By Dan Wheldon Long Beach is always one of my favourite races of the year. Last year was the first time I had ever raced at Long Beach, and it was certainly one race that I couldn't wait to return to -- AND WIN! However, my actual race result...
By Dan Wheldon
Long Beach is always one of my favourite races of the year. Last year was the first time I had ever raced at Long Beach, and it was certainly one race that I couldn't wait to return to -- AND WIN! However, my actual race result this year was not the result I ultimately wanted but, nonetheless, it was certainly more encouraging than the previous race in Mexico. Finishing second is never great, but at least I showed everybody out there that I and my number 1 PacWest Lights/Gemstar Communications car will be a force to be reckoned with in 2001.
Long Beach is always a busy race for sponsorship commitments and this year I did something different and, in my opinion, very rewarding. I went on a hospital visit for 'Racing for Kids' -- one of the sponsors of the CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship. This involved going to a nearby hospital in Long Beach and offering support to some young children in need. It was really very nice and quite touching to be able to make the children smile, and to be able to help in a way that would make their day even just a little bit better. This visit certainly made me feel very, very fortunate, and it subsequently made me think how I spent Sunday afternoon -- worrying about why I didn't win the race -- when some of these children have very, very serious illnesses to battle everyday. Another appearance that I enjoy attending at Long Beach was the annual Art and Wine Tasting. I didn't taste any of the wine, but I did try the pasta they were giving to the guests, and it was probably one of the best pasta dishes I have ever tasted! So, three plates of pasta later, it was probably a good thing that I had to get out of there to attend a meeting with my manager!
The opening practice on Friday went very well for me. It was one of those sessions where, although we didn't end up the fastest overall, I knew the car was capable of being there. We knew that for Friday's qualifying session it was important to be up at the front, because the forecast for Saturday was rain. The qualifying session on Friday was cut short at the end and, again, I had the feeling that the car was better than the position of third in which I finished the session. The question of running high or low down-force played on everyone's minds all weekend, so it was interesting to me that the pole sitter was on high down-force, while nearly everybody else was on low!
Saturday turned out to be exactly what we expected, wet. The weather forecast was rain on and off throughout the day, but it was very likely to be dry on Sunday. Bearing the forecast in mind, we opted not to run any laps in the morning practice session. We also decided that if it was still wet for the second qualifying session that afternoon I would do a couple of exploratory laps, just to get a feel of what the car is like in rain, as I have yet to drive an Indy Lights car in those conditions. That afternoon, just before we were due to go out on the track for the second qualifying session, the 'heavens opened' and there was a big downpour of rain. Coming from England, I am very much used to driving in the rain, and I love it. The track did start to dry out a little, towards the end of the session, but not enough to improve our times from Friday, so I would start third for Sunday's race. I was pretty happy about starting third, because I had watched a lot of races at the track and on TV from Long Beach. More often than not, the third place starter stands a good chance of coming out of the first corner first, which was my intention!
The race itself was something I was really looking forward to. The atmosphere is always electric on race day, which in a way makes me raise my game. I had a perfect start and on the run down to the first corner I managed to draw alongside my team-mate, and carry enough momentum around the outside of him to sweep into the lead going into the first corner. He had opted for the high down-force setup for the race, and I had stuck with the low and most of the other cars did the same. The next 30 laps I was not really challenged at all, however, I was being pushed. My lead was about one second and, at that point in the race, I became slightly distracted by a small gearbox problem that caused me to make a few mistakes. This allowed the second place driver to close up behind me and, on lap 34, he got a run on me and overtook me at the end of the front straight. After that, I never really got quite close enough to try and re-take the position. So, in my second CART Dayton Indy Lights race, I finished second.
Overall the result at Long Beach was not too bad. Now I am really anxious to get to the high-banked oval at Texas, so I can set out to score my maiden win in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship. Leading up to Texas I am going to be busy testing on the new oval in Kansas -- not to mention my daily training in the gym with the crew from PitFit. I hope you are enjoying my diaries.
k-Dan Wheldon Racing