Dayton Indy Lights To Make Road Atlanta Debut This Friday Georgia Sprint Kicks Off Three Race Stretch Run To Decide Indy Lights Title BRASELTON, Ga. (Oct. 2, 2001) - Returning to action after a lengthy layoff, the Dayton Indy Lights Championship...
Dayton Indy Lights To Make Road Atlanta Debut This Friday Georgia Sprint Kicks Off Three Race Stretch Run To Decide Indy Lights Title
BRASELTON, Ga. (Oct. 2, 2001) - Returning to action after a lengthy layoff, the Dayton Indy Lights Championship gets back to racing this week at the Audi Petit Le Mans event at Road Atlanta where the "Official Development Series" of CART will make its debut in a special Friday feature race at 3 p.m. local time. The 75-mile Road Atlanta sprint is round 10 of 12 on the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights schedule and the series' first race since August 26 at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis.
Although the Dayton Indy Lights Championship has been in operation since 1986, the Road Atlanta event is not only a first for the series at the famous Georgia road course but also the first time the open-wheel series has run in support of a sports car race. The Audi Petit Le Mans is a showcase event of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) tour that closes the weekend on Saturday with a 10-hour, or 1,000 mile, endurance event.
Road Atlanta will be a pivotal race in the battle for the overall Dayton Indy Lights points championship, and is the first of back-to-back races over the course of the next two weeks. Round 11 is scheduled for next Sunday, Oct. 14, at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif. Both the Road Atlanta and Laguna Seca races will be telecast on ESPN2 in back-to-back one-hour shows late Sunday, Oct. 14. The Road Atlanta race airs at 1:30 a.m. ET and will be immediately followed at 2:30 a.m. ET by the Laguna Seca race that will be run earlier that day. 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.
Townsend Bell (DIRECWAY Lola) has led the Dayton Indy Lights point standings since Round 4 at the Milwaukee Mile in early June and brings the equivalent of a full-race lead in the championship to Road Atlanta. He is 22 points - the maximum available to a driver in a single race - ahead of his Dorricott Racing teammate Damien Faulkner (Dorricott Racing Lola), 131 - 109 points. Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/ PacWest Lights Lola) is third in the championship with 103 points.
Combined, Bell, Faulkner and Wheldon have won seven of the year's first nine races. Bell, however, has been the clear pacesetter for most of the season and has quickly become one of the most sought after young prospects in open-wheel racing. While the Dayton Indy Lights Championship has been idle since late August, Bell has kept busy by competing in the recent CART FedEx Championship Series races in Germany and England last month. Driving a Visteon Toyota Reynard for Patrick Racing, Bell finished both races and scored his first CART championship point with a 12th place finish in his second start in England.
Bell will likely make more CART Champ Car starts this season and seems bound for a fulltime ride in CART's big show in 2002, but wrapping up the Dayton Indy Lights Championship title is an immediate priority. He has a slim chance to clinch the crown at Road Atlanta but it would require a 22-point sweep of the race (winning the pole, race and leading the most race laps) and rare finishes out of the points by Faulkner and Wheldon. Although Bell has scored 22-point sweeps in three of his series-leading four victories this year, the consistent Faulkner and Wheldon should score enough points at Road Atlanta to take the title battle to a least Laguna Seca.
Bell, a native of California who currently lives in San Luis Obispo, scored dominating victories from the pole at Milwaukee, Toronto and Mid-Ohio in addition to last April's first win of the year at Long Beach. He also appeared to have the Gateway event in the bag only to encounter mechanical problems (fuel pump electronics) just 10 laps from the finish. Wheldon, a rookie from England, went on to score his first win and stepped into the championship chase as a distant but legitimate contender, 28 points behind Bell.
Like Wheldon, Faulkner is in his rookie season of Dayton Indy Lights competition after first making his mark in European open-wheel competition. The Irishman was a surprise winner in his oval debut at Texas Motor Speedway in April and scored his second win of the season at Portland International Raceway in the rain in June. He has posted top-three podium finishes in four of the last five races, a streak that includes third at Mid-Ohio and Toronto, a runner-up showing at Kansas Speedway and the Portland win.
Derek Higgins (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola), another Irishman, won the season-opening race at Mexico and is the only driver to lead the championship other than Bell. He earned four podium finishes early in the season but distant showings in three mid-season races dropped him from title contention. He finished fourth at Gateway and is fifth in the championship with 85 points.
In between Wheldon and Higgins in the championship is Mario Dominguez (del Valle/Corona/Televisa/ PacWest Lights Lola) who is the on-track leader of a competitive group of drivers from Mexico. Dominguez, who won at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 1999, finished second to his PacWest teammate Wheldon at Gateway and also scored runner-up honors at Toronto and Milwaukee. He is fourth in the championship with 95 points and could be a late season dark horse in the championship in the year's final trio of races.
Other drivers from Mexico in Dayton Indy Lights include Rudy Junco (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/ PrecioBase.com Lola) and Roquin Motorsports teammates Luis Diaz (Telmex /Roquin Motorsports, LLC Lola) and Rolando Quintanilla (Telmex/Roquin Motorsports, LLC Lola). Junco, a teammate of Higgins who earned a career-best finish of second at Portland, sustained ligament injuries to his left foot and ankle in a late race accident at Kansas after contact with Cory Witherill (WSA Healthcare/Motors Lola) at Kansas. He missed the Toronto race but returned to finish seventh at Mid-Ohio and Gateway. Diaz placed a career-high fourth at Texas and Milwaukee while Quintanilla's top showings were fifth place finishes at Texas and Portland.
July's mid-season race at Kansas was won by Danish rookie Kristian Kolby who left the series one month later after the Mid-Ohio race due to sponsorship issues. He was teammates at Conquest Racing with New Zealander Matt Halliday (Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing Lola) who performed well as the team's only driver at Gateway where he finished a season's best third. That top result capped a strong streak that saw him finish no lower than fifth in the last five races, including thee consecutive fourth-place finishes at Toronto, Kansas and Portland. Kansas was just Halliday's third start but he qualified third and led three laps.
Witherill is completing the Dayton Indy Lights Championship season after finishing 19th with Indy Regency Racing in May's Indianapolis 500, a race that was won by former Indy Lights star and Helio Castroneves. Witherill, a %100 Navajo, is the only Native American driver currently competing in major league auto racing.
Road Atlanta could also see the return of Dorricott Racing rookie Jon Fogarty (Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Lola) who has been sidelined most of the season with a neck injury. Although his season was thought to be over, Fogarty has tested with the Dorricott team recently in California and could be cleared for competition at Road Atlanta.