FT. WORTH, Texas (April 29, 2001) - - Ireland's Damien Faulkner almost made it look easy. He not only started from the pole in round three of the 12-race Dayton Indy Lights Championship, he also dominated the 67-lap race at Texas Motor ...
FT. WORTH, Texas (April 29, 2001) - - Ireland's Damien Faulkner almost made it look easy. He not only started from the pole in round three of the 12-race Dayton Indy Lights Championship, he also dominated the 67-lap race at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, April 28, to capture his first career Indy Lights win in only his third career Indy Lights race. What made his victory more remarkable was he had never raced on an oval let alone a superspeedway before coming to Texas Motor Speedway.
Faulkner led 65 laps before crossing the finish line 0.349-seconds ahead of series leader Derek Higgins, of Ireland. The 25-year-old Dublin resident averaged 150.491 mph around Texas Motor Speedway's 1.482-mile tri-oval in a race that easily could and arguably should have seen his two teammates, Townsend Bell and Jon Fogarty, follow him to the podium.
The first three laps of the race saw Faulkner and Bell, who started on the outside pole, running side-by-side before Bell fell in line behind Faulkner. They drafted together for the next six laps before Higgins passed Bell for second place. Bell kept third place to lap 12 before passing Higgins to retake second place.
"I had a good start and that was crucial for me," said Faulkner. "I didn't mind that Townsend was on my outside for the first three laps because I didn't think he could pass me. I was hoping that he would tuck in sooner than later. I didn't want a train of cars hooking up and following him and not me."
While Faulkner and Bell held the front spots, Fogarty swayed from eighth on the starting grid to fifth then down to last. He recovered by lap 39 and, in turn, jumped to sixth then fourth on lap 43. He then passed Higgins for third place on lap 44 to give Dorricott Racing a front-running triad.
Trouble was brewing, however, in mid-pack when Dan Wheldon, of England, began nosing closer to the front. Wheldon passed Fogarty for third place on lap 47. He then started to target Bell who was still tucked close and neat under Faulkner's rear wing.
Wheldon became foolish on lap 52 when he attempted to pass Bell on the outside for second place. Less than a car length separated Faulkner and Bell at the time but Wheldon tried to split them anyway. The result was disastrous. He plowed his left front wheel into Bell's right front wing and then slid sideways and perpendicular into Bell's DirecPC Lola. Wheldon ripped Bell's front wings apart before spinning away. Bell maintained control and continued to pit lane where his nose assembly was detached. He returned without losing a lap.
"Our strategy was correct," said Bell. "I tucked behind Damien after a couple of laps and it was smooth sailing. Then Dan Wheldon closed next to us on the outside and decided to be an idiot and stuff his way between us. Anytime you try to force your way into a gap on a superspeedway, there is going to be contact. Where there is contact there are going to be losers. We lost big time. It was just stupid and that's it."
Wheldon, meanwhile, spun into Fogarty and slammed the Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyard Lola into the outside wall. Both drivers were uninjured but Fogarty's race was over. A full-course caution was issued. Faulkner remained in the lead but Mario Dominguez, of Mexico, was now in second place followed by Higgins.
"Coming out of turn four I saw smoke from the contact between Townsend and Wheldon," said Fogarty. "I followed the direction of Wheldon's car but I had to make a quick decision whether to go high or low. There were two cars on my low side so I figured running high would be safer. I thought Wheldon was going to spin and stop in the center of the track but he went to the outside. I couldn't duck quick enough and there wasn't enough room between his car and the wall so I got tagged. It's shameful that I became his collateral damage. My car was running really well. I thought I had a legitimate chance to catch Higgins but once again I was in the wrong place at the wrong time on someone else's mistake."
Bell returned to pit lane a second time to have a new nose installed. He was then issued a black flag on lap 59 when Indy Lights officials ordered an inspection of a crimped brake line caused from Wheldon's collision. Bell pitted to comply with the penalty and eventually finished eighth place versus what clearly would have been at least second place.
The race resumed on lap 61 with Faulkner taking a nine car-length lead. Higgins caught him two laps later then moved slightly ahead on lap 64. Faulkner regained the lead on lap 65.
"The outside line was tough so I stayed low," said Faulkner. "Derek tried an outside pass midway through the race but then he settled in behind us. Derek briefly took the lead but only by five millimeters or so. It was the only one official lap he led but it fortunately wasn't enough to make a difference. He was actually further ahead of me on the back straight. I wasn't going to back down but he gave me the room I safely needed. I thought the race was clean regarding the fellows that were up front."
Faulkner's secured victory on lap 66 when Dominguez and fellow Mexican driver Rudy Junco made side-to-side contact and violently slid into the wall at turn two. Neither driver was injured but the race concluded under yellow flag conditions.
Faulkner became the first driver to win both the pole position and the race in his oval track debut since Dominguez's win at Homestead (Fla.) in 1999. The victory was also the second consecutive win for Dorricott Racing and 10th career victory in 206 starts.
Besides the $25,000 winner's purse, Faulkner received $1,000 and two Dayton Daytona racing tires for winning the pole. He also received $500 for winning the Racing For Kids Award. An additional $1,500 will be presented to Cook's Children's Hospital in Ft. Worth in Faulkner's name and on behalf of Racing For Kids..
Fogarty turned the fastest lap of the race with a time of 0:28.306 = 188.483 mph on lap 18. This brought him a $1,000 bonus as recipient of the Worldcom Fast Pace Award.
Texas Motor Speedway was round one of the Bosch Platinum +4 Speedway Challenge Award that pays $10,000 to the driver accumulating the most points in 2001's six oval track events. Faulkner leads with 22 points.
Faulkner's win also propelled Ireland into the Nation's Cup lead with 58 points. The United States is in second place with 41 points.
"It hasn't sunk in that I won," said Faulkner. "This was a difficult year to start. I'm fairly low funded and there isn't a sponsor on my car. This is just what I needed to help change that. I don't know what my future would hold if I didn't have success relatively soon. This could go a long way for finding a sponsor."
Faulkner moved to sixth place in the championship in scoring 22 points including 20 for the victory and one bonus point each for leading the most laps and winning the pole. Bell is second in the driver standings with 41 points while Fogarty is seventh with 19 points.
ESPN2 will telecast of round three of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship at Texas Motor Speedway, Sunday, April 29, from 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. ET (8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. PT). An encore telecast is scheduled for Monday, April 30, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. ET (7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. PT).
Round four of the 12-race Dayton Indy Lights Championship will be at the famed Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis., on Sunday, June 3.