MADISON, Illinois (August 26, 2001) - The Dayton Indy Lights Championship points battle tightened Sunday when rookie Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights Lola) won his first series race in Round Nine of the championship at Gateway ...
MADISON, Illinois (August 26, 2001) - The Dayton Indy Lights Championship points battle tightened Sunday when rookie Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights Lola) won his first series race in Round Nine of the championship at Gateway International Raceway. Wheldon took the lead when points leader Townsend Bell (DIRECWAY Lola) retired due to a failed fuel pump electrical connection and went on to lead the final 10 laps to give PacWest Lights its first victory of the year. Wheldon's teammate Mario Dominguez (del Valle/ Corona/ Televisa/ PacWest Lights Lola) finished second and rookie Matt Halliday (Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing Lola) finished a career-best third.
Wheldon averaged a race record 140.080 mph for the 80 lap race and earned his first win in any series since a Toyota Atlantic victory at Laguna Seca last September. It was also PacWest's first win since Scott Dixon scored at the 2000 season-ending race at California Speedway. The Wheldon/Dominguez sweep was the first one-two finish in the history of PacWest Lights.
Bell started on the pole when rain washed out official qualifying and the field was set by driver point standings. He led from the start and maintained a steady two-second lead while heading for what appeared to be his third-straight victory and fifth win of the year. He slowed and pitted on lap 70, however, and Wheldon took over and led the final 10 laps. As Wheldon cruised in front, Dominguez and Halliday waged a great battle for second. Dominguez slid high coming out of Turn 4 on lap 73 but kept his race car off the wall while Halliday managed to avoid running into Dominguez. The duo continued to race nose-to-tail and sometimes side-by-side in the following laps, and Halliday passed Dominguez for second going into Turn 1 on lap 76. Two corners later, however, Dominguez retook second place going into Turn 3 and stayed there until the finish. The runner-up showing was the third second-place finish of the season for Dominguez in addition to Milwaukee and Toronto. Halliday's third continued a strong race streak that has seen him finish in the top five in the last five races.
Derek Higgins (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola) finished fourth, his best finish since third at Portland in June, and Damien Faulkner (Dorricott Racing Lola) finished fifth.
Despite failing to finish his first race of the year, Bell still maintains a 22-point lead in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship points race. He has 131 points, Faulkner is second with 109 points and Wheldon is third with 103 points.
Kristian Kolby, who won at Kansas Speedway last month, did not race at Gateway and is presently attempting to secure sponsorship to return to the series for the year's final three races.
Faulkner maintained his lead in the Bosch Platinum+4 Speedway Challenge with only the season-ending race at California Speedway remaining in the all-oval track bonus award program. Faulkner has 54 points, Wheldon is now second with 51 points and Dominguez has jumped to third with 44 points.
#1 Dan Wheldon (Gemstar/PacWest Lights Lola) "We had some bad luck ourselves this season, but the PacWest team really pushed Mario and myself hard because we are always very close, it's just the case of making it count like today. Townsend (Bell) was fast, particularly on the opening laps; but once as things evened out, it was close. I thought it (the track) went yellow (when Townsend entered the pits) but the lights were green and I just kept pushing. I am very happy to win, it helps my aspirations for next year."
#17 Mario Dominguez (del Valle/Corona/Televisa PacWest Lights Lola) "Unbelievable, everything goes through your head (regarding his slide in Turn 4 late in the race). The whole race was tough for me because I had oversteer in the car and it was loose. When we got to traffic, I was not able to deal with it very easy and I was getting sideways and Matt (Halliday) was closing in on me and that's when the big battle started. We were able to keep our position, Matt passed me at one point and I got the position back and it was good clean racing."
#21 Matt Halliday (Mi-Jack Conquest Racing Lola) "The car was good and when the car is good - it's not so hard on ovals. We had a shorter top gear and it took me about 30 laps to pass Derek Higgins and I probably (wore out) my front tires a little which made the rest of the race a little tricky. It was a really good clean race, Mario (Dominguez) drove hard but clean and we just came up a little bit short at the end."
#30 Townsend Bell (DIRECWAY Lola) "It's a shame. The car suffered some kind of an electrical failure with the fuel pump. Otherwise, this was a solid performance. The car set-up was perfect and I have a handle on this track. It was one of those types of mechanical failures you can't foresee."
Special Awards Dayton Tire Awards: Matt Halliday receives four Dayton Daytona racing tires as the Move to the Front award recipient. Halliday improved five positions to finish third after starting eighth. Dan Wheldon receives two Dayton Daytona racing tires as the Dayton Rookie Award recipient as the highest finishing first-year driver. Townsend Bell receives a pair of Dayton Daytona racing tires for the pole.
Worldcom Fast Pace Award: Dan Wheldon receives the $1,000 Worldcom Fast Pace Award for setting the fastest race lap at 151.250 mph (30.228 seconds).
Bosch Platinum+4 Speedway Challenge: Damien Faulkner earned 10 points to extend his lead to 54 points in the Bosch Platinum+4 Speedway Challenge that pays $10,000 to the driver accumulating the most points in 2001's five oval track events.
Simple Green Clean-up Award: The Simple Green Award was not claimed in today's race, which rolls $2,500 over to the next event where $5,000 will be posted for sweeping the race: winning from the pole, leading the most race laps and setting the fastest race lap.
Nation's Cup: Ireland continues on top in the Nation's Cup with 141 points. The United States follows in second place with 130 points and Mexico in third place with 116 points.
Racing for Kids Award: Dan Wheldon wins the Racing for Kids Award for $500. An additional $1,500 will be presented to Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri on behalf on Racing for Kids.
Television - Late Tonight
Round 9 of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship can be seen on ESPN2 in a one-hour show late tonight 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. An encore telecast of the race will be shown on ESPN2 on Thursday, August 30th at 11:00 a.m. ET (10:00 a.m. CT/8:00 a.m. PT).