Bell Firmly In Front As Dayton Indy Lights Heads To Gateway Championship Leader Returns To Site Of First Oval Win With 27 Point Lead MADISON, Illinois (Aug. 23, 2001) - Riding a two-race win streak and his biggest points lead of the season, ...
Bell Firmly In Front As Dayton Indy Lights Heads To Gateway Championship Leader Returns To Site Of First Oval Win With 27 Point Lead
MADISON, Illinois (Aug. 23, 2001) - Riding a two-race win streak and his biggest points lead of the season, Townsend Bell (DIRECWAY Lola) returns to the site of his first oval track race win at Gateway International Raceway this weekend in firm control of the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship.
Bell has won half of the year's first eight races and defends his 2000 Gateway victory with a commanding lead in this year's Dayton Indy Lights point standings. With a maximum 22 points available to a driver at each race, the championship leader's current 27 point advantage over Dorricott Racing teammate Damien Faulkner (Dorricott Racing Lola) equates to more than a full race lead. Bell will remain on top of the championship battle regardless of the outcome of the St. Louis race that is Round Nine of 12 races on the 2001 schedule.
Sunday's 80-lap (100 miles) Dayton Indy Lights sprint is scheduled to start at 11:00 a.m. local time and can be seen in a one-hour show on ESPN2 late that evening at 2:00 a.m. ET (early Monday morning). Viewers on the West Coast can see the race at 11:00 p.m. PT Sunday night.
The Gateway race marks the second and final appearance of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship with the Indy Racing Northern Light Series this season. Last month, rookie Kristian Kolby (Hype Energy/Conquest Racing Lola) edged Faulkner and Bell in a thrilling and record-setting debut race in support of the IRL at Kansas Speedway. Kolby edged Faulkner by a world record .001 of a second while Bell crossed the line in third just .017 of a second back. Although a post-race penalty dropped Bell to fifth in the final standings, the trio crossed the line a classic photo finish.
Ironically, the same group of drivers may be united on the Dorricott team this weekend in St. Louis. Kolby was only contracted with the Conquest Racing team for the year's first eight races, a deal that ended one race ago at Mid-Ohio. At that race, the Dorricott group announced that the team's third driver Jon Fogarty (Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Lola) has withdrawn for the rest of the season due to a herniated cervical disk. Geoff Boss filled Fogarty's seat in the last two races, both road course events at Mid-Ohio and Toronto, but Kolby may get the ride for the Gateway oval and possibly the remainder of the season. Although no official announcement of a Kolby/Dorricott pairing has been made, the team and driver are expected to continue discussions Thursday.
Bell dominated both the Mid-Ohio and Toronto races, leading every lap from the pole to score the maximum 22 points at each race. He turned in a similar dominating performance on the Milwaukee Mile oval in June and won his first race of the season on the streets of Long Beach in April where he charged from sixth on the grid. The last three victories at Milwaukee, Toronto and Mid-Ohio have accounted for 66 of Bell's 126 points and a total of $20,000 in Simple Green Clean Up Award bonuses. The new Simple Green program awards drivers that dominate Dayton Indy Lights races, winning from the pole while leading the most laps and setting the fastest race lap. In addition to his four Dayton Indy Lights wins this year, Bell finished third in Mexico and leads the series in poles (four) and fastest race laps (five).
Bell could be in line for more Simple Green cash at Gateway. Last year, he led every lap from the pole to win and stay alive in a championship battle with eventual champion Scott Dixon that went down to the wire in the season-ending race at California Speedway. A similar performance at Gateway this year could all but seal the title for Bell and place him on the fast track to a ride in CART Champ Car competition or the IRL next season. Bell has recently tested a Toyota Reynard Champ Car for Patrick Racing two times since his Mid-Ohio Indy Lights win.
