MONTERREY, Mexico (March 11, 2001) - Derek Higgins (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola) gave Mexpro Racing team owner Rodolfo Junco Sr. his first Dayton Indy Lights Championship victory in his home country Sunday with a strong ...
MONTERREY, Mexico (March 11, 2001) - Derek Higgins (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola) gave Mexpro Racing team owner Rodolfo Junco Sr. his first Dayton Indy Lights Championship victory in his home country Sunday with a strong flag-to-flag win from the pole in the inaugural race at Fundidora Park.
The season-opening event of the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship, the Monterrey race was the first event in the 16-year history of the series outside of U.S. and Canadian borders. Higgins made it a memorable one for Junco and the Mexpro team in addition to making his own triumphant return to Mexico where he raced and lived for five years in the 1990s. His Mexican titles include the 1995 and 1997 national Formula 3 championships.
Higgins was the dominant driver all weekend, topping all practice and qualifying sessions and winning his fifth career race and first since Detroit in 1999. He averaged 80.625 mph and led second-place finisher Townsend Bell (DirecPC Lola) across the finish line by .179 of a second. Bell's Dorricott Racing teammate Jon Fogarty (Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Lola) finished third in his Dayton Indy Lights debut.
Higgins took the lead at the start heading into Turn 1 and was closely followed by Bell who jumped from third on the grid as outside-polesitter Nilton Rossoni (Conquest Racing Lola) faded. Rossoni fell to seventh by the completion of lap one and his day didn't get much better. He was uninjured when he hit the Turn 4 chicane wall four laps later which brought out the day's only caution period.
On the restart, Higgins opened up to a consistent one-second lead as Bell, Fogarty, Mario Dominguez (Corona/Jugos del Valley Lola) and rookie Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Lola) rounded out the top five. The field maintained that order to the finish although Bell closed to within a half a second of the leader in the race's closing laps, but he was never able to make a move. A possible opportunity to catch Higgins on the final lap also fell up short when the leaders encountered the lapped race car of Rolando Quintanilla (Telmex Lola), but Quintanilla managed to not interfere with the contenders.
Higgins also has career Dayton Indy Lights wins at Milwaukee (1998 & 1999) and Cleveland (1999) and Detroit (1999). * Quotes
Derek Higgins (#16 Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola)
"I am really proud of the effort that the team has made. I think that I was very good coming through the last section before getting to the pit straight but yet I wasn't very good coming through turn one. I didn't want to make any mistakes, but to stay on the track. I was a bit frustrated when I came behind Rolando (Quintanilla) on the last lap. I think he should have gotten out of the way because it could have spoiled the race. It was a good race anyhow. I would like to say thank you to Senor Junco for giving me the chance and I'm glad to have the opportunity to drive for this team and go out and give them a victory."
Townsend Bell (#30 DirecPC Lola)
"The start was really hectic. I got a good jump and got up there next to Derek (Higgins), but there wasn't much grip there, and this was a race I really wanted to finish. That track got a little grippier as the race went on and fuel wore off. This track is very difficult because of the groove and the non-groove, and if you make one little bobble you lose three-tenths of a second and that's a pretty serious penalty to your lap time. All in all, we got points and I really feel like we're going to have a strong season."
Jon Fogarty (#32 Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Lola)
"One of the challenges of this race is the one-line and it really makes you focus and you have to be so disciplined in your driving. Fortunately, I was today and I was able to keep the car on the track. After the yellow, Mario (Dominguez) was putting of pressure on me for a lot of the race. Overall it was a great race."
* Special Awards
Dayton Tire Awards: Dan Wheldon receives four Dayton Daytona racing tires as the Move to the Front award recipient. Wheldon improved five positions to finish in fifth place from starting in the 10th position. Jon Fogarty receives two Dayton Daytona racing tires as the Dayton Rookie Award recipient as the highest finishing first-year driver. Derek Higgins receives a pair of Dayton Daytona racing tires as the fast qualifier.
Worldcom Fast Pace Award: Mario Dominguez receives the $1,000 Worldcom Fast Pace Award for setting the fastest race lap.
Nation's Cup: Ireland leads the Nation's cup with Derek Higgins' win today. Townsend Bell's second place finish has the United States in second place with Mexico following in third place with Mario Dominguez' fourth place finish. England takes the fourth position with Dan Wheldon's fifth place finish. Kristian Kolby puts Denmark in fifth place with Brazil in sixth place with Nilton Rossoni's finish today.
Racing for Kids Award: Derek Higgins wins the Racing for Kids Award for $500. An additional $1,500 will be presented to the children's hospital in Monterrey, Mexico on behalf on Racing for Kids. Higgins leads the RFK points championship with a total of 22 points.
* Television - Tonight!
Round 1 of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship will be telecast in same-day coverage on ESPN2 in a one-hour show at 11 p.m. (8 p.m. PT). An encore telecast of the race will be shown on ESPN2 on Tuesday, March 13 at 3 a.m. ET (Midnight PT).
* Next Event
Round two of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship will take place at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach at Long Beach, California on Sunday, April 8, 2001.