MONTEREY, Calif. - Townsend Bell (DIRECWAY Lola) clinched the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship title with a series-leading fifth win of the season Sunday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Bell led teammate Jon Fogarty (Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Lola) across the finish line by 2.963 seconds while Luis Diaz (Telmex/Roquin Motorsports, LLC Lola) finished third.
Bell led every lap from the pole and ended the day a full 36 championship points ahead of Dorricott Racing teammate Damien Faulkner (Dorricott Racing Lola) who finished fourth. With a maximum 22 points available in the season-ending race next month at California Speedway, Bell easily clinched his first major motorsports championship after 11 of 12 rounds.
After winning the pole with a Friday qualifying lap of 105.576 mph (76.313 seconds), Bell led a tight one-two formation with Fogarty at the race start as Diaz moved into third after powering past Mario Dominguez (del Valle/Corona/Televisa Lola). Later on the opening lap, Dominguez dove to the inside of Diaz in Turn 11, a move that sent Diaz into the dirt and all the way back to sixth place by the completion of lap one.
Dominguez pressured Fogarty in the opening laps but soon slowed on course with apparent fuel pick up problems, eventually finishing in 10th place. Faulkner moved by the ailing Dominguez on lap seven and for awhile the race looked like a 1-2-3 Dorricott Racing finish. Diaz recovered well from the first lap incident, however, and after passing Higgins for fifth on lap two and watching Dominguez fall back, moved up to challenge Faulkner for third. Diaz moved to the inside of Faulkner in Turn 1 on lap 10 and completed the pass exiting Turn 2 to take third.
With Bell from two to nearly three seconds in front for most of the race, the leaders had a trouble-free day and the race was the first of the season to be run without a caution period. Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights Lola), who came into the race tied with Faulkner as the only championship challengers with a mathematical chance to catch Bell, started and finished fifth. He closed on Faulkner in the waning laps of the race but was never able to complete a pass.
Bell is the 16th different Dayton Indy Lights Championship titleist since the series was introduced in 1986 and the first American to win the championship since Bryan Herta in 1993. Sunday's race was also the first time the Indy Lights championship was decided at Laguna Seca since 1989 when Mike Groff edged Tommy Byrne for the crown.
Light Look - Top Five Light Look - Top Five Points
1. Townsend Bell 1. Townsend Bell 171
2. Jon Fogarty 2. Damien Faulkner 135
3. Luis Diaz 3. Dan Wheldon 133
4. Damien Faulkner 4. Mario Dominguez 110
5. Dan Wheldon 5. Derek Higgins 101
#30 Townsend Bell (DIRECWAY Lola) "I couldn't be happier. If I had to pick an ideal situation for a fantasy championship, I would pick to win the championship at Laguna Seca. It's the right time to dedicate this championship to my team owner, Bob Dorricott. He and his wife, Phyllis, have made every difference for me. This is their race and their championship. When they took the chance to sign me two years ago, it set everything in motion for my career. They surrounded me with the personnel, environment, and equipment to really have a chance at winning on the race track. My sponsors have been invaluable. DIRECWAY, Toshiba, PCWorld, and Maxim have been the behind-the-scenes support I needed to reach this goal."
#32 Jon Fogarty (Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Lola) "Townsend and I briefly spoke about the race start but we didn't have a planned strategy. I fell in behind him going up the hill and through turn two. I decided that holding my position was the best move and things worked out. I was able to run strong during the early laps but my tires started going away about mid-race before my fuel burned off. I thought I was catching up near the end but the car started sliding around the harder I pushed it. I didn't want to throw away a second place finish."
#65 Luis Diaz (Telmex/Roquin Motorsport LLC Lola) "The team gave me a great car all weekend and I just tried to run a smart race and finish the race. Like at Atlanta last week, I dreamed of this podium finish but there I had problems with the gear box and contact with Derek (Higgins). Finally, I'm here and thank you to all the American people who support me."
Special Awards Dayton Tire Awards: Damien Faulkner receives four Dayton Daytona racing tires as the Move to the Front award recipient. Faulkner improved two positions to finish in fourth place from starting in the sixth position. Jon Fogarty receives two Dayton Daytona racing tires as the Dayton Rookie Award recipient as the highest finishing first-year driver. Townsend Bell receives a pair of Dayton Daytona racing tires as the fast qualifier.
Worldcom Fast Pace Award: Luis Diaz receives the $1,000 Worldcom Fast Pace Award for setting the fastest race lap at 103.441 mph (1:17.888 seconds).
Simple Green Clean-up Award: The Simple Green Award was not claimed in today's race, which rolls $2,500 over to the next event where $10,000 will be posted for sweeping the race: winning from the pole, leading the most race laps and setting the fastest race lap.
Nation's Cup: The United States moves to the top in the Nation's Cup with 170 points. Ireland follows in second place with 167 points and Mexico in third place with 142 points.
Racing for Kids Award: Townsend Bell wins the Racing for Kids Award for $500. An additional $1,500 will be presented to Lucille Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University Center, Palo Alto, California.
Television - Late Tonight
Round 11 of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship will be part of two hours of back-to-back series television coverage late Sunday evening on ESPN2. Last week's Road Atlanta race airs at 1:30 a.m. ET, Sunday, October 14, and will be immediately followed at 2:30 a.m. ET by the Laguna Seca race. Although the late-night television times are actually early Monday morning, October 15, viewers on the West Coast can catch the shows on the 14th at 10:30 p.m. PT and 11:30 p.m. PT, respectively.
The 12th and final round of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship will take place at the California Speedway in Fontana, California on Sunday, November 4, 2001.