from Mexico will be in action at Laguna Seca. Rookies Dominguez and Diaz will be joined by veteran Rodolfo Lavin. (Corona/Modelo Lola).

The third championship that could be decided this weekend is the Indy Lights Nation's Cup. Brazil (125 points) and Spain (124 points) are separated by only a point but the U.S. leads the standings with 134 points. Sole Spaniard Servia and Brazilians Giaffone and Dare have withstood challenges from six full-time Yankees which includes Mears, the Boss brothers, David Pook (Sage & Clay/Quickline Lola) and rookies Cory Witherill (WSA Health Care Lola) and Chris Menninga (Mi-Jack/Cambridge Health Lola).

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Guy Smith , Felipe Giaffone , Casey Mears , Didier André , Airton Daré , Scott Dixon , Oriol Servia , Chris Menninga , Luis Diaz , Derek Higgins , Mario Dominguez , Rick Mears , Jonny Kane , Ben Collins , Rodolfo Lavin , Roger Mears , Philipp Peter