MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 13, 2001) - Series points leader Townsend Bell (DIRECWAY Lola) moved closer to clinching the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship title Saturday in final qualifying for Sunday's 34-lap sprint race at Laguna Seca Raceway. ...
MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 13, 2001) - Series points leader Townsend Bell (DIRECWAY Lola) moved closer to clinching the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship title Saturday in final qualifying for Sunday's 34-lap sprint race at Laguna Seca Raceway. Bell gained a critical championship point and now has a strong 27-point lead over nearest title challengers Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights Lola) and Damien Faulkner (Dorricott Racing Lola) who qualified fifth and sixth, respectively, Saturday. Bell has 150 points while Wheldon and Faulkner are tied for second with 123 points.
"I'm not looking ahead (winning the championship)," Bell said. "I want to win this race. I have a lot of friends and sponsors visiting this weekend so it makes sense to win for them and me. I've led the last two races late in each but had some bad luck. A fuel pump broke at Gateway and then it rained near the end of the race at Atlanta. I doubt I'll race differently. I certainly would like to win the championship this weekend and finish it. We prefer winning the championship here instead of having to go to Fontana with the championship on the line. Anything can happen on superspeedway that's out of our control."
Bell can clinch the title Sunday with a second place finish or better or any other result ahead of Wheldon and Faulkner. The season-ending race will be held at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Nov. 4.
Bell will share the front row Sunday with his Dorricott Racing teammate Jon Fogarty (Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Lola) who continues his strong recovery from a herniated cervical disk injury endured over the summer. Fogarty clocked in at 105.125 mph (76.640 seconds) while PacWest Lights driver Mario Dominguez (del Valle/Corona/Televisa/PacWest Lights Lola) will grid third at 104.843 mph (76.846 seconds)
"Before I talk of anything, I have to put out a word of thanks to Dr. Olvey and Dr. Trammel at CART medical," Fogarty said. "They got me back in the a car. Their medical care and help during my down time was really important to me and I truly appreciate them. I feel 110 percent physically. Physical therapy has gone well but there's no greater therapy than being back in a race car. I understand that Townsend has a championship to win, but I obviously would like to win this race. If Townsend runs this race like he qualified it will probably be his race. Regardless, I need to finish and I need a good finish to end the season strong. "
Dominguez, with a trio of second-place finishes and a pair of poles already in 2001, is looking for his first win of the season tomorrow.
"We have a really good car," Dominguez said. "My team made a few changes between sessions and we were able to improve a lot from this morning. I'm a little frustrated that we couldn't get in a flyer to end the session, but we got caught up in traffic on the last two laps and then a red flag flew to end the session early. I'm confident we will do well tomorrow. PacWest Lights is the three-time winner here so I would like to keep their honors high at this track."
Wheldon is having a tougher time of if than his teammate and his chances of being able to keep the championship alive through Sunday's race seem slim.
"We're just not very good right now," Wheldon said. "I'm fighting a lot of understeer even though my overall grip is good. Traffic was not an issue for me, but I've got to find a way to gain some speed. We'll look at things tonight and hopefully get the car fine-tuned so we can come out strong tomorrow. This is a tough track to pass on, so we've definitely got a challenge ahead of us."
Sunday's Laguna Seca Dayton Indy Lights race will be part of two hours of back-to-back series television coverage late that evening on ESPN2. Last week's Road Atlanta race airs at 1:30 a.m. ET, Sunday, Oct. 14, and will be immediately followed at 2:30 a.m. ET by the Laguna Seca race. Although the late-night television times are actually early Monday morning, Oct. 15, viewers on the West Coast can catch the shows on the 14th at 10:30 p.m. PT and 11:30 p.m. PT, respectively.