2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship field forming up with the addition of new teams and the return of series stalwarts.
INDIANAPOLIS (January 22, 2003) - With two months remaining before the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship begins its 30th Anniversary season in Monterrey, Mexico on the weekend of March 23, the list of teams and drivers who will be competing in the series is beginning to come together, with 16 cars confirmed and several other deals approaching completion.
"We're extremely pleased to see so many quality entries already committed to the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship for 2003," said CART Toyota Atlantic Championship President Vicki O'Connor. "While the current state of the economy has presented challenges to many teams, I have no doubt that we will have several great teams and drivers competing in the series throughout this season. This is shaping up to be one of the most competitive seasons in the 30-year history of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, and I can't wait for the green flag to drop on the season in Monterrey."
Among the confirmed entries are 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic champions Dorricott Racing, which has re-signed Mexican pilot Luis Diaz for a second year. Diaz claimed fourth in the 2002 Atlantic championship on the strength of victories at Portland and Road America, pole positions at Monterrey and Portland, and a podium finish of third at Cleveland.
Diaz also made his Champ Car debut in the season-ending Gran Premio Telmex-Gigante Presented by Banamex/Visa in Mexico City, filling in for his injured countryman Adrian Fernandez. He qualified and finished 19th, dropping out on the opening lap with a mechanical failure. As Fernandez continued to heal from his injuries, Diaz also completed a shakedown test of Fernandez's Champ Car last week, logging 63 laps around the Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway circuit. Dorricott Racing will likely have at least one more Atlantic entry in 2003, but driver and sponsorship details are still being finalized at this time.
Also returning to Atlantic in 2003 is '02 championship runner-up and long-time Atlantic competitors Lynx Racing. Canadian Michael Valiante, who placed second in the 2002 championship by winning at Long Beach, Toronto, and Trois-Rivieres (where he started on pole), will return to Lynx if his efforts to secure a Champ Car seat do not bear fruit. It is possible that Lynx will also field a second entry.
2000 Atlantic champions DSTP Motorsports will be back for a fourth year of competition, and has once again tabbed American Joey Hand to drive the team's entry. This will be Hand's second full season of Atlantic competition, as he claimed Rookie of the Year honors in 2001 with two wins and a total of six podium finishes to go with one pole position en route to third in the '01 championship standings. Hand was expected to challenge for the Atlantic title last season, but was sidelined for six events due to fractures of his T-11, T-12, and L-1 vertebrae suffered in a crash during testing at The Milwaukee Mile.
Prior to his injury, Hand qualified second and finished third in the season opener at Monterrey, and claimed the pole position for Round Two in Long Beach. He closed out the 2002 season with top-five finishes in two of the final three events.
A quartet of teams that debuted in 2002 will also be back in Atlantic for '03, as San Diego-based Scuadra Fortia, Morrow, Ga.-based Transnet Racing, Sierra Sierra Racing out of Minden, Nev., and Montreal's Starwood Team Jensen have confirmed their intentions to race in the series. Scuadra Fortia ran a full- season two-car effort for drivers Waldemar Coronas and Eduardo Figueroa last season, and Figueroa is confirmed as the driver of one of the team's cars again this year. Details on the second car are still being ironed out. Also back for a second season of Atlantic competition with Transnet Racing will be Venezuelan Alex Garcia, who made 10 Atlantic starts in 2002.
Sierra Sierra campaigned Marc DeVellis in three events last year, and is planning a full-time effort this year, once again with DeVellis in the cockpit. In his Atlantic debut at Trois-Rivieres, the Canadian delivered an impressive third place result.
Like Sierra Sierra, Starwood Team Jensen is also putting together a full-time effort this year after an abbreviated campaign in 2002. Owner Eric Jensen is expected to fill one of the team's two seats, with the other being occupied by Philip Fayer. Jensen made four starts for the team in 2002, while Fayer will be a rookie contender this season.
Also returning to the series in 2003 will be Alex Figge and Kyle Krisiloff. Figge competed with World Speed Motorsports in his rookie season last year, but moves to the newly-created Pacific Coast Motorsports team this season under the direction of Tyler Tadevic and engineer Mike Doyle, whom he worked with last season at World Speed.
Krisiloff, the son of former Champ Car driver Steve Krisiloff, made six starts in the second half of 2002 under the US Grand Prix F1/Patrick Racing banner. He is planning a full Atlantic slate for 2003 with Cameron Motorsports Management under the direction of Steve Cameron.
Long-time Toyota Atlantic competitors P-1 Racing will also be back in the series for 2003, and is planning a two-car assault. However, the team has not yet set its driver lineup.
While the list of returnees to the series is impressive, two teams that are sure to grab a lot of headlines throughout the 2003 Toyota Atlantic season are RuSPORT, with drivers A.J. Allmendinger and Aaron Justus, and Team Rahal, with driver Danica Patrick.
The Loveland, Colo.-based RuSPORT is owned by Carl Russo, who competed in the full 2002 Atlantic season with Performance Racing and Development, and the new team president is former Barber Dodge Pro Series Managing Director Jeremy Dale. The team's drivers also bring impressive credentials.
Allmendinger is the reigning champion of the Barber Dodge Pro Series, dominating the series in 2002 with six victories and three other podium finishes in 10 events, to go with four pole positions. His lowest finishing position was fourth at Cleveland.
Justus was the 2000 U.S. F2000 champion, taking five victories and eight pole positions en route to the title. He ran as a teammate to Russo in three Atlantic events last season, collecting a top finish of seventh, and will embark on his first full season of Atlantic this year.
Team Rahal makes its Atlantic debut as a team in 2003, but team co-owner Bobby Rahal is no stranger to Atlantic competition. Rahal cut his teeth in the series during the late 1970s against the likes of future international racing stars Gilles Villeneuve, Keke Rosberg, and Danny Sullivan before embarking on a legendary Champ Car career that included series titles in 1986, '87, and '92, and an Indianapolis 500 win in 1986.
Team Rahal brings some "star power" to Atlantic in 2003, as the other co-owner of the team is late night television star David Letterman. On the track, the team will feature Patrick, who will celebrate her 21st birthday two days after the season-opening weekend in Monterrey. She is a multi-time national karting champion and took the highest finish ever (second) for an American driver at the 2000 Formula Ford Festival in England. After winning the Pro class in the annual Toyota Pro Celebrity race at Long Beach last April, Patrick signed a multi-year contract with Team Rahal and made five starts in the Barber Dodge Pro Series. Her best finish of the season was fourth at Vancouver.
While the aforementioned teams and drivers have been confirmed for 2003, there are a host of other teams and drivers putting the finishing touches on their respective programs, and will be announced shortly.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is one of the world's premier open-wheel development series and the top rung on CART's "Ladder System." The series boasts $100,000 race purses and a one million dollar points fund. It is also noted for its long history of graduating its stars into Champ Car competition. Among the drivers who have graduated from Atlantic are current Champ Car stars Jimmy Vasser, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani as well as former series champions Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Michael Andretti and Jacques Villeneuve.