Vancouver begins three race stretch

DETROIT (Aug. 30, 2000) - A season-high stretch of three consecutive races that could all but decide the final outcome of the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights Championship will begin this weekend at the Molson Indy Vancouver where CART's top rung...

DETROIT (Aug. 30, 2000) - A season-high stretch of three consecutive races that could all but decide the final outcome of the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights Championship will begin this weekend at the Molson Indy Vancouver where CART's top rung development series returns after a one-year absence.

A 42-lap (74.802 miles) Dayton Indy Lights sprint at 10:20 a.m. ET Sunday will set the stage for the FedEx Championship Series Molson Indy that takes to the 1.781-mile street circuit later that afternoon. Round Eight on the 12-race Dayton Indy Lights schedule, the Vancouver event will be telecast in same-day coverage on ESPN2 in a one-hour show later on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. ET (3:00 p.m. PT). Two days of practice and qualifying and a race-day warm up at 8:25 a.m. will precede Sunday's race.

The only Canadian stop on the Dayton Indy Lights tour, Vancouver will be followed by Round Nine at Laguna Seca Raceway in California next weekend and Round 10 at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis in two weeks. With only the year's final events at Houston (Oct. 1) and California Speedway (Oct. 29) remaining after the three-race run, Vancouver will kick-off the most critical part of the season for drivers and teams looking to get into position for a final run at the Dayton Indy Lights Championship title.

Second-year New Zealander Scott Dixon (Invensys/Powerware/PacWest Lights Lola) has topped the point charts for most of the season and leads the series in victories with wins at Long Beach, Milwaukee and Chicago. The 20-year-old talent heads to Canada with a 13-point lead in the championship over American rookie Townsend Bell (DirecPC Lola), 93 - 80. Dixon is the only driver in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship to win more than one race this season.

Dixon is in his first season with PacWest and joined the team's FedEx Championship Series drivers Mauricio Gugelmin and Mark Blundell in a CART Champ Car open test session at Laguna Seca last week. The only time Dixon has not led the championship this season was after Round Five at Michigan where Jason Bright (Dorricott Racing Lola) left on top of the standings by a single point.

Bell capped a streak of four consecutive top-four finishes with his first series victory one race ago at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The former Barber Dodge Pro Series winner has also posted second-place finishes at Portland and Chicago in addition to earning his first Indy Lights pole at Portland.

Bell is part of a three-driver effort from Dorricott Racing that won last year's Dayton Indy Lights Championship title with current CART Champ Car rookie Oriol Servia. Bell's teammates include fellow rookie Bright and Indy Lights veteran Casey Mears (Dorricott Racing/Sooner Trailer Lola), who fill the third and fourth positions in the championship, respectively.

Bright, an Australian who has raced against Dixon back home, won his first Indy Lights race at Portland and rebounded from a lower back injury at Chicago to win the pole at Mid-Ohio and finish third in the race. Although Bright missed the Chicago race and lost the points lead due to the injury, he still ranks third in the championship with 72 points on the strength of his win and three more podium finishes.

Mears, a recognized circle-track stalwart, finished second on the Michigan oval to Felipe Giaffone (Hollywood Lola) but has also turned in the best road course performances of his career this season. He qualified second and finished third at Detroit, both career-high marks, and set the fastest race lap at Mid-Ohio. Mears, who also qualified second and led his first career race laps at Chicago, is fourth in the standings with 69 points.

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 four races. Renna scored a pair of third-place finishes at Michigan and Chicago last month and finished fourth at Portland and Mid-Ohio. He is now sixth in the championship with 56 points.

Giaffone's flag-to-flag victory for Conquest Racing in The Detroit News 100 at Michigan was the first in his four-years of Indy Lights competition. The lone Brazilian in the series, Giaffone joins Mears and just five other drivers who have raced before in Vancouver. Giaffone is fifth in the championship with 65 points and finished fifth in the 1998 Indy Lights race at the Molson Indy.

Other drivers with Vancouver experience include Derek Higgins (Mexpro/PrecioBase.com Lola), Mario Dominguez (Herdez/Pegaso/Quaker State Lola), Rodolfo Lavin (Corona/Modelo/SportsYA.com Lola) and brothers Geoff Boss (Cross Pens/Lacoste/ITIS Lola) and Andy Boss (Cross Pens/Lacoste/ITIS Lola).

Of this group, Higgins - a four-time Indy Lights race winner - boasts the best Vancouver showing. He qualified a career-best third at Vancouver in 1998 and went on to finish second in the race as a teammate with Dominguez at Team Mexico Quaker/Herdez. He has since joined the first-year Team Mexpro operation and will make his second start with the team this weekend after giving the group its best result to date with a seventh-place at Mid-Ohio. His primary role with the team is to serve as a driver coach for rookie teammate Rudy Junco (Mexpro/PrecioBase.com Lola).

Team KOOL Green teammates Jeff Simmons (KOOL Lola) and 1999 Rookie of the Year Jonny Kane (KOOL Lola) head to Vancouver looking to keep their championship hopes alive. Simmons, a rookie, is seventh in the championship with 50 points, but most close the 43-point gap on Dixon in the next three races to have any hope of staying alive in the title chase in October. Kane, a distant 10th in the championship with 35 points, is in an even worse predicament despite winning from the pole at Detroit in June. The Irishman has earned only three points since the Motown victory and could be eliminated from title contention if he doesn't improve in the next three races. His setbacks have included joining Bright on the sidelines at Chicago after a qualifying accident damaged his race car beyond repair that weekend.

Second-year American Chris Menninga (Mi-Jack Lola) won his first pole at Chicago but has come up short on luck in the last few races. He was taken out in an accident with Kane at Michigan, scored only five points after a late race incident with Mears while battling for second at Chicago and finished out of the points at Mid-Ohio. Menninga is ninth in the championship with 37 points and has a season's best finish of fourth at Milwaukee.

Dominguez, who is eighth in the championship with 45 points, leads a group of five Mexican drivers that also includes Lavin, Junco and two more rookies. Dominguez has a season's best finish of third at Milwaukee and returns to the same Vancouver track where he debuted with Team Mexico in 1998, finishing 14th. Lavin earned a career-best finish of fifth at Chicago and drives for the Canadian-based Brian Stewart Racing team. Dominguez teams with rookie Luis Diaz (Quaker State Mexico Lola) while fellow first-year driver Rolando Quintanilla (Telmex/Prodigy Internet Lola) completes the Vancouver entry.

-Indy Lights-

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Felipe Giaffone , Casey Mears , Scott Dixon , Mauricio Gugelmin , Oriol Servia , Mark Blundell , Chris Menninga , Townsend Bell , Luis Diaz , Derek Higgins , Mario Dominguez , Rolando Quintanilla , Jonny Kane , Rodolfo Lavin , Tony Renna , Jason Bright , Jeff Simmons , Rudy Junco
Teams Conquest Racing