Bell, who started sixth, craftily stalked Englishman Dan Wheldon for 20 mid-race laps before putting the final touches on a spectacular come-from-behind victory on one of racing's most prestigious venues. The victory propelled Bell into a...
Bell, who started sixth, craftily stalked Englishman Dan Wheldon for 20 mid-race laps before putting the final touches on a spectacular come-from-behind victory on one of racing's most prestigious venues. The victory propelled Bell into a tie with Derek Higgins, of Ireland, for the Dayton Indy Lights Championship points lead with 36 points. Wheldon moved into third place with 27 points.
Bell's dominance was due in part to early race misfortunes of teammates Jon Fogarty and Damien Faulkner. Fogarty, who started on the outside pole, was caught out on the green flag and dropped a position to Higgins, who started fifth. As the field screamed down the front straight-away into the first of 11 turns over 1.968-mile seaside street circuit, Fogarty was rear-ended by Danish driver Kristian Kolby.
Kolby plowed his nosecone into Fogarty's gearbox and diffuser and, in turn, pushed him into Faulkner. Faulkner, who started fourth, never saw the contact coming as he spun and stopped in the middle of the turn. Both Dorricott Racing drivers were unhurt but their cars were unable to continue. Kolby, meanwhile, rambled back to pit lane where he replaced his nosecone and continued without consequence to a fifth place race finish.
"The Kristian Kolby contact was set up by contact I had with Mario Dominguez at the start of the race," said Fogarty. "I tried to pass Dominguez and he squeezed me into the wall. I dropped a couple of spots which allowed Dan Wheldon and Damien to pass me. As I entered turn one, Damien gave me plenty of room even though we were side-by-side. As we started to accelerate out of the corner I was pushed forward and nicked the corner of Damien's car. I wasn't sure what had happened until I saw that Kolby had lodged against the side of my car. I wasn't sure if he simply hit me or if he struck me while trying to avoid my car. The damage was pretty extreme. I discovered during an inspection that my diffuser was a mess. It had paint from Kolby's nose cone all over it. Kolby got too close to me entering turn one, pushed me into my teammate, and ruined both of our days."
The crashes initially benefited Wheldon who jumped into the lead from third on the grid and past polesitter Dominguez. The race re-started on lap five but Dominguez, who appeared underpowered from the start, continued to sour before dropping positions to Higgins and Bell on lap seven. Bell ran in third place for the next six laps before maneuvering his DirecPC Lola past Higgins for second place on lap 13. Bell trailed Wheldon by 3.994-seconds on lap eight but closed to within 1.216-seconds by lap 18.
"I knew the race start would be a little dicey going into the first turn," said Bell. "Mario (Dominguez) was running with high downforce and the rest of us were on low. I decided not to charge into the corner but rather wait and see how the field played out once we went green. I'm wasn't sure why Jon and Damien got together but it was unfortunate because they both had strong cars. I was able to motor into fourth place then I put my head down and started clicking off good laps.
The race's second of three yellow flag cautions was issued on lap 18 when Mexican driver Rolando Quintanilla's car caught fire. Three other cars suffered light contact damage when the race attempted to re-start on lap 22. The race didn't resume until lap 26.
Bell caught Wheldon on lap 33 and then dumbfounded him with a text-book perfect move and pass in turn one on lap 34. Bell never looked back as he cruised the remaining five laps to a 3.775-second margin of victory over the Indy Lights rookie. Higgins finished a distant 1.567-seconds behind Wheldon for third place.
"Dan and I weren't necessarily that close during the race," said Bell. "Getting out of the hairpin right before I passed him was about as close as I had been. Once I pulled to within three or four car lengths I decided to go for it. After I made the pass it seemed easier to pull away. I don't know if Dan had a problem with his car but once I got past him it was smooth sailing to the checkered flag."
Besides banking the winner's purse, Bell received four Dayton Daytona racing tires as the "Move to the Front" award recipient. He improved five positions during the race. Bell also pocketed the $1,000 WorldCom Fast Pace Award for setting the fastest race lap on lap nine at 1:16.032 = 93.182 mph.
Bell was named to the Racing For Kids Award after the race and presented with a bonus of $500. An additional $1,500 will be presented to the Miller Memorial Children's Hospital in Long Beach, Calif., in Bell's name and on behalf of Racing For Kids..
ESPN2 will provide a delayed telecast of the Long Beach Indy Lights race, Sunday, April 15, from 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. ET (2:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. PT).
Round three of the 12-race Dayton Indy Lights Championship will take place at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday, April 28.
-James R. Hyneman