CHANDLER, AZ. (March 8, 2001) - On Thursday morning, bright sunny skies greeted the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship Teams participating in the series-wide test organized by Chuck West, owner of World Speed Motorsports. Half of Wednesday's...
CHANDLER, AZ. (March 8, 2001) - On Thursday morning, bright sunny skies greeted the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship Teams participating in the series-wide test organized by Chuck West, owner of World Speed Motorsports. Half of Wednesday's testing was washed out due to heavy rains present in the Phoenix area but by mid-morning, the downpour had ceased and the teams were able to run during the afternoon. Thursday's early morning sunshine was a welcome sight and the teams wasted no time taking to the track to make up for the time they had lost the day before.
Teams and drivers taking part in the test were Michael Shank Racing (Martin Basso & Rodolfo Lavin), World Speed Motorsports (Grant Ryley), Hylton Motorsports (Hoover Orsi), Lynx Racing (David Rutledge & Michael Valiante), P-1 Racing (Tony Ave, Jonathan Macri, & Stephan Roy), Condor Motorsports (Rocky Moran Jr. & Frank Dancs), and Cobb Racing (T.J. Bell).
On site for the test was Yokohama Tire, the official racing tire of the series and Swift Engineering who supply the sole chassis used in the championship, the Swift 008.a. Both were available to assist the teams with their needs throughout the two-day session.
David Rutledge (Lynx Racing Swift) skipped all of Wednesday afternoon's session opting to wait for the clearer weather on Thursday and by mid morning, it became apparent why, as Rutledge turned in the best time so far with a lap of 54.19 seconds. Yesterday's fastest driver, Hoover Orsi (Hylton U.S. Print Swift) cut his time down to stay right on the heels of Rutledge when he was clocked at 54.20 seconds. Canadian rookie, Jonathan Macri (P-1 NTN Bearing Swift) continued to impress with a quickest lap right off of the laps set by the series veterans at 54.22 seconds. Not to be out done, Grant Ryley (Worldspeed Northwest Speedwerx Swift) showed that Macri was not going to be the only rookie that will have to be contended with, when he posted a time of 54.39 seconds. Rounding out the top five at the close of the morning session was Martin Basso (Michael Shank BBB Engine Valve Swift) with a time of 54.40 seconds.
"Yesterday, right from the start, the car was really quick. It had a great setup," quoted Hoover Orsi after the morning session. "This morning we struggled a little with first gear and we didn't have the right tires. We were a whole second off, so we put on a new set and the car was back to what it was yesterday. I think we're going to be in good shape for Long Beach."
After a one-hour break for lunch, the teams were right back out on the track, but unlike the sunny weather during the morning, the skies had turned overcast challenging the teams to adjust to changing track conditions. Yokohama Tire engineers reported a track temperature of 72 degrees early in the afternoon session with an ambient temperature of 68 degrees. The afternoon's weather continued to change as the sun would warm up the track for a period of time and then the clouds would return. Early in the afternoon, Macri turned in a 54.00 second lap but that only held a short time before a series of drivers cracked into the 53 second range including Rocky Moran Jr. (Condor Motorsports Swift), Michael Valiante (Lynx Racing Swift), and Rutledge.
By the end of the day, Macri had reclaimed the top of the speed charts with a time of 53.71 seconds. A total of six drivers broke into the 53-second range. Following Macri's time was Orsi, Valiante, Moran Jr, Rutledge and Basso. The test showed just how competitive the upcoming season should be with the top six drivers in the two-day test split 50/50 between veterans and rookies.
"This test session has been really good," said the P-1 Racing's Jonathan Macri. "At first, I tried to familiarize myself with the car and the track. Bill Fickling and I are working really well together and we got the right setup down which really boosted my confidence. Actually, I think I surprised myself a little as well."
Another rookie was equally as happy with his performance. "This is only my second test with the Lynx Racing team," said an exuberant Michael Valiante. "I thought the test went really well. Steve (Cameron) and I are working really well together. The car was really good and we worked a lot on the setup, which made the car awesome! This is a good start for the season."
With less than a month until the start of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the teams will go back to work on fine tuning what they learned at Firebird. As many thought, the test only confirmed what most in the series presumed before they got to Firebird. The 2001 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is up for grabs to arguably the most contenders in the history of the Championship.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is one of the world's premier open-wheel development series and a key rung on CART's "ladder system". It is also noted for its long history of graduating its stars into CART competition. Among the drivers who have graduated from the Atlantic Series are CART Champ Car stars Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Barron, Memo Gidley, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani as well as former series champions Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan and Jacques Villeneuve.
- Brian Tate