DETROIT (March 5, 2001) - Reigning and former champions of the world's premier open-wheel development series and the top rookies from last year's Dayton Indy Lights and Toyota Atlantic championships will do battle in the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights ...
DETROIT (March 5, 2001) - Reigning and former champions of the world's premier open-wheel development series and the top rookies from last year's Dayton Indy Lights and Toyota Atlantic championships will do battle in the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship season that begins Sunday at the Telmex Tecate Monterrey Grand Prix Presented by Herdez in Monterrey, Mexico.
A 75-mile Dayton Indy Lights sprint - the official race lap and distance will be determined early in the race weekend - will set the stage Sunday for the featured Tecate Telmex Grand Prix of Monterey, the opening round of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series. The green flag for the Dayton Indy Lights race is scheduled to drop at 1 p.m. local time Sunday and will be telecast in same day coverage on ESPN2 in a one-hour show at 11 p.m. (8 p.m. PT). Two-days of practice and qualifying on Friday and Saturday will precede the Dayton Indy Lights race.
Round 1 of 12 in the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship, the Monterrey race opens the 16th season of competition for the "Official Development Series" of CART. The Mexico race is also the first time that the Dayton Indy Lights Championship has run a race outside of the United States or Canada.
Townsend Bell (No. 30 DirecPC Lola) was the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights Championship Rookie of the Year while Dan Wheldon (No. 1 Gemstar Lola) grabbed first-year honors in the Toyota Atlantic Championship. Both drivers also finished second overall in their respective championships and each won a pair of races. This year, Bell, 25, returns for a second season of Dayton Indy Lights competition as the senior driver for Dorricott Racing while Wheldon steps up to Indy Lights with defending series champions PacWest Lights. The 22-year-old Brit who now lives in Indianapolis will carry the champion's No. 1 PacWest earned last year with Champ Car graduate Scott Dixon. Bell, a native Californian and lifetime resident of the Golden State, will carry No. 30 with Dorricott.
While Bell and Wheldon are expected to be strong challengers for the title, they will have to deal with a group of other international talents that have claimed championships in everything from British Formula 3 to European Formula Palmer Audi to the Barber Dodge Pro Series. Including Wheldon's 1999 U.S. Formula Ford 2000 title, this year's Dayton Indy Lights Championship field has accounted for six U.S. national or major British and European support series championships since 1996.
Reigning champs set for their inaugural Dayton Indy Lights season include Barber Dodge titleist Nilton Rossoni (No. 21 Conquest Racing Lola) and Irishman Damien Faulkner (No. 31 Dorricott Racing Lola) who took home the European Formula Palmer Audi crown in 2000. Rossoni, the youngest driver in the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship at 19, won six races to take the Barber Dodge championship and closed his three-year stint in the series with an impressive record of 10 wins in 32 starts. Faulkner, one of Bell's two rookie teammates at Dorricott, had similar results in a trio of seasons in the Palmer Audi series. The 25-year-old's career win total of eight race wins includes six victories in his championship season.
Rossoni's teammate at Conquest is another rookie with championship credentials. Danish driver Kristian Kolby (No. 11 Conquest Racing Lola) was the youngest driver in history to win the British Formula Ford championship, which he did as a 16-year-old in 1996. Now 22, Kolby went on to Formula 3 and Formula 3000 competition following his Formula Ford triumph.
Wheldon's PacWest teammate is countryman Marc Hynes (No. 17 Gemstar Lola) who has two recent British titles on his resume. Hynes, 22, outdueled current Formula One driver Luciano Burti for the 1999 British Formula 3 championship and also won the 1997 Formula Sport Renault title. He is set for at least the opening Mexico round with the PacWest team that is finalizing full-season plans for its No. 17 entry.
Champions and 2000 rookies of the year will not be the only drivers in the spotlight in Mexico. A trio of talented young drivers from Mexico - all 23 or younger - and another veteran Irishman who has made the country practically his second home will likely be the center of attention in Monterrey.
Rudy Junco (No. 15 Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola) and Roquin Motorsports teammates Rolando Quintanilla (No. 64 Telmex Lola) and Luis Diaz (No. 65 Telmex Lola) all begin their second full seasons of competition in Dayton Indy Lights. Junco, 22, completed a solid debut season last year which ended with a career-best qualifying and race finish of eighth at California Speedway where he also challenged for the lead. Junco also finished eighth at Chicago. Quintanilla, 20, and Diaz, 23, are part of the Roquin team that returns to Dayton Indy Lights for the first time since the mid-1990s. Quintanilla's father, former driver Roberto Quintanilla owns the Roquin outfit that is part of Telmex's own corporate driver development ladder system. Veteran Mexican driver Jimmy Morales serves as the team's driving coach. Quintanilla finished a career-best eighth at Michigan and Houston last year driving for Conquest while Diaz has a career-best finish of sixth at Chicago in 2000 while driving for Team Go/Mexico Quaker Herdez. Diaz is also the 1998 Formula Mexico series champion.
Derek Higgins (No. 16 Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola) teams with Junco at Mexpro and should be well known in Mexico. The Irishman, a four-time Dayton Indy Lights race winner with Team Go/Mexico Quaker Herdez, lived and raced in Mexico for several years and won the 1995 and 1997 Mexican Formula 3 championships. Higgins, 34, served as a driver coach for Junco last year before taking the wheel of a second Mexpro entry late in the season. He will run his first full season since 1999.
Two U.S. drivers complete the Monterrey entry and will run the full Dayton Indy Lights Championship season. Cory Witherill (No. 6 WSA Healthcare/Motors Lola) will run his first complete year with Indy Regency Racing after joining the team halfway through the 2000 season. In three years of Indy Lights competition, the 29-year-old Witherill has career-best finishes of fourth at California Speedway in 1998 and 1999. Jon Fogarty (No. 32 Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Lola) is Dorricott Racing's other rookie. He continues a rivalry with Rossoni to whom he finished second in the 2000 Barber Dodge standings, earning wins at Lime Rock, Mid-Ohio and Detroit.
An encore telecast of the Monterrey Dayton Indy Lights Championship race will be shown on ESPN2 on Tuesday, March 13 at 3 a.m. ET (Midnight PT).
The inaugural Telmex Tecate Grand Prix of Monterrey Presented by Herdez also marks the debut of reigning Dayton Indy Lights champion Scott Dixon who will make his first FedEx Championship Series start with PacWest Racing Group. Dixon, who won six races with PacWest to take the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights title, is the record fourth consecutive champ from CART's "Official Development Series" to step straight into the big show. He joins Oriol Servia (1999 champion), Cristiano da Matta (1998 champion) and Tony Kanaan (1997) in addition to other former Indy Lights titleists Bryan Herta (1993 champion) and Paul Tracy (1990 champion). Other Indy Lights alumni racing in the FedEx Championship Series include Adrian Fernandez (1992 Rookie of the Year), Helio Castroneves and Luiz Garcia. These nine Indy Lights grads make up just under 1/3 of the 2001 entry list for the FedEx Championship Series.
Tracy scored the first win for an Indy Lights grad in CART Champ Car competition in the 1993 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start a streak that is unmatched in motorsports. Since that win, Indy Lights alumni have won 40 of the 138 CART Champ Car races run through the end of the 2000 season. At nearly 30%, this winning percentage over the last eight seasons is the best record by drivers from any development series in the world who have stepped up to the FedEx Championship Series.
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