Townsend Bell Leads Dayton Indy Lights Championship Back To Portland Championship Leader Returns To The Site Of His First Pole And Podium DETROIT (June 20, 2001) - Following his victory on The Milwaukee Mile three weeks ago that was one of the...
Townsend Bell Leads Dayton Indy Lights Championship Back To Portland
Championship Leader Returns To The Site Of His First Pole And Podium
DETROIT (June 20, 2001) - Following his victory on The Milwaukee Mile three weeks ago that was one of the most dominating race wins in the 16-year history of the series, championship points leader Townsend Bell (DirecPC Lola) returns to the site of his first pole and podium finish this weekend for Round 5 of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship at Portland International Raceway.
The first of three permanent road course races on the 12-event Dayton Indy Lights Championship schedule, the Portland race is scheduled to start at 10:45 a.m. this Sunday and will be sponsored by Spirit Mountain Casino. The 38 lap (74.822 miles) Spirit Mountain Casino Challenge will set the stage for the featured FedEx Championship Series Freightliner/G.I. Joe's 200 that will be run on the 1.969-mile road course Sunday afternoon. The Dayton Indy Lights race will be telecast in same day coverage in a one-hour show on ESPN2 at 10:30 p.m. ET (7:30 p.m. PT).
In his record-setting victory on the one-mile Milwaukee oval, June 3, Bell became the first Indy Lights driver in 14 years to lap an entire race field. He also earned a record winner's purse of $37,500 that included $10,000 from the new Simple Green Clean-Up Award that is paid to any driver that wins a race from the pole, leads the most laps and set the fastest race lap. For Portland, the Simple Green award reverts back to the $2,500 starting bonus level, a prize that will roll to Round 6 at Kansas Speedway, July 8, if unclaimed this weekend.
Bell lapped all but second-place finisher Mario Dominguez (Del Valle/Corona/Televisia/PacWestLights Lola) at least twice at Milwaukee. Eventual 1987 series champion Didier Theys was the first driver to lap an entire Indy Lights field at the Meadowlands in June of that year, but both the second (Jeff Andretti) and third place (Rich Rutherford) finishers were only one lap off the pace. Bell's dominating run in Wisconsin saw third-place finisher Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights Lola) finish two laps in arrears.
The Milwaukee win gave Bell sole possession of first-place in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship point standings for the first time in his two-year career in the "Official Development Series" of CART. He now leads early-season points leader Derek Higgins (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola) by 10 points, 62 - 52. The two drivers were previously tied for the championship lead after Round 2 at Long Beach in April where Bell won his first race of the 2000 season.
Bell first made his mark in his rookie season of competition at Portland last year where he set a new track record to win his first Dayton Indy Lights pole. He went on to finish second in the race, his first top-three podium finish, after then teammate Jason Bright passed him at the start heading into the Festival Curves. As the season went on, however, Bell emerged as Dorricott Racing's top driver, winning a pair of races at Mid-Ohio and St. Louis and taking Rookie of the Year honors. He also challenged eventual series champion and top 2001 CART Champ Car rookie Scott Dixon for the title until the final race of the season, finishing second in the points race.
Bell is back with Dorricott this year, a team that first won at Portland in 1999 with Philipp Peter, and partners a pair of rookie teammates. One of the first-year drivers, Damien Faulkner (Dorricott Racing Lola), won Round 3 in Texas where he led all but two laps from the pole in his oval track racing debut. Bell's other teammate is his fellow Californian Jon Fogarty (Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Lola) who looks for a turn around at Portland after contact incidents in the last three races forced him to retire (Long Beach & Texas) or finish well down in the running order (Milwaukee) despite solid qualifying efforts. The lone race highlight of his season was a third-place finish in his debut at Mexico.
Fogarty and Higgins were involved in a bizarre accident at Milwaukee that knocked both from contention before the race even began. The two came together on the final of three parade laps, eliminating Higgins on the spot and forcing Fogarty to the pits where he stayed for the race's first 20 laps while his race car was repaired. While Fogarty salvaged three championship points from a distant 10th place finish, Higgins saw a series-leading streak of consistency come to a crashing end. Prior to Milwaukee, Higgins had completed every race lap and finished no lower than third in the year's first three races at Mexico (First), Long Beach (Third) and Texas (Second). Despite losing his points lead to Bell, Higgins holds second in the championship, three points ahead of Dominguez, 52 - 49.
Dominguez and Wheldon are teammates at PacWest Lights, each driver in his first year with the championship-winning team. The duo has done everything but win a race so far in 2001, a successful run that has produced four podium appearances, one pole and one fastest race lap. Wheldon is fourth in the championship with 44 points and is the top rookie in the series heading into Portland. Dominguez is a third-year veteran who joined PacWest after two seasons with the now disbanded Team Go group. His only career win was in Miami in 1999.
Another rookie, Danish driver Kristian Kolby (Conquest Racing Lola), is fifth in the championship with 40 points on the strength of no race finish lower than sixth, including third at Texas. The former British Formula Ford champion and Formula 3000 veteran teams with New Zealander Matthew Halliday (Conquest Racing Lola) who will make his Dayton Indy Lights road racing debut at Portland after making his first series start on the oval at Milwaukee where he finished ninth. Halliday turned to Indy Lights after making his North American debut in the season opening Toyota Atlantic race at Long Beach.
American Cory Witherill (WSA Healthcare/Motors Lola) returns to the Dayton Indy Lights Championship after finishing 19th with Indy Regency Racing in last month's Indianapolis 500, a race that was won by former Indy Lights star Helio Castroneves. Witherill, a 100% Navajo, is the only Native American driver currently competing in the top levels of professional open-wheel racing. He made his Indy Lights debut at Portland in 1998 and is set for his 28th career start in the series this weekend.
Higgins teams with second-year driver Rudy Junco (Mexpro/StarlightDiamonds.com/PrecioBase.com Lola) at Mexpro Racing, a team that is also in its sophomore season in Dayton Indy Lights. Junco joins Dominguez and Roquin Motorsports teammates Luis Diaz (Telmex Lola) and Rolando Quintanilla (Telmex Lola) in a strong group of four pilots from Mexico. Junco, Diaz and Quintanilla have each posted their career-best finishes in the last two races. Diaz placed a career-high fourth at Texas and Milwaukee while Junco (Milwaukee) and Quintanilla (Texas) posted personal-best fifth place finishes.