Dan Wheldon Road Atlanta diary

DAN'S DIARY: Road Atlanta Race Track, Georgia, USA -- Round 10 CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship, 5 October 2001 The first win took longer than I had hoped for, but I was certainly happy having the second one happen so quickly! I thought...


Road Atlanta Race Track, Georgia, USA -- Round 10 CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship, 5 October 2001

The first win took longer than I had hoped for, but I was certainly happy having the second one happen so quickly!

I thought it was great to be at Road Atlanta, supporting the Petit Le Mans. This year the CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship has supported three different series and it is important, as a driver, to make sure I leave a good impression on all of them, as I never know where my future may take me, especially in motor racing!

One thing I have noticed is the atmosphere at the non-CART races is so much more relaxed -- not in a bad way, but actually in a very good way. Previously, I had raced at Road Atlanta, in 1999, in the very competitive USF2000 series (yes, I am a big fan of the series, and I believe it is one of the best junior formulae in the world) and although we didn't get the results we had thought we were going to have, due to electrical problems, it was a track that I was very quick at -- and enjoyed immensely! Road Atlanta is a unique racetrack that is like nothing else; it is very undulating, it has one very fast corner, fast corners, slow corners, esses -- actually, it has everything!

This was the one race where we were not racing on a weekend; instead we were racing on a Friday, with two qualifying sessions on Thursday and two practice sessions on Wednesday. The first practice session went well, and we finished second. I was very happy with the balance of the car, but I also knew where I needed to be quicker and how we could improve. The final practice session on Wednesday was a strange one for us. We ended the session in third place, but I kept feeling a straining sensation from the engine down the straights and up the hills on the track, which baffled me. The problem seemed to get better with the more laps that I did, but what was frustrating was that I couldn't tell my engineer exactly what it was, and he could not see the problem on the data to fix it -- (the joys of being a rookie).

On Thursday, with no practice sessions, only two qualifying sessions, it was imperative to make sure I was very fast in both. Normally, at a CART weekend, I would have one qualifying session on Friday afternoon and one on Saturday afternoon, and a practice session beforehand on both days. More often than not, the Saturday qualifying session will be the quickest of the weekend, so we mainly focus on making sure the car is at its best on Saturday with 15 minutes to go in qualifying, just as we have to put on our third set of tyres. Unfortunately, we were unable to show our true potential the whole day, because of our continuing engine problems. The first qualifying session we finished third and the second we finished a very, very disappointing sixth. However, there was a positive that came out of the final qualifying session, which was that the engine problem had gotten so bad that I was able to give them a much clearer explanation on it, and the team could finally see it on the data. The problem turned out to be a faulty air temperature sensor that was feeding the engine management system the wrong information, therefore reducing the engine's horsepower. Once we had figured out the problem, I was very confident that I could put the number one Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights car right in the thick of the action and, if things fell my way, be on the top step of the podium after the race.

Friday morning's warm-up was 30 minutes long, instead of the normal 15, which gave us a little more time to fine tune the car to the track, after what was pretty much a wasted day on Thursday. We finished the session quickest that morning, and we went into the race knowing we were going to be very competitive. Actually, when I turned up at the track that morning, I had a really good feeling about the day, so I forced my engineer to have a bet with me; I would give him $30 for every Dorricott car that beat me, and he would give me $20 for every one that I finished in front of. People that know me well, know I hate parting with my money -- so they knew I thought we were in good shape for the race!

As I was getting strapped into my car for the race there were signs of possible rain, but as we pulled out onto the track for our formation laps the rain clouds disappeared, or at least I thought they had. The first few laps were going to be crucial for me. I needed to move up the field quickly, in order to have any chance of winning the race. I managed to move up into third place, which then became fourth, and then I moved back into third again. This happened when another driver, who had obviously set his car up to be very strong in the early laps, managed to get around me and, briefly, into second -- only to drop back to fourth about 10 to 15 laps into the race. With about 15 laps to go, the rain that was threatening earlier finally arrived. The rain caught the driver in front of me off guard, which moved me into second position. I then started to pull in the leader, but I was aided when the full course caution came out and bunched up the field. The caution was out for a number of laps, so when the green flag waved there would only be two laps left. As the rain had started to ease off, the track was drying, but it was still wet in places. I like these conditions very much, and I knew if I was sensible I could win the race. In racing, it is always good to have a plan, but not always does it come to fruition; fortunately this one did. I followed the leader around pressuring him, assessing what he was going to do if I tried to overtake in certain places, and then on the last lap I planned to make my move. I made my move into the esses, and I was forced to go around the outside, which was what I thought, and then I was able to take a very late apex coming out of the right hand part of the corner and, therefore, I was able to get the power down earlier and harder to pull me up the hill and to the inside of the leading car. In doing this, I crossed the finishing line in first for my second consecutive victory. It was one of my best victories ever, in my opinion, and great to be able to give PacWest their second victory of the season, especially after what was a tough and, at times, very frustrating weekend. (It also meant I won $60 from my engineer, which also comes pretty close to a victory, but not quite!)

Best wishes,

- www.danwheldon.com

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Dan Wheldon