Dayton Indy Lights Oval Action Begins Saturday In Texas Debut Race At Texas Motor Speedway Is First Of Six 2001 Circle Track Races DETROIT (April 24, 2001) - Dayton Indy Lights Championship points leaders Derek Higgins ...
Dayton Indy Lights Oval Action Begins Saturday In Texas
Debut Race At Texas Motor Speedway Is First Of Six 2001 Circle Track Races
DETROIT (April 24, 2001) - Dayton Indy Lights Championship points leaders Derek Higgins (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola) and Townsend Bell (DirecPC Lola) will lead a field of championship-winning talent to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend where CART's "Official Development Series" will run its first oval track race of the season on Saturday.
One of six circle track races on the 2001 schedule, the 67-lap (100.500 miles) Dayton Indy Lights sprint on the high-banked 1.5-mile oval is part of the debut CART weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. The Dayton Indy Lights race will serve as the featured Saturday event - the green flag drops at 3:15 p.m. local time - and the main support race for Sunday's Firestone Firehawk 600 FedEx Championship Series race. The Dayton Indy Lights race will be telecast on ESPN2 in a one-hour show on Sunday at 11:30 p.m. ET (10:30 p.m. CT/8:30 p.m. PT).
Higgins and Bell each scored a victory in the year's opening pair of races and head to Texas tied for the Dayton Indy Lights Championship points lead with 36 points apiece. The duo also paced the field in unofficial testing at the new Kansas Speedway last Thursday, an oval that is also 1.5 miles in length but not banked nearly as steeply as the 24-degree corners found at Texas.
Higgins, an Irishman who now lives in Indianapolis, led every lap from the pole to win the season-opening race on the Fundidora Park road course in Monterrey, Mexico, March 11. Bell finished second to Higgins in Mexico and then charged from sixth on the grid to win on the streets of Long Beach, April 8. Higgins finished third at Long Beach.
In addition to their 2001 wins, Higgins and Bell are among a group of only three drivers heading to Texas who have won Dayton Indy Lights races, all with at least one oval win. Higgins scored consecutive victories on the Milwaukee Mile in 1998 and '99 while Bell won last year at Gateway International Raceway where he led every lap from the pole. On the road course front, Higgins also has career victories at Detroit in Cleveland in 1999 while Bell won for the first time in 2000 at Mid-Ohio.
Higgins is in his second year and first full season with Mexpro Racing and team owner Rodolfo Junco. The Mexico victory was the fifth career triumph for Higgins but the first win and pole for the second-year Mexpro team. Bell, a lifelong resident of California, is in his second season with Dorricott Racing. Last year he captured Rookie of the Year honors and nearly edged eventual champion Scott Dixon - a FedEx Championship Series rookie this season - for the overall title.
The only other driver entered for Texas that has won a Dayton Indy Lights race is Mexico's Mario Dominguez (del Valle/Corona/Televisa/PacWest Lights Lola) who won from the pole in his circle-track debut at Homestead/Miami Speedway in 1999. Dominguez is in his third Indy Lights season but first with PacWest. He finished fourth at Monterrey and Long Beach and earned his first road course pole in the California race.
Dominguez is fourth in the championship with 25 points, just behind his teammate Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights Lola). Wheldon, a top Toyota Atlantic Championship driver last year, is third in the championship standings with 27 points on the heels of a second-place finish at Long Beach where he led the most race laps. The British rookie also improved more positions than any other driver to finish fifth in his series debut at Monterrey.
Higgins teams with second-year driver Rudy Junco (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola) who joins Dominguez and other series sophomores Luis Diaz (Telmex Lola) and Rolando Quintanilla (Telmex Lola) in a strong group of four pilots from Mexico. Heading into this season, Junco, Diaz and Quintanilla all have turned in their career-best Dayton Indy Lights performances on oval tracks, led by a sixth place by Diaz at Chicago last year.
Bell teams with a pair of rookies at Dorricott. Jon Fogarty (Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Lola) and Irishman Damien Faulkner (Dorricott Racing Lola) join Wheldon in making their Dayton Indy Lights oval track debuts. While Fogarty, who finished third at Mexico, and Wheldon have oval experience in Barber Dodge and Formula 2000, respectively, Faulkner is a pure circle-track rookie who will make his first oval start in any type of racing category. He participated in last week's test at Kansas and also practiced at Phoenix International Raceway with Bell and Fogarty last year. Faulkner is the reigning champion of the European Formula Palmer Audi championship.
Faulkner will not be alone in making his maiden oval track start. Former British Formula Ford champion Kristian Kolby (Conquest Racing Lola) drove on an oval for the very first time at Kansas and takes his first green flag in a circle-track race on Saturday.
BOSCH BATTLE BEGINS
The Texas race is Round 3 of the overall Dayton Indy Lights Championship but it is Round 1 of the Bosch Platinum+4 Speedway Challenge. This $10,000 winner-take-all award is paid to the driver that earns the most points in the year's six oval track events. In addition to Texas, other ovals on the 2001 Bosch lineup include the Milwaukee Mile, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Gateway International Raceway and the season-ending event at California Speedway.
Last year, Bell edged Dixon and Casey Mears for the Bosch bonus to give Dorricott Racing its second consecutive Bosch Platinum+4 Speedway Challenge award. In 1999, Mears grabbed the oval-track bonus for Dorricott. Other Bosch Platinum+4 Speedway Challenge winners include current CART Champ Car star Cristiano da Matta (1998) and David Empringham (1997 & '96).
JUST A TEXAS TWO-STEP
Although the Dayton Indy Lights Championship is in its 16th season of competition, Saturday's race marks just the second appearance in Texas for the "Official Development Series" of CART. The Dayton Indy Lights Championship made its Lone Star State debut just last October at the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston where Mears led Bell across the line for a Dorricott one-two finish.