CART Ladder Series kick off 2003 season

In a pair of media conferences today, the top two rungs in the CART Ladder Series announced their plans for the 2003 season. The news included the unveiling of a new logo for the Toyota Atlantic Championship. The logo incorporates the CART name for the first time. The Atlantic series is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and will run a 12-event schedule at CART events in the US, Mexico and Canada.

The Barber Dodge Pro Series was next to announce their 2003 plans. A 10-event schedule is planned, nine of the races held in conjunction with CART's Champ Car World Series races (the details of the tenth event have not yet been announced.) Six races will be Ladder Series showcases, with the Barber and Atlantic series both sharing the card with the Champ Cars. Those showcases include the March race in Monterrey, Mexico, the Laguna Seca weekend in June, July events in Cleveland and Toronto, and the Mid-Ohio and Montreal stops later this summer.

On hand for today's Toyota Atlantic presentation was series veteran Joey Hand, rookie drivers A.J. Allmendinger and Danica Patrick and series President Vicki O'Connor. Once O'Connor displayed the new series logo, the drivers answered a few questions.

Hand, who will return for a third season with Dede Rogers' DSTP team, is prepared to have a competitive year after recovering from a back injury that forced him to miss a large part of last season. He remarked that "the team is ready, and their morale is high" giving him high hopes to challenge for the championship.

Allmendinger, impressive last year with a dominating championship performance as a rookie in the Barber Dodge series, will try to duplicate the feat in Atlantics in 2003. His new team - RuSport, owned by Atlantic veteran Carl Russo and managed by former BDPS president Jeremy Dale - could put together a good effort to help him do that.

Patrick only ran a partial season in Barber in 2002, her first season in winged cars after a career in karting and smaller formula cars. With that short background in this type of car, she can't be considered a likely candidate for an Atlantic title. With a strong engineering staff on her new team from the Rahal shops, though, good results are expected.

Barber Pro series press conference: Bert Frissell and Leonardo Maia.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
In the Barber Dodge presentation, BDPS graduate (and Champ Car rookie) Ryan Hunter-Reay, and returning driver Leonardo Maia were joined by 2003 series rookies Scott Poirier, Burt Frisselle and Albert Unser. Poirier and Frisselle are moving up from the Barber National Championship, just as Maia did before his impressive 2002 season and Hunter-Reay before his 2001 BDPS championship year.

All the drivers (and series administrator Steve Sewell) emphasized the education that they are getting through the Barber portion of the CART ladder system, illustrated by Hunter-Reay's comments: "Talent doesn't always prevail - it's as much work off the track as on to move up."

The young drivers who spoke today all ably illustrated the personality and presentation skills that are required to do the off-track side of the job. When the 2003 season begins, they will get the opportunity to demonstrate their driving skills as well.