Track: Pikes Peak International Raceway
Date: Sunday, August 29, 1999
Start time: 2:15 PM MDT
Weather: Warm, windy, partly cloudy
IRL historical: #8 of 10 in 1999 season, IRL race #32 overall
Track historical: IRL race #4, Indy car race #4 at this track
Track configuration: 1 mile D-oval, flat track
Wing package: Short track
Greg Ray made it a clean sweep of the two Pikes Peak races this year, and became the first IRL driver to win three short-track races in a season. And he did it in a dominating style that nonetheless saw opportunities for other drivers to snatch away the victory.
An event possibly unprecedented in any major racing series occurred in qualifying as first Ray ran a 176.263 MPH to claim the pole, and then several qualifiers later Sam Schmidt ran an identical speed. There was some confusion until IRL chief steward Brian Barnhardt pointed out to the teams IRL rule ???, which states that in this situation the driver who ran first gets the position and awarded Ray the pole. Scott Harrington, who had been fast all during practice, turned in his best-ever qualifying performance to start outside second row, along with Mark Dismore. The top-10 was loaded with rookies, as in addition to Harrington, John Hollansworth and Robby McGehee both made the first five rows. All together, six rookes made the starting field including 45-year-old Bobby Regester, making his first start in a second car fielded by Truscelli Team Racing. Regester was a Pikes Peak veteran, part of the Colorado Indy car racing scene who had become acquainted with Truscelli when both drove in the American Indycar Series.
At the start of the race, Ray nosed into the lead as Harrington abruptly slowed at the green, stacking up the outside line. (He admitted later that he had accidentally switched his ignition off while trying to adjust the mixture.) Dismore got a good jump and almost passed Ray in turn 1, but fell back. Schmidt got a better jump and took the lead in turn 4. But behind him, with traffic still stacked up, Jeff Ward spun and hit the wall, and Ronnie Johncox spun trying to avoid him, bringing out the first of only three cautions on the day. Both cars were too badly damaged to continue. It would be 178 laps later before another car retired.
Ward's car leaked oil on the track and the mess took some time to clean up; the green didn't come back out until lap 14. After the restart, Schmidt build up a small lead as Ray trailed. John Hollansworth, who had qualified seventh to complement his front-row start in the June race at PPIR, faded back rapidly, with his crew reporting a fuel pickup problem. Buddy Lazier, who had qualified uncharacteristically well, wasted no time taking advantage of his 9th starting position and was up to fourth by lap 20. On lap 25 the top-5 consisted of Schmidt, Ray, Dismore, Lazier, and Hamilton. Ray caught Schmidt in traffic on lap 29 and passed for the lead, but after some great wheel-to-wheel racing Schmidt took it back five laps later. Meanwhile Lazier and Hamilton were trading third and fourth as the leaders worked traffic.
Around lap 45, Schmidt's position was evaporating as his car began developing a loose condition that would plague him for the rest of the day. This would be a familiar refrain as changing weather conditions altered track conditions and kept crew chiefs on their toes all day. Ray began to drive away as other drivers struggled with handling and traffic; Hamilton hung on to second but by lap 60 he was nearly 8 seconds behind. As green flag racing continued, Lazier took second from Hamilton just before the leaders began making pit stops on lap 75. Several of the second group of top-10 cars, including Eddie Cheever and Robby Unser, made their stops first; this also included rookie Robby McGehee, whose crew chief Steve Fried was back in his pit since suffering critical injuries in a pit accident at Indy. Also in this group was the surprising Jimmy Kite who had worked up to 10th in the unsponsored McCormack car. Lazier stopped on lap 81. Ray and Dismore made their stops two laps later, handing the lead momentarily to Hamilton until he stopped on lap 85.
