Bell second at Chicago

CICERO, Ill. (July 31, 2000) - The 2000 Dayton Indy Lights Championship has taken a somewhat peculiar look at the midway point of its season. Pre-season prognosticators envisioned a closely contested, down-to-the wire championship. They...

CICERO, Ill. (July 31, 2000) - The 2000 Dayton Indy Lights Championship has taken a somewhat peculiar look at the midway point of its season. Pre-season prognosticators envisioned a closely contested, down-to-the wire championship. They didn't envision an unheralded rookie with talent to burn to quietly surface as a title contending, sooner-than-later Indy Lights star. Surface he has and Townsend Bell, of Costa Mesa, Calif., has arguably become Indy Lights' "hottest" driver on the heels of a second place finish at Chicago Motor Speedway, Sunday, July 30. Bell joined Dorricott Racing this season as a reasonably unheralded Indy Lights rookie who could boast of being a former U.C. Santa Barbara student and a Barber Dodge Pro Series alum. He has since propelled the Dorricott Racing-prepared DirecPC Lola squarely into the middle of one of the closest Indy Lights driver championships in history. New Zealand's Scott Dixon won the 97-lap race around Chicago's 1.029-mile oval by 3.551-seconds over Bell. His victory moved him to the top of the Indy Lights leader board with 77 points, but Bell and Dorricott teammate Casey Mears, of Bakersfield, Calif., are close behind and tied for third place with 59 points. Jason Bright, of Australia, was unable to race due to injuries suffered during a Friday practice session crash. Bright, who led the championship coming to Chicago, left in fifth place with 57 points. If Chicago is any indication, this year's Indy Lights championship will go down to the wire. The race start produced its own shining moment when the Indy Lights pace car spun out of control after crossing the start-finish line. The pace car avoided contact with the retaining walls but was spinning backwards into the lower track run-off near turn one as a yellow flag was being issued and the 17-car field cruised by. The race started under a green flag on lap two but rapidly slowed when Mexican drivers Rolando Quintanilla and Mario Dominguez came together before half a lap had been completed. Dorricott Racing's substitute driver for Bright, Derek Higgins, of Ireland, started 17th and was unlucky enough to be behind both drivers with nowhere to go but nose first into the melee. Higgins pitted for front wing and nose replacements but he couldn't make up for the debilitating start and finished 13th. Mears, who started on the outside pole, assumed the lead over polesitter Chris Menninga on the opening green flag lap to lead the first Indy Lights laps of his career. Dixon held onto third place where he qualified then stalked Menninga for the next 15 laps before catching and passing him on lap 17. Dixon then caught Mears on lap 21 where the pair exchanged first place twice, but Dixon didn't officially pass Mears until lap 27. Bell's pursuit became compelling when Menninga attempted an ill-timed pass of Mears on lap 88. He only accomplished bringing his left rear tire down onto Mears' right front tire sending both cars into the outside wall. Mears was understandably heated by Menninga's negligence but was uninjured and relegated to 10th place. Menninga was transported to a nearby local hospital where he was examined and released. Mears misfortune was Bell's ticket to the podium although Bell's rise in the points started two races ago at Portland where he won the pole and finished second place. Bell gave a top-five encore at Michigan in round five when he finished fourth. It's worth noting that while Dixon was celebrating the traditional champagne dousing with teammate and third place finisher Tony Renna at victory lane, it was hard not to notice that Bell left the stand without as much as a drop of champagne on him or his driver's suit. It was a perfect metaphoric ending for a driver who is seeking an Indy Lights championship on his terms and his way. "It was a good day all in all," said Bell. "I was unhappy with where we qualified (6th) so it was a vindication or sorts to reach the podium. I felt confident running the high groove through turns one and two at the start of the race. That helped me pass Felipe Giaffone and Jeff Simmons on the first re-start. We were lucky at the end when Chris and Casey came together but we had run a solid, thoughtful race to that point anyway." Besides scoring 16 championship points, Bell received two Dayton Daytona racing tires as the highest finishing rookie. He also assumed the lead for Indy Lights "Rookie of the Year' honors for the first time this season. Bright is in second place. After three of five rounds of the Bosch Platinum+4 Speedway Challenge, Dixon holds an eight-point edge over Bell, 43-35. The winner-take-all $10,000 Bosch award is paid to the driver that earns the most points in the year's five oval track races. The winner will be decided at Fontana, Calif., Sun., Oct. 29. Mears is the defending Speedway Challenge winner. Race results, team, and sponsor information are available on Dorricott Racing's official web site, Round seven of the 12-race Dayton Indy Lights Championship will be at the Miller Lite 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Sunday, Aug. 13.

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Felipe Giaffone , Casey Mears , Scott Dixon , Chris Menninga , Townsend Bell , Derek Higgins , Mario Dominguez , Rolando Quintanilla , Tony Renna , Jason Bright