HOUSTON (September 25, 1999) - The champions of next year's PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship and KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship series will be aided in their ascent up CART's Ladder System of driver development through a pair of special post-season tests, CART President and CEO Andrew Craig announced today.
The 2000 Indy Lights champion will be awarded a full test in a CART Champ Car while the Atlantic titlist will receive a test in an Indy Lights Lola T97/20. The Atlantic champion will also be awarded a free Indy Lights engine lease - a $48,000 value - if the driver contests the full PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship season the year following his winning KOOL/Toyota Atlantic effort.
Both tests will be funded by CART, which established the first formal, three-tiered system of driver development in North American open-wheel racing in 1998.
"We are committed to fully enhancing the CART Ladder System and this includes introducing several advantage programs to complement what aspiring drivers learn in PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship and KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship races," Craig said. "These tests will allow future champions from our development series to literally see what the next step is like, while adding more value to the overall benefits of racing in both Lights and Atlantics."
Graduates from Indy Lights and Atlantics comprise over half of the regular starting field in the FedEx Championship Series, CART's premier division. Former Indy Lights champions currently racing in the FedEx Championship Series include Paul Tracy (1990), Bryan Herta (1993), Greg Moore (1995), Tony Kanaan (1997) and Cristiano da Matta (1998). Former Atlantic champions racing in CART's Champ Cars include Michael Andretti (1983), Richie Hearn (1995), Patrick Carpentier (1996) and Alex Barron (1997).
The final rung in CART's Ladder System, the PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship emphasizes driver talent and team preparation through the use of identical equipment. Teams own the series-standard Lola T97/20 chassis but lease the 425 horsepower V6 engines from CART. Dayton, a Bridgestone/Firestone brand, is the official tire of the series. The complete package, which is about 25 percent smaller than the Champ Cars it resembles, is capable of speeds in excess of 190 miles per hour.
"A guaranteed Champ Car test for our annual PPG-Dayton Indy Lights champion has long been a goal of the series," said Indy Lights President and CEO Roger Bailey. "We are grateful to CART for committing to this program now as it will give drivers around the world who are looking at Indy Lights another reason to look to our series in the year 2000 and beyond."
The KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship features race cars slightly smaller than Indy Lights, all powered by four-cylinder Toyota 4A-GE engines which produce 240 horsepower. With downforce-generating bodywork and sequential gearboxes, Atlantics use much of the same technology found in Champ Cars in a downsized package.
Chassis builders include Ralt and the American-based Swift, which will be the exclusive supplier starting next year. Atlantics, which race exclusively on Yokohama tires, can reach top speeds of approximately 160 mph.
"This is a very good opportunity for next year's Atlantic champion," said Vicki O'Connor, KOOL/Toyota Atlantic president. "While we know the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship provides young drivers with an excellent chance to develop their open-wheel talent on many types of circuits, the PPG-Dayton Indy Lights championship provides a different experience, in that it includes superspeedway ovals and the experience that comes with running on those race tracks.
"This is a great fit for any Atlantic driver who intends to move up to the FedEx Championship Series. As a part of the CART Ladder System, we are happy that our next champion will have the opportunity to test in an Indy Lights car."
LADDER SYSTEM FAST FACTS
* 13 ladder system graduates are competing in the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston: * 6 Atlantic: Andretti, Carpentier, Gidley, Hearn, Tracy, Vasser * 8 Indy Lights: Castro-Neves, da Matta, Fernandez, N. Hattori, Herta, Kanaan, Tracy, Moore (note: Tracy competed in both series) * 19 ladder system graduates have competed in the FedEx Championship Series this year: * 9 Atlantic: Andretti, Barron, Carpentier, Gidley, S.Hattori, Hearn, Moreno, Tracy, Vasser) * 12 Indy Lights: Castro-Neves, da Matta, Fernandez, Garcia, N.Hattori, S.Hattori, Herta, Jones, Kanaan, Moore, Salles, Tracy * (note: Tracy and S. Hattori competed in both series) * 23 (of 51) podium finishers this year have been ladder system grads (45%). * 47 (of 85) top five finishers this year have been ladder system grads (55%). * 94 (of 170) top 10 finishers this year have been ladder system grads (55%). * Over 50% of the starters in every FedEx Championship Series race this year have been ladder system grads. The largest field of ladder system grads was 17 (at Portland & Road America). * 3 of the top 5 drivers in the FedEx Championship Series points are ladder system grads: * 2 Atlantic (Andretti, Tracy) * 2 Indy Lights (Fernandez, Tracy) * There have been 6 FedEx Championship Series victories by 6 different ladder system grads this year: * 2 Atlantic (Andretti, Tracy) * 5 Indy Lights (Herta, Tracy, Fernandez, Kanaan, Moore) * There have been 6 FedEx Championship Series poles by 6 different ladder system grads this year:: * 2 Atlantic (Andretti, Vasser) * 4 Indy Lights (Castro-Neves, Herta, Kanaan, Moore) * 5 of the 8 FedEx Championship Series rookies are ladder system grads: * 2 Atlantic (Gidley, S.Hattori) * 4 Indy Lights (da Matta, Garcia, N. Hattori, S. Hattori) * 10 different ladder system grads have led FedEx Championship Series races this year: * 5 Atlantic (Andretti, Carpentier, Moreno, Tracy, Vasser) * 6 Indy Lights (Castro-Neves, Fernandez, Herta, Kanaan, Moore, Tracy) * Ladder system grads took the top 6 positions on the grid for opener at Homestead: Moore (Lights), Fernandez (Lights), Carpentier (Atlantic), Castro-Neves (Lights), Andretti (Atlantic), da Matta (Lights). * Ladder system grads have scored four FedEx Championship Series front row sweeps this year: * Homestead: Moore (Lights), Fernandez (Lights) * Milwaukee: Castro-Neves (Lights), Vasser (Atlantic) * Michigan: Vasser (Atlantic), Fernandez (Lights) * Laguna Seca: Herta (Lights), Kanaan (Lights)