Dan Wheldon Gateway race report

Dan's Diary: GATEWAY INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY, ST LOUIS, ILLINOIS -- Round 9 CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship, 26th August 2001 Finally, I grasped my first win in the CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship! My maiden victory had been a long...

Dan's Diary:

GATEWAY INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY, ST LOUIS, ILLINOIS -- Round 9 CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship, 26th August 2001

Finally, I grasped my first win in the CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship! My maiden victory had been a long time coming, as we were knocking on the door for the last four or five races at least, but we kept coming up a little short. Fortunately, we have now done it!

I know we will be an even stronger package from this point on, because the win was a big weight lifted off both my shoulders and the team's. The PacWest Lights team thoroughly deserved it because they have, as of late, really been giving me a very fast and consistent racecar, which is what you need to win races. I am also starting to feel much more at one with the car, which has taken some time, as it is very different to drive than any car I have ever driven before. The Indy Lights car requires a unique driving style, and this is why drivers that have had prior experience in the formula, and are no longer rookies, have an advantage at the start of the season.

The weather in St Louis was awful at the start of the weekend (mainly Friday, but also part of Saturday). Being English, I thought I was accustomed to rain -- but after seeing a downpour like this, I'm certainly not! Due to the rain, the Friday morning practice session was cancelled. Then we were just about to go out around 5pm to practice when, all of the sudden, another rain shower came in, which quickly put a stop to that. In situations like this, when a day is rained out, it does force us to change our weekend plan, which is what I spend my down-time doing. I talk a lot with my engineer, picking his brain, making sure there is nothing we have missed and nothing else we can add to our plan to make us go faster.

Saturday finally came around, and the weather for the morning session looked like it was going to hold out. I was very excited about getting on the track and getting things going, as I was very confident we had a good chance of winning -- especially after the official test we had done a week before in which I had been fastest. The officials had decided overnight that there would not be any single car qualifying for this race, as the weather had interfered with the amount of track time we were going to get. This was a shame, as single car qualifying is something I very much enjoy and something at which I excel but, nonetheless, a sensible decision on their part. We were going to start the race in Championship order, which meant I would be starting third.

Unfortunately, when the first practice session finally got started, it rained after approximately eleven minutes, cutting the session short. The car proved to be fast and well balanced in this short period of time, and I ended the session second quickest. For the second afternoon session, we were graced with some sunshine. When I walked out of the engineering lounge I thought I must have been daydreaming, but it really was the sun! When we started this session, my first feeling was that the track conditions had changed. (Just for your information, the two corners on the oval at St Louis are very different and that makes it very hard, but not impossible, to get the car perfect at both ends of the track). Normally, if your car is neutral (no understeer or oversteer) at turns one and two, it will oversteer in turns three and four and, because of this, I had to come in and make some set-up changes to the car. By the end of the session we had improved the car for the track conditions, and I had posted the second quickest time once again.

Sunday and the weather conditions were ideal. The race started and I moved straight into second place going into turn one. From this point on, the car leading the race and I pulled away from the rest of the field by at least three-tenths a lap. We were separated by around one second, but the gap would fluctuate depending on who put it altogether that lap, or who got through traffic the quickest. However, on lap 69, the car just in front of me started to slow and pulled into the pits. This left me with nearly a full lap lead, and I was just about to overtake and put the cars in third and fourth position a lap down . . . My intention then was to lap the whole field, and it would have been possible. However, I got a call from my engineer, who is also my spotter, to stay behind these cars as they were starting to battle very fiercely for what had just become second position. From this point on, it was a case of keeping a very high level of concentration and bringing the number one PacWest Lights/Gemstar Communications car home for its maiden win in this year's CART Indy Lights Championship.

It was a great feeling to win my first Indy Lights race but, without getting greedy, I want to win more! It is very important for my aspirations next year to put another couple of wins together. There is no reason we shouldn't, and I know the PacWest Lights Team and I are capable of doing it. Plus, I have now moved to within 28 points of the Championship lead. Last year, the driver I replaced at PacWest had a 42-point lead at this stage of the season and, going into the final race at Fontana, it was only three points . . .Now we have just over five weeks until our next race, which is going to be held at Road Atlanta as a support race to the famous Petit Le Mans. In this period, I will be going back to the UK, where I am scheduled to do the commentary at the inaugural Champ Car race at Rockingham in England. I really believe it is going to be a big success, especially when people who have never watched a Champ Car race see how competitive the series is and what a good show CART put on.

Best wishes, Dan


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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Dan Wheldon