Dayton Indy Lights Championship Ends 16-Year Run Sunday
"Official Development Series" Of CART Comes To A Close With Fontana Race
FONTANA, Calif. (Nov. 2, 2001) - Racing for the final time on the type of high-banked big track that has showcased the series at its best, the Dayton Indy Lights Championship will come to an end after 16 years of competition on Sunday with a 50-lap sprint race at California Speedway. The Dayton Indy Lights series finale is scheduled to start at 10:15 a.m. and will set the stage for the featured Marlboro 500 CART Champ Car finale that afternoon. The Dayton Indy Lights race will air on ESPN2 in same day coverage at 10 p.m. PT (1 a.m. ET, early Monday morning, Nov. 5).
Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), which purchased the series in 1998, announced the decision to disband Indy Lights in early September, bringing to an end a successful championship that produced a record number of CART Champ Car drivers in its capacity as the sanctioning body's "Official Development Series" since 1986. Among the notable graduates of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship are eight drivers who will be racing in Sunday's Marlboro 500, 1/3 of the expected starting field. The list includes Paul Tracy (1990 Indy Lights champion), Adrian Fernandez (1992 Indy Lights champion), Bryan Herta (1993 Indy Lights champion), Tony Kanaan (1997 Indy Lights champion), Cristiano da Matta (1998 Indy Lights champion), Oriol Servia (1999 Indy Lights champion), Scott Dixon (2000 Indy Lights champion) and this year's Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves (1997 Indy Lights runner-up). Other notable Indy Lights graduates include CART Champ Car race winners Andre Ribeiro (1994 Indy Lights Rookie of the Year), who is now retired, and the late Greg Moore (1995 Indy Lights champion).
Although the Dayton Indy Lights Championship is ending, the list of active series graduates racing in CART Champ Car competition is still expected to grow next season. California native Townsend Bell (DIRECWAY Lola) wrapped up the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship title one race ago and has already made two CART Champ Car race starts in the September's pair of oval track events in Europe. Driving a Visteon Toyota Reynard for Patrick Racing, Bell finished both the German and England events and scored his first CART championship point with a 12th place finish in his second start in Great Britain. He is highly likely to join the Patrick team fulltime for next season's FedEx Championship Series.
As the 16th and final Dayton Indy Lights Championship titleist, Bell was the dominating driver this season. He has won five of the year's 11 races and, like 2000 champ Dixon, can end up claiming victories in half of the year's races if he wins at Fontana. Last year, Bell battled with Dixon right down to the checkered flag in the California finale, finishing second in both the race and the overall championship.
Bell's victories this season were earned at Long Beach, the Milwaukee Mile, Toronto, Mid-Ohio and one race ago at Laguna Seca Raceway where he was the first driver since da Matta in 1998 to wrap up an Indy Lights title before the end of the season. All but Bell's Long Beach win, where he charged from sixth on the grid for his first victory of the season, have been dominating, flag-to-flag performances in which Bell led every lap from the pole. He also has second-place finishes in the season-opening race at Mexico and in Round 10 at Road Atlanta last month. In addition to race wins, Bell also leads the series in poles (7), laps led (341), laps completed (553 of 565) and fastest race laps (5). His current point total of 171 points is a full 36 points ahead of his nearest competition.
Bell has also been the dominant driver in the new Simple Green Clean-Up Award program that is a $2,500 "rollover" bonus paid to any driver that wins a race from the pole, leads the most laps and sets the fastest race lap. Bell turned the trick three times this season at the Milwaukee, Toronto and Mid-Ohio races and has earned a total of $20,000 in Simple Green bonuses. For this weekend's season-ending race, the current Simple Green bonus pool of $10,000 - the award has not been claimed in the last three races - will go to the overall race winner in addition to the standard $25,000 first place prize. With $35,000 guaranteed to the race winner, Bell's record series winner's purse of $37,500 earned at Milwaukee could be beat if the winning driver collects some of the other potential bonuses available such as the WorldCom Fast Pace Award ($1,000) or the Racing For Kids Driver Performance Award ($1,000).
First year drivers Damien Faulkner (Dorricott Racing Lola) and Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/ PacWest Lights Lola) were Bell's strongest challengers for the championship and will continue to battle for Rookie of the Year and overall series runner-up honors at Fontana. Each driver has a pair of wins, with Faulkner scoring at Texas and Portland and Wheldon earning back-to-back victories at Gateway and Road Atlanta. Faulkner has the slight edge in the points race with 135, two points ahead of Wheldon, but any tie-breakers will favor the PacWest Lights driver as long as Faulkner doesn't finish second on Sunday. Faulkner and Wheldon are also the main contenders for the $10,000 Bosch Platinum+4 Speedway Challenge that is paid to the driver earning the most points in the year's oval track events. Faulkner has 54 points, Wheldon has 51 and Mario Dominguez (del Valle/Corona/Televisa/PacWest Lights Lola) is third with 44 points.
Dominguez is fourth in the overall championship with 110 points but has no chance to crack the top three in the final standings. His focus will be on winning his first race of the season that has seen him earn a trio of second-place finishes at Milwaukee, Toronto and Gateway. He also won the pole at Long Beach and Kansas.
Derek Higgins (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola), an Irish countryman of Faulkner's, 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 is fifth in the championship with 101 points.
Dominguez is the on-track leader of competitive contingent of drivers from Mexico. The group includes 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, is also completing his collegiate studies in his hometown of Monterrey, Mexico. Diaz placed a career-high third one race ago at Laguna Seca 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 this season, earning a season's best third-place finish at Gateway.
The United States currently leads the Dayton Indy Lights Nation's Cup standings by just four points over Ireland, 171 - 167. Bell has earned all of the points for the U.S. this season but will be joined by fellow Americans Cory Witherill (WSA Healthcare/Casino Morongo Lola) and Dorricott Racing's third driver Jon Fogarty (Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Lola). Fogarty will compete only if he is granted medical clearance following a cervical vertebra injury earlier this season.