The heat is on Hunter-Reay blisters Atlantic field on sweltering day in Chicago CICERO, Ill. (June 30, 2002) -- The 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship season is now officially half-way over and who the Champion will end up being is no...
The heat is on Hunter-Reay blisters Atlantic field on sweltering day in Chicago
CICERO, Ill. (June 30, 2002) -- The 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship season is now officially half-way over and who the Champion will end up being is no clearer now than it was when the season started. With temperatures hovering in the upper 90's, Ryan Hunter-Reay (Hylton Motorsports/Medlock Ames Winery/Autobytel/U.S. Print Swift 014.a) scorched the 1.029-mile Chicago Motor Speedway for his second win of the season.
Current points leader, Jon Fogarty (Dorricott Racing/Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Swift 014.a) led the field to the green flag after winning his first $1000 Toyota "Pole Award" yesterday and showed the way during the first 10 laps before losing the lead to Michael Valiante (Lynx Racing Swift 014.a) on lap eleven. Valiante's place on top lasted only for a few laps because Hunter-Reay passed the Canadian driver in Turn 3 on Lap 14 and never looked back.
"It's great to give Keith (Hylton) a 1-2 finish," beamed Hunter-Reay. "It is also nice to get a win in front of our new sponsors, Autobytel, who are on board with us here and in Denver. I knew I had a car capable of winning the race. It was just a matter of biding my time through the early yellows and being patient."
The race was slowed four times for contact incidents for a total of 19 laps and once for a false start that lasted only one lap. Drivers eliminated from the race due to contact were Alex Garcia, (Transnet Racing/Dixien Swift 014.a), Nicolas Rondet, (Condor Motorsports/Barber Dodge Pro Series Career Enhancement Award Swift 014.a), Dave Cutler (P-1 Racing/AMD/Dell/Nvidia/Broadcom/Microsoft Swift 014.a), Sepp Koster (Michael Shank Racing/Blue Bay Golf Resort/Uitert/Respons Swift 014.a) and Alex Figge, (Worldspeed Motorsports/Northern Trust/Redline/Wine Country Motorsports/Ironclad Swift 014.a) who started the race from the front row.
Through the first five races of the season, there had been no repeat winners until today. Hunter-Reay won his first race of the season earlier this month at the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca and followed it up with his victory today. It was the fourth win in a row for Hylton Motorsports on oval tracks dating back to last year when 2001 CART Toyota Atlantic Champion, Hoover Orsi, started the streak at the Milwaukee Mile. Along with the win, Hunter-Reay also collected his third $1000 WorldCom "Fast Pace" Award of the season with a time of 27.147 seconds (136.457 mph).
Hunter-Reay's teammate, Roger Yasukawa (Hylton Motorsports/Autobacs/U.S. Print Swift 014.a) completed the sweep of the top-two spots after passing Valiante for second place on Lap 35. It was Yasukawa's third podium of the season and the second time that the teammates have placed in the top three together this year.
"I did not get as good a start as I would of liked to, but I made up for it through the first part of the race," said Yasukawa. "I got by Michael (Valiante) and set my sights on Ryan (Hunter-Reay), but he was just running too fast for me to catch. We are right in the thick of the points chase even though we missed the first race of the season. I can't be disappointed with how things have gone up to this point for sure."
What was a tight Championship points battle heading into today's race, is now even tighter as the teams pack up and head to Canada for next week's Molson Indy Toronto. Michael Valiante's third place finish allowed him to close Jon Fogarty's points lead down to one point. Fogarty's fourth place showing today allowed him to hold onto the lead at the season's mid point. Yasukawa is just seven points behind with Luis Diaz (Dorricott Racing/Telmex Swift 014.a) only 14 points back. Hunter-Reay and Rocky Moran Jr. (Sigma Autosport Swift 014.a) are both 15 points behind the leader, Fogarty."
"The Lynx team gave me a really good car today, but we just didn't have the top speed for the Hylton cars," said Valiante. As the front cars pulled away, I had to start thinking about the points. Although we're going to Toronto in second place, it's only one point, so we're still in the hunt heading into one of our best tracks."
"Fourth place is a good result all things considered," said Fogarty. "It was frustrating to move backwards after starting from the pole. Had it not gone yellow so many times I think I would have been in a much better position. All three Dorricott cars were running quicker toward the end of the race. I was also close to catching Valiante near the end. I probably would have passed him had there been even one lap more to run. This race has taught me a lot. I had to adjust my driving style to the conditions of the track and other cars. That's always good for building the experience factor. At least I'm leaving Chicago with the Atlantic lead."
As impressive as Hunter-Reay's drive was, the best performance may have been turned in by Argentina rookie, Waldemar Coronas (Scuadra Fortia/Aviacsa/Royse/Maizoro/Millenio Swift 014.a), who started the race in 16th. Six weeks before the beginning of the season in Monterrey, Mexico, the Scuadra Fortia team had no equipment or cars and Coronas had never even seen an American oval track. None of this seemed possible after Coronas stormed through the field to a fifth place finish, giving him and the Allen Berg owned team, their best career showing.
For Hylton Motorsports and the rest of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, there is no time to celebrate or dwell on what happened at Chicago. The series heads north of the border for its first of three stops in Canada beginning with next week's Molson Indy Toronto, followed by the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland the week after that.
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", as well as having $100,000 race purses and a one million dollar points fund. 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, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani as well as former series champions Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan and Jacques Villeneuve.