KANSAS CITY, Kansas (July 6, 2001) - Rookie Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights Lola) led the way Friday in the opening day of competition for the Dayton Indy Lights Championship at the all-new Kansas Speedway. The 23-year-old...
KANSAS CITY, Kansas (July 6, 2001) - Rookie Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights Lola) led the way Friday in the opening day of competition for the Dayton Indy Lights Championship at the all-new Kansas Speedway. The 23-year-old driver from England turned the day's two fastest laps on the 1.520-mile oval in the debut weekend of open wheel auto racing at the Kansas track.
Wheldon set the day's fastest lap of 182.351 mph (30.008 seconds) in Friday's morning session and then posted the day's second quickest lap of 181.897 mph (30.083 seconds) in the afternoon run. His fast lap was .202 of a second quicker than Rudy Junco (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola) who followed up on his career-best second-place finish one race ago at Portland as Friday's second fastest driver at an average speed of 181.132 mph (30.210 seconds). Rolando Quintanilla (Telmex Lola) was third quick at an average speed of 180.845 mph (30.258 seconds).
As drivers and teams endured temperatures near 100 degrees and a track surface as hot as 143 degrees, Wheldon and the other competitors experimented with drafting and solo runs on the banked Kansas track.
"To start with you have two different strategies (on how setup the car)," Wheldon said. "The car needs to be very quick for qualifying and you've got to run your line. It is very easy to pickup a tow out there, but we have to be quick on our own. For the race, you have a different strategy and it will be more of a gamble than qualifying and it will be a very exciting race for the spectators and during the race you should see side-by-side racing. I don't think it will affect us too much (rubber on the track) although we race after the IRL and the amount of rubber that could go down might change the car setup very slightly."
Junco finished five positions higher than his teammate Derek Higgins (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/ PrecioBase.com Lola) who clocked in at 180.190 mph (30.368 seconds). Junco did not participate in a group test here in April where Higgins shook down his Mexpro Lola.
"It's a great facility and it's great to be here," Junco said. "There is a bit more strategy to get the car setup for the race. We're looking forward to tomorrow and qualifying. (Derek helped me with) where you want to be on the track where the bumps are and where you look for your line to be. He's a great teammate and a very serious racer."
Quintanilla also had one of his best day's yet in a Dayton Indy Lights race car.
"This is Roquin Motorsport's first season, and I feel very good about our team," Quintanilla said. "My teammate was quick in his 2000 season and I feel that we have gotten off to a good start. Being here today shows what we can accomplish. I am very proud of my team and how far we have come. When you have more heat, you have less horsepower. The extreme hot temperature creates less rubber and it becomes slippery. Really, what we are doing today during our practice sessions is fine-tuning our set-ups for the qualifying session tomorrow. Yesterday I went jogging to prepare for the heat that I knew was in my near future for this weekend. People were coming up to me, asking me if I need a ride or if I should really be running in this heat."
Cory Witherill (WSA Healthcare/Motors Lola) capped a successful day with the fourth fastest lap at an average speed of 180.809 mph (30.264 seconds).
"The session was good," Witherill said. "We made some changes, and we had an exhaust problem. Other than that, we made some changes in the right direction. The car feels good on the track; it's good to drive in the little pack I was in. It will be interesting to see how everyone does by themselves in the qualifying tomorrow."
Texas and Portland race winner Damien Faulkner (Dorricott Racing Lola) rounded out the top five at an average speed of 180.666 mph (30.288 seconds), the top effort from Dorricott Racing.
"We were just preparing for qualifying, which is pretty essential if you want to be on the front end of results this weekend," Faulkner said. "I think it is more important to get a true reading of what the car's going to handle in qualifying than running hot laps in a draft. We've got to be able to run fast while alone. So that is strictly what I did. I drove by myself. It was curtailed a little bit by an oil spillage problem at the back of the car which ended my session early. It didn't allow me to get all the times I might. I don't care about the overall times at the moment because today's session really doesn't matter for fast times. Different drivers were trying different things in practice like running in traffic and trying to draft."
Championship points leader Townsend Bell (DirecPC Lola) lost most of his track time in the faster morning session due to an oil leak. He was one of the few drivers to post his fastest lap in the afternoon practice and ended up 10th overall at an average speed of 179.581 mph (30.471 seconds).
As bad as Bell's day was, his teammate Jon Fogarty (Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Lola) had it worse. He was forced to withdraw for the second-straight race due to a herniated disk in between two of his cervical vertebrae. He will also miss Round 7 of the series in Toronto, July 15.
I'll undergo another MRI in three weeks and hopefully heal enough where I can resume racing this season," Fogarty said. "Otherwise, surgery is a real possibility. At this point, I have to begin focusing on next year more than this year. I've decided not to stay in Kansas for this weekend's race because sticking around Portland was one of the most miserable things's I'd ever done."
Sunday's Dayton Indy Lights Championship race from Kansas will be shown in same day coverage on ESPN2 in a one-hour show airing at 10:00 p.m. PT Sunday night. East of the Mississippi, the ESPN2 air times are early Monday morning (late Sunday night) at 1 a.m. ET and 12 Midnight CT.