KANSAS CITY, Kan. (July 3, 2001) - The Dayton Indy Lights Championship will reach the halfway point of its 2001 season Sunday at Kansas Speedway where the "Official Development Series" of CART will join the Indy Racing Northern Light Series for...
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (July 3, 2001) - The Dayton Indy Lights Championship will reach the halfway point of its 2001 season Sunday at Kansas Speedway where the "Official Development Series" of CART will join the Indy Racing Northern Light Series for the inaugural weekend of open-wheel auto racing competition on the new 1.5-mile oval track.
Round 6 of 12 on the 2001 schedule, a 100.500 mile (67 laps) Dayton Indy Lights sprint at 2:45 p.m. on Sunday will close the weekend's schedule on the impressive new Kansas facility. The Dayton Indy Lights race follows the featured Indy Racing Northern Light Series Ameristar Casino 200 that runs earlier on Sunday, and the Kansas event is the first time that IRL and CART-sanctioned racing events will be held on the same race weekend. The Dayton Indy Lights Championship race will be shown in same day coverage on ESPN2 in a one-hour show airing at 10:00 p.m. PT Sunday night. East of the Mississippi, the ESPN2 air times are early Monday morning (late Sunday night) at 1 a.m. ET and 12 Midnight CT.
Second-year American driver Townsend Bell (DirecPC Lola) has won two of the year's first five races and heads to Kansas with a five point Dayton Indy Lights Championship points lead over Irishman Derek Higgins (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola), 71 - 66. After finishing second to Higgins in the season-opening race in Mexico in March, Bell won on the streets of Long Beach in April and then scored a dominating win on The Milwaukee Mile oval last month. Starting on the pole, Bell lapped the entire field at least once and led every race lap. The Milwaukee win, which produced a series-record purse of $37,500 that was boosted by a $10,000 Simple Green Clean-Up Award bonus, was Bell's second career triumph on an oval following a victory at Gateway International Raceway last season. The first of his four career Dayton Indy Lights wins came at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last season.
Starting with his own 22-point sweep from the pole in Mexico, Higgins has managed to score top-three podium finishes in four of the year's first five races. In addition to the Mexico win, his record includes third at Long Beach, second on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval in April and third one race ago in Portland. He also appeared to be ready to challenge Bell from third on the grid at Milwaukee only to fail to start the race after a parade lap contact incident with Bell's Dorricott Racing teammate and fellow Californian Jon Fogarty (Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Lola). Higgins was eliminated on the spot while Fogarty rejoined the race to salvage three championship points (10th place) after spending the first 20 laps in the pits for repairs.
Fogarty has been the season's hard-luck story despite a third-place finish in his series debut at Mexico and strong qualifying efforts. A contact incident also ended his race early at Long Beach and he was caught up in another accident halfway through the Texas race just when he was beginning to make his move to the front. Fogarty also missed the Portland race completely when he withdrew due to evaluation of a suspected slipped disk in between two of his cervical vertebrae. He is expected to be cleared to compete in Kansas.
The year's only other race winner is another driver from Dorricott's three-driver team. Irish rookie Damien Faulkner (Dorricott Racing Lola) won the Texas race from the pole in his very first oval track start. He backed that win up with a victory in the rain at Portland International Raceway two weeks ago and has now moved into championship contention in addition to leading the Rookie of the Year standings. Faulkner is third in the championship with 55 points.
Faulkner's win was the fourth consecutive victory in the series for Dorricott Racing, a team that won the 1999 Dayton Indy Lights Championship with current CART Champ Car talent Oriol Servia.
PacWest Light teammates Mario Dominguez (Del Valle/Corona/Televisia/PacWestLights Lola) and rookie Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights Lola) round out the top five in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship battle. Each driver is in his first year with the championship-winning PacWest team that captured last year's title with current CART Champ Car rookie Scott Dixon. Dominguez and Wheldon have done everything but win a race so far in 2001, a successful run that has produced four podium appearances, one pole and one fastest race lap despite early exits at Portland one race ago where the teammates had contact at the race start. Dominguez is fourth in the championship with 51 points while Wheldon is one position behind with 47 points.
Another rookie, Danish driver Kristian Kolby (Conquest Racing Lola), is sixth in the championship with 45 points. He led his first race laps at Portland only to spin off course in the rain while under pressure from Faulkner. His eighth-place finish in that race was his lowest result of the season after no finish worse than sixth in the year's first four races. The highlight was a third-place finish at Texas behind Faulkner and Higgins.
Kolby, a former British Formula Ford champion and Formula 3000 veteran, teams with New Zealander Matt Halliday (Conquest Racing Lola) who will make his Dayton Indy Lights superspeedway debut at Kansas after running his first two races at Milwaukee and Portland. He ran as high as third at two different points in the Portland race, eventually finishing fourth. Halliday turned to Indy Lights after making his North American debut in the season opening Toyota Atlantic race at Long Beach.
American Cory Witherill (WSA Healthcare/Motors Lola) returns to the Dayton Indy Lights Championship after finishing 19th with Indy Regency Racing in May's Indianapolis 500, a race that was won by former Indy Lights star Helio Castroneves. Witherill, a 100% Navajo, is the only Native American driver currently competing in the top levels of professional open-wheel racing. He is the only driver racing in Indy Lights this weekend who also has experience in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series. In addition to Indy, Witherill also competed in the IRL race in Atlanta in April.
Higgins teams with second-year driver Rudy Junco (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola) at Mexpro Racing, a team that is also in its sophomore season in Dayton Indy Lights. Junco is coming off a career-best second-place finish at Portland, his first top-three finish and the first time Mexpro has placed both of its entries on the victory podium at a race.
Junco joins Dominguez and Roquin Motorsports teammates Luis Diaz (Telmex Lola) and Rolando Quintanilla (Telmex Lola) in a strong group of four pilots from Mexico. Junco, Diaz and Quintanilla have each posted their career-best finishes in the last three races. In addition to Junco's runner-up showing at Portland, Diaz placed a career-high fourth at Texas and Milwaukee while Quintanilla posted personal-best fifth place finishes at Texas and Portland.