MADISON, Ill. (Sept. 16, 2000) - Rookie Townsend Bell (DirecPC Lola) kept his slim championship hopes alive Saturday when he set a new track record to win the pole for Sunday's Dayton Indy Lights Championship race at Gateway International ...
MADISON, Ill. (Sept. 16, 2000) - Rookie Townsend Bell (DirecPC Lola) kept his slim championship hopes alive Saturday when he set a new track record to win the pole for Sunday's Dayton Indy Lights Championship race at Gateway International Raceway.
Bell shattered Chris Simmons' 1997 track record of 157.478 mph (29.033 seconds) on his second of two qualifying laps to win his first oval track pole. Bell averaged 159.721 mph (28.625 seconds) and held on to the top spot as final qualifier Scott Dixon (Invensys/Powerware/PacWest Lights Lola) fell .141 of a second short. It is the first time all weekend that Dixon, who can clinch the Dayton Indy Lights title with a win in tomorrow's race, was not fastest in a timed session.
Bell, who won his first Dayton Indy Lights pole on the Portland road course in June, gained a point on Dixon but still remains a distant 41 points behind the leader. With a race win worth 20 points. Bell needs to combine a victory with a non-points paying finish by Dixon Sunday to remain in the championship picture heading into the year's final two races. Gateway is Round 10 of 12 races on the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights Championship schedule.
Bell, the first American to win an oval track pole since Tony Renna at California Speedway in 1998, won the pole despite having to take to the track after a heavy accident in Turn 3 by Cory Witherill (WSA Healthcare/Indy Regency Racing Lola). Witherill was uninjured but his totaled race car spread debris throughout the last two turns. Each of the final five qualifiers took to the track after the incident that took a full 10 minutes to clean up.
"I don't think the delay from the yellow flag was much of a problem," Bell said. "I think the last five guys waiting to qualify were probably a little more confidant than they should have been including me. There wasn't any debris on the track. I felt I would run a pole competitive lap I the car was balanced. I remember running my first oval during Barber Dodge at Phoenix in '99 for a test. Jeff Simmons and I swapped fastest times throughout the day. I could tell we both felt right at home and it seems we're both still comfortable on ovals."
Dixon suffered no major dent in his championship pursuit, but he was still looking for his second pole of the season after winning the top spot at Milwaukee earlier this year.
"I'm pretty disappointed with my qualifying position," Dixon said. "We should have made an adjustment to the car before we went out. Tony (Renna) came down after his run to advise us of the conditions on the track, but we chose to remain conservative. My car usually gets better and better the more we run, so we're definitely looking forward to the race tomorrow. I battled a lot of understeer through one and two, so we'll think about that tonight and come out strong Sunday."
Jeff Simmons (KOOL Lola) qualified third for the third consecutive race and posted his best qualifying effort of his rookie season on an oval.
"The car wasn't bad, we just had too much understeer, which is the way the car's been the whole weekend," Simmons said. "We were pretty close to our quickest time this morning. The KOOL car just picked up a little more understeer off of both corners, both ends of the track. But I didn't think I could go much quicker than that. We made quite a few small changes after practice this morning but I don't think they had a whole lot of effect, really. We'll probably try some things tomorrow morning in warm-up. I don't usually hope for this, but I was pulling for the points leader (Scott Dixon) to get the pole because I'm trying to catch Townsend Bell for Rookie of the Year honors, and I was hoping he wouldn't get the extra point. We'll just have to try to make up for it in the race tomorrow."
Bell's teammate Jason Bright (Dorricott Racing Lola) qualified fourth at 157.927 mph (28.950 seconds), his best effort since winning the pole at Mid-Ohio in August.
"My car was a little too loose through turns three and four, but we were quick through one and two," Bright said. "Considering I didn't test here and then I crashed in the previous oval, I'm pleased to be one of the top-four qualifiers. I'm positioned to make a run for a win anyway."
Conquest teammates Chris Menninga (Mi-Jack Lola) and Felipe Giaffone (Hollywood Lola) fill row three in grid positions five and six, respectively.
Casey Mears, Tony Renna, Witherill and rookie Rudy Junco complete the top 10 although Witherill's team withdrew after the Indy Regency Racing Lola was totaled.
Sunday's Dayton Indy Lights race will be telecast on ESPN2 late Sunday night (early Monday morning) at 1:30 a.m. ET (10:30 p.m. PT).