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SPORTS WEEKEND | MOTOR RACING

Mears Gets the Best of Both Worlds

October 20, 2000|SHAV GLICK

Some race car drivers wait a lifetime for a shot at winning a national championship series.

Others often wait a lifetime hoping for a ride that will lead them into Winston Cup, CART champ cars or the Indianapolis 500.

Casey Mears, 22, son of Pikes Peak champion Roger and nephew of four-time Indy 500 winner Rick, will get both opportunities on Oct. 29 at California Speedway.

In the morning, the Bakersfield youngster will drive a Lola V-6 in the Dayton Indy Lights season finale, battling New Zealander Scott Dixon and Dorricott Racing teammate Townsend Bell of Costa Mesa for the championship in CART's development series.

In the afternoon, he will climb into one of Bobby Rahal's three Reynard-Ford Cosworths and drive in his first CART champ car race, the Marlboro 500.

One would be enough, perhaps more than enough, to satisfy the average race driver. If he finishes both races, he will have driven 600 miles.

But Mears can't wait.

"I don't foresee too much of a problem," he said. "California Speedway is one of the best tracks to do it. You don't lean on the Lights cars too hard, so it won't take a lot out of me physically.

"Actually, running the Lights in the morning might help my focus on the champ car. If I wasn't running the morning race, I might be sitting around, worrying about how things are going to turn out. This way I won't have any time to think about it.

"I'll be driving for two great teams, and I know they'll give me the equipment to get the job done."

One of the challenges will be in adapting from one car to another during practice Saturday and qualifying Sunday.

A CART car is 100 pounds heavier, about eight inches longer and puts out nearly double the horsepower of a Light, approximately 800 to 425. Lights engines are non-turbocharged production power plants; CART's are built-for-racing turbocharged V-8s.

No one has driven in Lights and CART races the same weekend, much less on the same day.

After winning last week's Lights race in Houston--the first of his career in that series--Mears moved to within five points of Dixon and one behind Bell.

"Joining Dorricott Racing has been a career maker," Mears said after leading all 45 laps at Houston. "Bob Dorricott is so supportive and provides the best of everything to give us the most chances to succeed. I think it shows. Our drivers run up front. We test hard and learn from it."

Oriol Servia, now driving in CART, won the Lights championship last year in a Dorricott team car. Mears finished second.

During last year's California Speedway race, Mears ran the fastest official lap in Indy Lights history, 193.643 mph.

"I'll have a lot of support in both races," Mears said. "My dad is manager of the Lights team, and even though he's working for Roger Penske, if [uncle] Rick notices something he thinks I ought to know about, he mentions it to me. He keeps an eye on me. That's help you can't buy, knowing what he knows."

Rick Mears is Penske's team advisor.

Casey earned the CART ride during a test last month at California Speedway when he drove 400 miles under simulated race conditions, including pit stops.

"I promised Casey he could have a chance to test one of Team Rahal's cars this season and he certainly proved he is at home in a champ car during the test," Rahal said.

"We are thrilled to help him launch his champ car career near his home in California and I am confident that Casey will be a fixture in CART for years to come. He has developed his skills in the CART ladder system and now he is ready to take the step to racing in the world's fastest, most powerful cars."

Rahal said having Mears in a third car will not take away from the team's efforts with regular drivers Max Papis and Kenny Brack.

"It is important that the normal operation of the team goes uninterrupted," Rahal said.

The engineering and pit crew for Mears will be handled by Rahal's test team, which is headed by race engineer Ray Leto, the technical coordinator.

*

Gil de Ferran, the CART points leader, will test an Indy Racing League car this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of Penske's continuing efforts to run his team in next year's Indy 500.

He will be in a Dallara, running as part of a Firestone tire test. Penske team president Tim Cindric and advisor Mears will accompany their driver in the three-day test.

Helio Castroneves, Penske's other driver, already has tested at Indianapolis.

FORMULA ONE

Michael Schumacher already has clinched his third Formula One championship, but he's not about to relax. He and his Ferrari will be the favorites when the Grand Prix season ends Sunday with the Malaysian GP in Sepang.

"I feel very young still," the German driver said. "It's taken five years with Ferrari to be competitive from the first race to the last. Now we have it. I'm just glad to be there and taken more advantage.

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