Toronto, ON November 25, 2003 - The Fran AM 2000 North American Pro Championship concluded its second season this past weekend at the new Arizona Motorsports Park in Phoenix, Arizona. To say that the races were exciting is an understatement. With the championship on the line, as well as many close races for spots in the top ten, the drivers and teams were going all out to attain the best results possible for themselves and move up in the championship standings.
Going into the weekend Dan McMullen was in seventh place in the championship and had his eyes set on getting into the top five. With all of the problems that beset Dan in the first half of the season attaining this goal would be a great triumph on his part. At the halfway point in the year he was down in fifteenth place in the standings. Since his switch to first Team Autotechnica and then more recently to Team FirstAir, Dan had re-found his confidence and his results improved with a win at Mosport in a round for the Canadian Fran Am title, a second place in Montreal on the Cart Molson Indy weekend, a fifth in Denver and a seventh place result at Mt. Tremblant where he encountered braking problems, but still earned a top ten finish. Dan's goal for the final three races was to finish on the podium. Also, a major point in turning around his season came at the Canadian Grand Prix where ATI Technologies joined him as his primary sponsor. This more than anything helped Dan to regain his focus and encourage him to work harder than ever to improve.
The schedule for the final three races would be a real test for the drivers and especially the teams. Each day would see a practice session or two, qualifying and then the race. With as little as one hour between the conclusion of qualifying and the race the pressure was really on the teams and the driver to not make any mistakes. Another factor that weighed in was the weather. Although nice and warm with no threat of rain, the teams faced a new problem, wind and the resulting brownouts from blowing sand and tumbleweeds blowing across the track.
For the first race on Friday, Dan found himself qualified in fifth place just over four tenths of second off of the pole. When the race got under way Dan had a fantastic start and was up into second place by the first corner but there was action behind him with a couple of incidents on the first lap that took out several of the top contenders, including Dan's teammate Robert Bell that necessitated a full course caution for five laps. Once the racing resumed following the full course caution Dan put constant pressure on leader Charles Hall for the remaining laps of the race and in doing so set the races fastest lap. At the checkered flag it was Hall winning by only the slightest margin of 0.532 seconds over Dan. The first part of Dan's goal for the weekend had been accomplished, a podium finish.
Saturdays race would be the most difficult as the winds had picked up and sand was blowing across the track causing the track to become treacherously slippery at times. Dan qualified in sixth place for the race and once again was focused on attaining a podium finish. At the start there were no incidents that marked round 12 on Friday and Dan moved quickly to the front passing two cars at the green and was soon running in third place with a pass on Mark Wilkins. The conditions though would catch Dan out as a strong gust of wind and blowing sand came up just as he was negotiating a fast right hand sweeping turn. The result was an instant loss of traction that caused Dan to slide off of the track and loose his hard fought third position back to Wilkins. He managed to regain the track though quite quickly without loosing any other spots and set off to retake third place but in the end ran out of time, finishing in fourth just six tenths of second away from another podium.
The last race of the season on Sunday had the championship already locked up with Canada's Andrew Ranger's second place finish on Saturday. As well, second and third places in the championship had been decided with Britain's Charles Hall finishing in second and Team FirstAir's Robert Bell, also from Britain in third. To get into fifth place in the final championship standings Dan would need to outscore the current fifth place driver in the championship standings Aurelio Lopez by sixteen points, a tall order to say the least.
Dan once again qualified in sixth starting spot for round fourteen, just one-half second off of the pole. At the start Dan once again got a fantastic start. He was going head to head with championship winner Andrew Ranger, the two running side by side for several corners, neither wanting to concede anything. Finally Dan went into a corner very late on the brakes and Ranger went in even further, though too late as it turned out as Ranger went sliding off the track and fell down the racing order. Next up for Dan was Gustavo Sondermann from Brazil who was making his Fran Am debut. Dan got up to Sondermann, who had qualified in second, and made another late braking pass attempt with the same results, Sondermann out braking himself attempting to hold onto the position and ending up off the track. This moved Dan into third place that he easily held to the checkered flag. Dan's mission was accomplished! With his third place finish and the twenty-five points that went with it and Aurelio Lopez's sixteenth place result and only five points, it gave Dan enough points to vault him into fifth place in the final Fran Am 2000 North American Pro Championship standings.
It was a very gratifying and successful weekend for Dan, Team FirstAir and sponsor ATI Technologies. To come from so far down in the championship standings as he was and to end the season as strongly as he did, it is a testament to his determination to succeed!
You can follow Dan on his website www.danmcmullen.com and at ATI website www.ATI.com in the Get In The Game section.