KASEMETS SEASON BEGINS TO TAKE FLIGHT AS TOYOTA ATLANTIC SERIES ARRIVES IN CLEVELAND FOR DOUBLE DIP AT AIRPORT CIRCUIT
INDIANAPOLIS (June 22, 2005) -- As the cars of the Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama begin arriving in Cleveland for this weekend's doubleheader of racing action on the Burke Lakefront Airport road circuit, it should be noted that no driver is flying higher in the series than new Atlantic point leader Tonis Kasemets (#6 Flexovit Abrasives/MK ind./TMI/Redline Oil).
After winning his first pole position and earning his first two Atlantic wins while sweeping both races last weekend at Portland International Raceway, Kasemets has soared above the competition and taken command of the championship lead. The second-year driver, who competes for Dan Cobb Racing/Team Tonis, has asserted himself at a key time in the 2005 Atlantic season and with three consecutive podium finishes, he carries a six-point advantage in the season-long pursuit of the series crown heading into this weekend's two races on the wide-open, 2.106-mile Cleveland track.
There's no question that the Estonian-born Kasemets has momentum on his side as he readies himself for Rounds 5 and 6 -- the BOSPoker.com Toyota Atlantic Grand Prix of Cleveland -- on Saturday and Sunday, and the second-year racer will also have experience riding along with him in the cockpit. Kasemets raced at Cleveland last year, recording a ninth-place finish as one of his three top-10 results among his six Atlantic starts in 2004.
But, despite a rookie-dominated field that will feature no less than 13 first-year drivers this weekend, Kasemets isn't the only one who knows how to handle the fast and bumpy airport tarmac. At least seven drivers expected to compete in Cleveland have run at the venue before and a couple of current Atlantic competitors have enjoyed success at the unique circuit.
Charles Zwolsman (#11 Condor Motorsports) of the Netherlands isn't one of the drivers that has Cleveland racing experience under his belt entering the weekend, but he'll be a threat just the same. The impressive, but unassuming, series rookie has performed well in each of the first three venues where the Atlantics have raced this season, despite his lack of knowledge of the courses. He recorded three straight podiums to begin the year, while grabbing the lead in the championship chase, and he continues to be a formidable figure on track despite suffering his worst result of the season in the last of the two races in Portland. Zwolsman finished eighth mainly due to mechanical problems that arose from an on-track incident early in the race. He enters Cleveland ranked second in points behind Kasemets and he knows that he can't let his more experienced rival build on the momentum he established in Portland.
If it weren't for the outstanding early-season performances established by Kasemets and Zwolsman, Canadian rookie Antoine Bessette (#3 Unik Auto Design) might be the driver leading the way heading into Cleveland. The St. Bruno, Quebec native has enjoyed top-five finishes in all four events this season for Polestar Racing Group, headquartered just down the road from Cleveland in Chardon, Ohio. Bessette has quietly remained in the championship picture, just 13 points behind Kasemets entering this weekend, and Cleveland could be the place that the promising young driver begins to make some noise. He did compete at Burke Lakefront Airport in 2003 in the Barber Dodge Pro Series, and even though his race ended on the first lap after contact with another competitor that year, he is familiar with the circuit and the physical toll it takes on drivers.
After recording her second podium result in four races to begin the '05 campaign, Bessette's Polestar teammate Katherine Legge (#12 PKV Racing) is ready for her first racing action in Cleveland. Despite struggling for most of the weekend in Portland, Legge ended the doubleheader experience on a high note by coming from 10th place to finish third in the second race of the weekend. Currently fourth in the championship standings, Legge would like nothing better than to pair her historic win at the season opener in Long Beach with another victory or two this weekend at her team's home event.
German rookie Andreas Wirth (#8 Wurges Windows and Doors) is also one to watch this weekend. The 20-year-old Brooks Associates Racing driver earned his first pole and produced a pair of podium finishes in Portland as he improved to fifth in the season standings. He also knows how to run up front in Cleveland as he earned a second- and a fourth-place finish in the 2004 Formula BMW USA doubleheader at the venue, en route to winning the series championship.
With three consecutive top-six finishes in his first three events this season, David Martinez (#7 Roshfrans/Aviacsa/RocaAcero/Multigama/Martiga) of Mexico is also on a roll and he's another driver who's familiar with the running at the airport course. Martinez finished fourth at the Barber Dodge Pro race in 2003 and he'll try to use that experience to his advantage this weekend competing for the US RaceTronics team.
The Unser name has been synonymous with success in racing and especially in Cleveland where Al Unser Jr. won twice in Champ Cars ('85 and '94) and his father - Al Unser -- captured the second Grand Prix of Cleveland event in 1983. The family legacy will continue this weekend as Al Unser III (#10 BOSPoker.net) will make his first Atlantic Cleveland start for the Brooks team. "Just Al" also ran in the '03 Barber Dodge race so he does have some knowledge of the track and after posting finishes of sixth and seventh at Portland in his season debut last weekend, he's looks ready to break into the top five.
