Dare: Rookie Title Not Enough

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Airton Dare swells with pride at winning the 2000 rookie-of-the-year honors in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series. But he's quickly found a new goal for next year.

"We want to win the championship," said Dare, a 22-year-old native of Brazil who has a home in Florida. "It's a real possibility. We have everything going for us."

Dare will be racing once again for TeamXtreme in 2001, the second season in a three-year deal he has with the Texas-based team. He believes that winning the rookie award will be just the boost the team needs to sustain it during the off-season.

"It was really great for us," said Dare, who edged Jeret Schroeder by six points in the rookie battle. "The whole team is really happy about it, but I also think they are all ready to build on it. Things are going great, and we all want it to continue.”

Team manager John Lopes said almost everything about the team will be the same in 2001, and hopefully that they can build from where they left off. Ownership is a group of six, with several helping to run the team. Sponsors uproar.com, Nabisco and switchboard.com will all be back, as will most of the crew. Dare returns, though the team is still trying to make some tough decisions on its engine program.

"We believe we have a great team," Lopes said. "We were so close to really breaking through that it was tough on us sometimes. But we hung in there and plan on continuing to work hard.

“We feel we can go to the next level."

Lopes and other team managers have no doubt that Dare is a good enough driver to compete for a title. They signed him to a one-year deal in December, but extended the contract with a new agreement that was signed on the morning of the Indianapolis 500.

The team liked Dare's style, that he was hungry almost from the beginning, but team members were surprised at exactly how good he really was once he started driving for them.

"Airton has become an important part of this team," Lopes said. "Not only is he a great driver, but he's great with our sponsors and gives excellent feedback to our engineers. If we put a solid race car under him, he has a chance to win in every race."

Dare could have a full-time teammate in 2001. Davey Hamilton was Dare’s teammate at TeamXtreme for most of the 2000 season before a late-season change, and Dare claims he benefited a great deal from the veteran driver's expertise.

TeamXtreme fielded a car for Jaques Lazier, brother of 2000 IRNLS champ Buddy Lazier, at the season-ending race in Texas, and team officials are working hard to make the arrangement permanent. Both drivers did well during the event, but both had problems with the computer miscalculating the amount of fuel remaining.

"It would be great to have a teammate because that would make many things easier on us," Dare said. "But if it doesn't happen, we should still be able to be one of the top teams. If we can get the proper budget, I would prefer we be a two-car team. If we get more information, then it is like we can eliminate some of our little problems that have been slowing us down."

Dare, who had success racing jet skis and on the Indy Lights circuit before hooking up with TeamXtreme, believes that the key to a title in 2001 is pretty simple: luck. Dare felt racing luck cheated him out of a victory four times in 2000.

He was leading at Las Vegas when he came in for his final pit stop on Lap 171 of the 208-lap race. The crew performed a flawless stop, but the gearbox broke on the car as he left the pit stall. He finished in 14th place. In the next race, Dare was running fourth on Lap 127 of the Indy when his engine malfunctioned and forced him to retire in 25th place.

"We had more than our share of bad luck," Lopes said.

Dare also finished second in Phoenix, then ran out of gas because of a computer error during the season finale in Texas.

"We were close so many times, with just a little something in our way each time," Dare said. "We are a good team. It was great to win the rookie award, but next year we want to win the championship.

"If we can win a race, it will happen. If we can get that first win, more will follow and everything good will start coming out way."

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