Schmidt, who had made a late fuel top-off stop on the first caution, stayed out and inherited the lead, holding it until lap 92. Ray then resumed where he left off, and by lap 97 had a half-lap lead over Lazier, Hamilton, Dismore, and Harrington who had worked his way back to the top-5 after his starting-line gaffe. Ray had set about trying to put a lap on Scott Goodyear, his chief opponent in the IRL points championship contest. However, it turned out to be easier than he could have imagined; Goodyear's car was losing fluid as reported by several drivers, and under threat of a black flag Goodyear pitted on lap 99. As the car sat in the pits, a pool of water appeared under the left sidepod. The problem turned out to be a faulty water line fitting which the team was never able to fully repair, and although Goodyear continued to circulate for the rest of the race, he was out of contention and facing a big hit in his points standings.
Ray continued to run away and was threatening to lap the field when a caution flew on lap 109 for some bodywork pieces in turn 3. Of the leaders, only Dismore chose to execute some strategy and pitted during this stop; interestingly, he chose to decline new tires. Schmidt, who had fallen back due to evil handling, pitted and then came back in for a top-up on the last lap of the caution, and set up his car for a fuel economy run not intending to stop again if the race stayed green -- which it appeared it might do. After the green, Ray again ran away with the lead, but then Lazier went to work as the track came to his car setup and he started chiseling away the lead. Meanwhile, Beechler had had to slow with a disintegrating front wing.
Ray had an 8-second lead right after the restart, but Lazier got that down to about 3.5 seconds before he got into traffic on lap 141 and started to lose time. Hamilton ran third, followed by Harrington and Dismore; Kite was doing very well and had advanced to 6th. The track remained green with Ray holding his lead while positions 2-6 were contested by the above mentioned drivers, the only ones still on the lead lap. Some other teams were struggling with severe handling problems including Buzz Calkins and Eliseo Salazar. By lap 155 some teams decided that the race was probably going green the rest of the way and elected to stop short. One that didn't stop short enough was Lazier, who ran out of fuel on lap 159 and lost an extra lap getting the engine restarted during the pit stop.
By lap 160 some chief mechanics and team engineers were having to make some hard decisions. One by one the leaders made green flag pit stops until all but Dismore had stopped. Dismore, who alone among the leaders had stopped under the caution on lap 111, inherited the lead when Ray stopped on lap 166 and showed no signs of slowing down. With car owner Tom Kelley acting as his chief mechanic, Dismore apparently was going to attempt to run the rest of the distance without another stop. It seemed like a fool's errand; Dismore would have to run 89 laps on one tank of fuel, and also he had not changed tires since lap 51, although the Goodyear teams were reporting minimal tire wear. But if there were to be a caution, it might be possible. While they were considering it, Cheever slowed on lap 168 with an internal engine problem that would cost him his top-10 position as he eventually had to limp the car home on seven cylinders. Dismore continued to cruise in sixth gear with the engine on max lean, along with Schmidt who was also attempting a fuel economy run, his handling problems leaving him no other choice.
This all came to a premature end when Scott Sharp entered turn 3 on lap 178 and discovered that his car wouldn't turn. He slid into the wall in turn 4, bringing out the caution. Sharp's car wasn't very damaged and he drove it back to the pits, but his crew didn't have time to replace some bent suspension pieces before the race ended. Meanwhile, the carefully laid plans of Dismore's team went by the wayside. Needing a good finish to show for their efforts on the season, they chose to play it safe and pitted. At this point in the race only Dismore, Ray, and Lazier were on the lead lap; Dismore's pitting also put Lazier on the tail end of the lead lap. As Dismore pitted, Ray took back the lead. The green saw a large group of lapped cars in front of Ray and Hamilton. On the green Hamilton got a good jump and twice over the next few laps got alongside Ray but was unable to complete the pass. Then, Dismore worked his way through traffic and Hamilton had to defend his position. Ray build up a 1.3-second lead until he got into traffic on lap 196; Hamilton and Dismore mounted one last valiant charge but ran out of time.