Faulkner, a rookie from Ireland, is the only other driver in the series who has multiple victories this year. He won from the pole in his oval track debut at Texas Motor Speedway in April and scored a road course victory in the rain at Portland in June. His championship bid - he is second in the standings with 99 points - has also been supported by impressive consistency. He has posted top-three podium finishes in the last four races, a streak that includes third at Mid-Ohio and Toronto, the runner-up showing at Kansas and the Portland win. He and Kolby are also the only drivers in the series to edge Bell in a statistical category or points race. Faulkner currently leads the $10,000 Bosch Platinum+4 Speedway Challenge standings, a $10,000 winner-take-all bonus that will be paid to the driver earning the most points in the year's five oval track races. Heading into Round Four of the Bosch battle at Gateway, Faulkner leads the Bosch battle with 44 points. Kolby is second with 42 points and Bell is third with 37 points.
Kolby's record Kansas win has been the highlight of a solid debut season that has seen the Danish standout and former British Formula Ford champion record other top-five finishes at Texas (third), Long Beach (fifth) and Mid-Ohio (fourth). He is fourth in the championship with 80 points.
Derek Higgins (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola), another Irishman, won the season-opening race at Mexico and is the only driver to lead the championship other than Bell. He earned four podium finishes early in the season but distant showings in the last three races - he spun at Mid-Ohio and Toronto and retired early at Kansas with mechanical problems - have seen him fall to sixth in the championship with 73 points.
British rookie Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights Lola) has jumped to third in the championship after scoring his second runner-up finish of the season at Mid-Ohio. With 83 points, Wheldon joins Faulkner as the drivers most likely to strike if Bell falters in the stretch run. Wheldon, the 1999 U.S. Formula Ford 2000 champion, and PacWest Lights teammate Mario Dominguez (del Valle/Corona/Televisa/ PacWest Lights Lola) have done everything but win a race this season. Their record includes second-place finishes for Dominguez at Toronto and Milwaukee and poles at Kansas and Long Beach. Dominguez, who is fifth in the championship with 79 points, led at Kansas before falling back with mechanical problems. He also set the fastest race lap in Mexico. In addition to Mid-Ohio, Wheldon's top showings are second at Long Beach, where he led the most race laps before Bell passed for the win, and thirds at Milwaukee and Kansas.
Dominguez is one of four drivers from Mexico in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship. He is joined by countrymen Rudy Junco (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola) and Roquin Motorsports teammates Luis Diaz (Telmex /Roquin Motorsports, LLC Lola) and Rolando Quintanilla (Telmex/Roquin Motorsports, LLC Lola). Junco, a teammate of Higgins who earned a career-best finish of second at Portland, sustained ligament injuries to his left foot and ankle in a late race accident at Kansas after contact with Cory Witherill (WSA Healthcare/Motors Lola) at Kansas. He missed the Toronto race but returned at Mid-Ohio where he finished seventh. He also ranks seventh in the championship with 52 points.
Diaz is eighth in the championship with 52 points - Junco's higher race finish gives him the tiebreaker advantage - and placed a career-high fourth at Texas and Milwaukee in addition to fifth at Toronto. Quintanilla, 10th in the points race with 44, posted personal-best fifth place finishes at Texas and Portland.
With Kolby gone from Conquest, New Zealander Matt Halliday (Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing Lola) will be the sole driver for the team that is owned by 1991 Indy Lights champion Eric Bachelart. Halliday joined the series at Milwaukee and has finished no lower than fifth in the last four races, including thee consecutive fourth-place finishes at Toronto, Kansas and Portland. Kansas was just Halliday's third Indy Lights race start but he qualified third and led three different times for three laps.
Witherill is completing the Dayton Indy Lights Championship season after finishing 19th with Indy Regency Racing in May's Indianapolis 500, a race that was won by former Indy Lights star and Helio Castroneves. Witherill, the only Native American driver currently competing in major league auto racing, is at his best on oval tracks and has career-high finishes were fourths at California Speedway in 1998 and 1999.