One of the top American sports car racers, Chris Dyson (#16 Thetford/Norcold), returns to the Atlantic field this weekend. Dyson raced in a pair of series events last season and he's coming off two top-10 finishes in Portland as he continues to refine his open-wheel racing skills.
The Toyota Atlantic Championship is happy to welcome one of the top young open-wheel talents to its paddock this weekend as Leonardo Maia (#2 Konica Minolta) will make his series debut with the Jensen Motorsport team. Maia captured the 2003 Barber Dodge Pro Series title and won from the pole at Cleveland in the series that year. He hopes to compete in several events this season with the Jensen team and is anxious to get off to a good start in a place where he's enjoyed some success in the past.
Three experienced racers who have not made an Atlantic start at Cleveland will also be looking for strong results this weekend. Tom Nastasi (#23 USG Sheetrock/DeWalt Tools/Ramset Tools), who will be making the jump from the C2 Atlantic category into the championship class this weekend, will compete for Blackforest Motorsports. Dan Selznick (#49 The Room Store) will run for The Room Store team while Bite Racing's Chris Souliotis (#56 Speedway Motors) will also see his first Cleveland Atlantic action.
Leading the race for the Yokohama Tire C2 Cup through four events, rookie Justin Sofio (#15 RLM Investments) will be running in his first Cleveland event and looking to extend his lead in the C2 class after posting his second category win of the year last weekend. Owner/driver Dan Cobb (#9 Camelot Construction) is only four points behind Sofio in the C2 standings and he's hoping to emerge from Cleveland with the class points lead.
Experienced Atlantic racer Bob Siska (#18 RJS Motorsports) has three previous series starts at Cleveland to his credit and he will also be running in C2 this weekend while rookies Daryl Leiske (#63 Speedway Motors) and Rich Zober (#66 Zober Industries) will be racing in Cleveland for the first time, also competing in the C2 class.
All of the Atlantic machines that will do battle on the Cleveland airport course are Swift chassis powered by 240-horsepower Toyota 4A-GE engines capable of speeds in excess of 165 mph. Each entry will ride on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks.
The twin-race schedule Atlantic schedule calls for the cars to practice for the first time Friday afternoon at Burke Lakefront Airport from 12:45-1:15 p.m. ET. Qualifying for Race #1 will be held from 4:15-4:45 p.m. Friday. The Toyota engines will roar to life Saturday with qualifying for Race #2 slated for 8:15-8:45 a.m., while the first race of the weekend is scheduled for 32 laps (67.392 miles) and is set to begin at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Sunday, the Atlantic cars will have a morning warm-up session from 8:15-8:30 a.m. Race #2 of the weekend, Round 6 of the Toyota Atlantic Championship, will get underway at 11 a.m. Sunday morning and is also scheduled for 32 laps or 50 minutes.
SPEED Channel will provide tape-delayed television coverage of both races from Cleveland on Saturday, July 9 beginning at 2 p.m. ET. The race will also air to U.S. service men and women in 133 countries around the world through the American Forces Radio & Television Service. For additional information, visit the series' official web site, www.toyotaatlantic.com
WHAT: The BOSPoker.com Toyota Atlantic Grand Prix of Cleveland
WHERE: Burke Lakefront Airport -- Cleveland, Ohio
WHEN: Friday-Sunday, June 24-26
TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local):
FRIDAY, JUNE 24
12:45-1:15 p.m.., Practice
4:15-4:45 p.m., Race #1 Qualifying.
SATURDAY, JUNE 25
8:15-8:45 a.m., Qualifying Race #2
12:45-1:45 p.m., Atlantic Race #1.
SUNDAY, JUNE 26
8:15-8:30 a.m., Warm-up;
11-11:50 a.m., Atlantic Race #2.
U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: SATURDAY, JULY 9 -- SPEED Channel, The Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank Toyota Atlantic Doubleheader, 2 p.m. ET (Tape-Delay). Race #1 to begin at 2 p.m., followed immediately by Race #2 from Cleveland at 3 p.m.
CLEVELAND RACE CHAMPION: Ryan Dalziel
2004 POLESITTER: Ryan Dalziel
TRACK LAYOUT: 10-turn, 2.106-mile temporary road course
RACE LENGTH: 32 laps (67.392 miles) or 50 minutes
(one lap) -- 2003, AJ Allmendinger, 1:04.927 (116.771 mph).
(one lap) 2003, AJ Allmendinger, 1:05.885 mph (115.073 mph)
(32 laps) 2002, Ryan Hunter-Reay, 38:30.860 (104.987 mph).
RACE ROUNDS: 5 and 6 of 12 in the 2005 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama.
NEXT EVENTS: July 8-10, Toronto Molson Indy at Exhibition Place -- Toronto, Ontario, Canada