MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 12, 2001) - Series points leader Townsend Bell (DIRECWAY Lola) made it clear he intends to leave Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday with the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship under wraps and proved it by taking the ...
MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 12, 2001) - Series points leader Townsend Bell (DIRECWAY Lola) made it clear he intends to leave Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday with the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship under wraps and proved it by taking the provisional pole in Friday's first round qualifying session.
Bell drove one lap around the 2.238-mile Laguna Seca Raceway road course at an average speed of 105.576 mph (76.313 seconds) to lead a one-two Dorricott Racing sweep of the overnight front row with rookie teammate Jon Fogarty (Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Lola). Fogarty clocked in at 105.125 mph (76.640 seconds) while PacWest Lights driver Mario Dominguez (del Valle/Corona/Televisa/PacWest Lights Lola) was third at 104.843 mph (76.846 seconds)
"The track isn't as quick as it was last year," Bell said. "The temperature is warmer. I worked hard with Gerald (engineer Gerald Tyler) and the rest of the crew to create the best set-up. It wasn't all to our liking in practice but we improved with a few changes. We made a few calculated gambles but we learned some things and they worked. We'll have to keep improving and better fine tune because this is a tough track. You have to get everything correct if you want a chance at the best lap times. The red flag (for a Rolando Quintanilla spin) didn't hurt me. I had just changed tires but I hadn't run a full lap yet. The tires were pretty much a non-issue. I made a mistake on my quick lap and probably lost a couple of tenths. We'll try to get them back tomorrow."
Bell currently leads Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights Lola) and his other Dorricott teammate Damien Faulkner (Dorricott Racing Lola), who are tied for second in the championship, by 26 points, 149 - 123 points. Bell will wrap up the Dayton Indy Lights title if he maintains that margin or loses no more than three points to Wheldon Faulkner who were fourth and fifth fastest, respectively, Friday.
With a maximum 22 points available to a driver in a race (20 for a win and single bonus points for the pole winner and race lap leader), Bell can lock up the Dayton Indy Lights title simply by maintaining his current advantage or losing no more than three points to his challengers in Sunday's race. A victory - or any finish ahead of Faulkner and Wheldon - seals the championship for Bell. Any realistic hope Faulkner and Wheldon have to take the title fight to next month's season-ending race at California Speedway will require either of them to win Sunday's race and a rare finish low in the points by Bell.
Bell's strong situation gets even better when the pole and lap leader bonus points are taken into consideration. Ten of Bell's championship points have been earned through bonuses, and he leads the series in poles with six - including the last four races - and laps led with 307. If Bell earns both bonus points this weekend, he can wrap up the championship with a second-place finish, even if Faulkner or Wheldon win.
Fogarty, making just his second race start since returning from a herniated cervical disk injury that sidelined him for most of the summer, could be a championship spoiler Sunday on one of his favorite tracks.
"We worked through a couple of glitches," Fogarty said. "The fire bottle somehow discharged between practice and qualifying so the crew had to thrash to get everything prepared. The communications gear got wet so I didn't have any way to speak with my engineer, Burke Harrison, during qualifying. Burke was using a pit board to keep me posted on my positions. It must have been awhile since has done that but I must say he did a pretty good job. It took a couple of laps to get the tire temperatures and pressures right but once there, we knew we had a decent car. It was at least equal to what we had in practice. The timing was good when it went 'black.' I came in for new tires but somehow managed to get penalized for a pit speed violation when the track went green again. I usually know when I break the rules. I didn't know this time. I had to make a 'drive through' that put us one lap down compared to the others. At least I found a clear lap near the end to make up the time. We're looking good for tomorrow."
Sunday's Laguna Seca Dayton Indy Lights race will be part of two hours of back-to-back series television coverage late that evening on ESPN2. Last week's Road Atlanta race airs at 1:30 a.m. ET, Sunday, Oct. 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, Oct. 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.