Bell Earns Final Dayton Indy Lights Pole At California
Eighth Pole Of 2001 Ties Bryan Herta For Most Poles In A Season
FONTANA, Calif. (Nov. 3, 2001) - Not letting up after clinching the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship pole one race ago, Townsend Bell (DIRECWAY Lola) charged to a record matching eighth pole of the season Saturday in qualifying for Sunday's series and season-ending Dayton Indy Lights Championship race at California Speedway. The top qualifying effort ties the eight poles current CART Champ Car start earned in his championship-winning season in 1993.
Bell, who also boosted his record streak of consecutive poles in a season to seven, set Saturday's fast time on his first of two timed laps on the 2.029-mile superspeedway. His average speed of 186.823 mph (39.098 seconds) was not a track record but was enough to edge surprising early polesitter Rolando Quintanilla (Telmex/Roquin Motorsports, LLC Lola) who held the top spot for the majority of the session.
"I love the challenge of trying to win a pole position," Bell said. "This pole is more fitting because it's all about the team when you race at Fontana. It's less about what I'm doing. I've learned things from last year that help at this Speedway but I'd be less than fully competitive without my team. I qualified second at the other superspeedways, Texas and Kansas City. Winning this pole is a fitting way to celebrate the championship with an achievement the team is primarily responsible for. It's great to come to this race with the championship wrapped up because anything can happen here. A guy who starts dead last tomorrow could be in the lead within one lap."
Quintanilla, who topped Friday's practice session at a draft-aided average speed of 187.986 mph (38.856 seconds), was the second driver to qualify and quickly shot to the top of the charts. His lap of 185.494 mph (39.378 seconds) appeared good enough for his first pole, but Bell, the last driver to qualifying, stood in the way. Quintanilla's front row starting position, however, is the best of his career. His previous high qualifying mark was fifth at Kansas Speedway earlier this year.
"I think that today's success was from the team (progress the team has made)," Quintanilla said. "For the last five or six races we've shown how strong we can be. We've shown the motivation and determination as a team and to keep fighting even though we've had some bad situations. As a team we are always learning and this success is owed to all the work the team has done."
Rudy Junco (Mexpro/ StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola) also posted a career-best qualifying effort in taking the third grid position. Junco, who contended for the lead in last year's race at California Speedway before finishing eighth, averaged 185.349 mph (39.409 seconds) Saturday. His previous career-best qualifying effort was sixth at Gateway International Raceway in August.
"I like the track, it's very wide and makes for good racing, especially in the Indy Lights cars," Junco said. "I am very happy to get the third quick position; the team has worked very hard and so did I. Hopefully we can capitalize tomorrow and get a good result in the race. It takes patience to know when to charge to the front or when to wait for things to happen (what it takes to stay up front at this track). Everyone can be a leader in this race, the only difference is who is leading on the final lap."
Cory Witherill (Casino Morongo/MOTORS TV/Indy Regency Racing Lola) qualified fourth in a typically strong California Speedway performance. Witherill, who finished fourth here in 1998 and '99, clocked in at 184.968 mph (39.490 seconds). He also led his only career Indy Lights laps at California in 1998.
"The qualifying session went really well," Witherill said. "I knew we had a good car. We did a lot of things to it yesterday to get more speed, and it obviously showed as I had speed without the draft. We just worked on the set-up to free the car and be quick, and today showed that. This track has always been good to me - I've had two fourth-place finishes here. It's my home track, and it's good luck for me."
Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights Lola) rounded out the top five at an average speed of 184.730 mph (39.541 seconds). He and Damien Faulkner (Dorricott Racing Lola), who qualified sixth, are battling for Rookie of the Year honors and second in the overall championship.
Sunday's Dayton Indy Lights Championship race will be telecast in same-day coverage on ESPN2 at 10 p.m. PT (late Monday morning, Nov. 15, at 1 p.m. ET).