Road Atlanta race report

BRASELTON, Ga. (Oct. 5, 2001) - Rookie Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights Lola) passed points leader Townsend Bell (DIRECWAY Lola) going into the final turn of the last lap to win Thursday's Dayton Indy Lights Championship race at...

BRASELTON, Ga. (Oct. 5, 2001) - Rookie Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights Lola) passed points leader Townsend Bell (DIRECWAY Lola) going into the final turn of the last lap to win Thursday's Dayton Indy Lights Championship race at Road Atlanta. The win was the second straight for Wheldon in the Dayton Indy Lights series after taking his first victory at Gateway International Raceway, Aug. 26. Bell's Dorricott Racing teammate Damien Faulkner (Dorricott Racing Lola) finished third.

After struggling with mechanical problems in practice, Wheldon started a distant sixth on the grid as Bell, who set the pace all weekend, won a series-leading sixth pole of the season with a Thursday qualifying lap at an average speed of 122.392 mph (74.711 seconds). Bell took control from the start and led by as much as 16 seconds before a rain shower changed the complexion of the race. With more than half of the course soaked, drivers carefully stayed on course on slick tires until Cory Witherill (Casino Morongo/Motors TV/Indy Regency Racing Lola) went into the tire barrier at Turn 3. Witherill was uninjured, but the four-lap caution period to clean up the accident site made for a two-lap dash to the finish.

When the green flag flew on lap 27, Wheldon, who had moved up steadily despite coming together with teammate Mario Dominguez (del Valle/Corona/Televisa/PacWest Lights Lola) at the start, closed in on the leader. They were followed by an on-form Luis Diaz (Telmex/Roquin Motorsports, LLC Lola), Derek Higgins (Mexpro/PrecioBase.com/ StarlightDiamonds.com Lola), Matt Halliday (Mi-Jack Lola) and Faulkner, who had spun in the rain and fell to sixth after running as high as second. As Wheldon hounded Bell, Higgins came together with both Diaz and Halliday in separate incidents, with all but Higgins going off course. Faulkner passed all three to salvage third while Higgins crossed the line in fourth only to be penalized two positions for his incidents with Diaz and Halliday. Dominguez finished fourth while Dorricott's returning driver Jon Fogarty (Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Lola) recovered from an early spin to finish fifth.

Wheldon's winning move came as he shot to the inside of Bell under Road Atlanta's Michelin Bridge just before the fast downhill run to the finish line straight. With the checkered flag in sight, Wheldon completed the move and led Bell through the final right-hand turn to the finish line for a .256 second margin of victory. He led only the final quarter mile of the race, but it was enough for a strong win.

Wheldon is now tied with Faulkner for the Rookie of the Year award and second in the championship with 123 points. The duo trail Bell by 26 points heading into next weekend's event at Laguna Seca where the points leader can clinch if he leaves 23 points ahead of the competition. <pre>

Light Look - Top Five           Light Look - Top Five Points
1.  Dan Wheldon                 1. Townsend Bell        149
2.  Townsend Bell               2. Dan Wheldon          123
3.  Damien Faulkner             3. Damien Faulkner      123
4.  Mario Dominguez             4. Mario Dominguez      107
5.  Jon Fogarty                 5. Derek Higgins         93

#1 Dan Wheldon (Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights Lola) "I knew I'd have to make it stick (the pass to win the race). I had a pretty good idea that he (Townsend Bell) was going to push me to the outside in Turn 10 so I knew my only good shot would be out of Turn 11 and it worked. On any conditions like that, it's twitchy (how the car and tires handled with the wet track conditions) and you have to keep the car down. It's a tough car to drive and I think when people make the transition to Champ cars they do very well."

#30 Townsend Bell (DIRECWAY Lola) "We expected the race to run dry so we committed to a set-up that would work in the dry and only in the dry. We built a comfortable, 16-second lead similar to Gateway but we had a fuel pump failure there. Here, the rain forced everyone to pack up because of the caution flag. Dan still deserves credit because he picked me off on the last corner. I drove inside and guessed where the most traction would come out of the last right-hander. I guessed wrong.

#31 Damien Faulkner (Dorricott Racing Lola) "After I spun, the rain turned out to be a curse. The rain didn't help anybody except for those who were way down. Once I passed Jon,(Fogarty) I felt I could keep with (Dan) Wheldon. Then I came under pressure from Luis Diaz. He indeed passed me and there nothing I could do to stop him. It only allowed Townsend to extend his lead. When Diaz slowed, I was able to pass him. The rain followed and that's when I made a stupid error (spun in turn 10) that cost me second place at the least.

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 first place from starting in the sixth position. Damien Faulkner receives two Dayton Daytona racing tires as the Dayton Rookie Award recipient as the highest finishing first-year driver. Townsend Bell receives a pair of Dayton Daytona racing tires as the fast qualifier.

Worldcom Fast Pace Award: Jon Fogarty receives the $1,000 Worldcom Fast Pace Award for setting the fastest race lap at 119.536 mph (1:16.496 seconds).

Simple Green Clean-up Award: The Simple Green Award was not claimed in today's race, which rolls $2,500 over to the next event where $7,500 will be posted for sweeping the race: winning from the pole, leading the most race laps and setting the fastest race lap.

Nation's Cup: Ireland continues on top in the Nation's Cup with 155 points. The United States follows in second place with 148 points and Mexico in third place with 128 points.

Racing for Kids Award: Dan Wheldon wins the Racing for Kids Award of $500.

Television Round 10 of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship can be seen on ESPN2 in a one-hour show early morning on Monday, October 15th at 1:30 a.m. ET (12:30 a.m. CT). Viewers on the West Coast can see the race at 10:30 p.m. PT late night on Sunday, October 14th.

Next Event Round 11 of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship will take place at the Laguna Seca Raceway, Monterey, California on Sunday, October 14, 2001.

-CART/Indy Lights

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Cory Witherill , Jon Fogarty , Townsend Bell , Luis Diaz , Dan Wheldon , Matthew Halliday , Derek Higgins , Mario Dominguez , Damien Faulkner