Ray become the first IRL driver to sweep two races at a track in a single season, and also the first driver to win three short-track races in a season. He had come to Pikes Peak in June as an talented-but-uneven driver looking for a good finish; he left it in August as the IRL's top dog and favorite to win the championship. With 21 cars finishing the event (an IRL record), Scott Goodyear's mechanical problems had dealt his championship hopes a serious blow. For Davey Hamilton and Mark Dismore it was redemption; it was Dismore's best-ever IRL finish, and it was Hamilton's best finish in 1999 and the best ever for the 1999 version of the Galles team. Sam Schmidt did a fine salvage job, gaining a fifth with the fuel-conservation strategy (he never made a final stop), and Scott Harrington regained the respect that he had seen damaged at Dover. Robby McGehee welcomed his chief mechanic Steve Fried back with a seventh-place finish, his best since Indy, and Jimmy Kite's 8th was his best since 1997. However, poor Ronnie Johncox had certainly seen better days; his 24th was his second such finish of the day, exactly duplicating his finish in the Midget race which preceded the IRL event.
Fin St Qual Car C/E/T Driver Entrant Laps Status Laps Pts Spd # Led 1 1 176.263 2 D/A/F Greg Ray Menard 200 Running 146 55 2 5 175.063 9 D/A/G Davey Hamilton Galles 200 Running 1 40 3 3 175.996 28 D/A/G Mark Dismore Kelley 200 Running 15 36 4 9 173.770 91 D/A/G Buddy Lazier Hemelgarn 200 Running 32 5 2 176.263 99 G/A/F Sam Schmidt Treadway 199 Running 38 32 6 4 175.953 66 D/A/F Scott Harrington Harrington 199 Running 28 7 8 173.888 55 D/A/F Robby McGehee Conti 199 Running 26 8 16 171.928 30 G/A/F Jimmy Kite McCormack 199 Running 24 9 12 172.927 81 D/A/F Robby Unser Pelfrey 199 Running 22 10 13 172.778 14 D/A/G Kenny Brack Foyt 198 Running 20 11 20 170.584 51 D/I/G Eddie Cheever Cheever 197 Running 19 12 17 171.559 33 G/A/G Jacques Lazier Truscelli 197 Running 18 13 14 172.447 11 D/A/G Billy Boat Foyt 196 Running 17 14 21 169.924 7 G/A/F Stephan Gregoire Simon 196 Running 16 15 15 172.381 12 G/A/F Buzz Calkins Bradley 194 Running 15 16 7 174.123 42 D/A/G John Hollansworth Xtreme 192 Running 14 17 19 171.453 20 D/A/F Tyce Carlson Blue-Immke 190 Running 13 18 23 166.860 26 G/A/G Bobby Regester Truscelli 189 Running 12 19 22 168.044 6 G/A/F Eliseo Salazar Nienhouse 187 Running 11 20 24 154.176 98 D/A/F Donnie Beechler Cahill 187 Running 10 21 11 173.169 4 G/A/G Scott Goodyear Panther 184 Running 9 22 6 174.165 8 D/A/G Scott Sharp Kelley 178 Suspension 8 23 10 173.452 21 D/A/G Jeff Ward Pagan 0 Crash T4 7 24 18 171.469 22 D/A/G Ronnie Johncox Tristar 0 Crash T4 6
Laps under green: 181 of 200 laps (90.5%)
Caution flags: 3 for 19 laps (9.5%)
#1: lap 1, crash (Johncox, Ward), T4, 12 laps
#2: lap 109, debris, T3, 5 laps
#3: lap 181, crash (Sharp), T4, 2 laps
Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes
Lead changes: 8; number of race leaders: 4
St: Schmidt 1-28
#1: Ray 29-35
#2: Schmidt 36-38
#3: Ray 39-84
#4: Hamilton 85
#5: Schmidt 86-92
#6: Ray 93-166
#7: Dismore 167-181
#8: Ray 182-200
C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 16 / 11.8
G-Force: 8 / 14.0
Aurora: 23 / 12.6
Infiniti: 1 / 11.0
Firestone: 11 / 11.0
Goodyear: 13 / 13.8