Denver: Dorricott race notes

Jon Fogarty is the 2002 Toyota Atlantic Champion ! ! ! Atlantic'S Champion rips through Denver's downtown streets for race win and Atlantic title. Alex Gurney finishes in third place at Denver. DENVER (Sept. 1, 2002) - It's indisputable....

Jon Fogarty is the 2002 Toyota Atlantic Champion ! ! !

Atlantic'S Champion rips through Denver's downtown streets for race win and Atlantic title.

Alex Gurney finishes in third place at Denver.

DENVER (Sept. 1, 2002) - It's indisputable. It's a fact. Jon Fogarty, of Portola Valley, Calif., won the 12th and final round of the 2002 Toyota Atlantic Championship, Saturday, Aug. 31, at the Shell Grand Prix of Denver to become the undisputed 2002 Toyota Atlantic Champion.

It wasn't easy. Fogarty was under intense pressure from the start. He figuratively raced as if the entire world of motorsports was on his heels. However, simply stated, Fogarty is not only the 2002 Atlantic Champion, he is arguably one of the most talented champions in the illustrious 30-year history of the Atlantic Championship.

Fogarty completed the 38-lap (62.586-mile) race around Denver's nine-turn, 1.647-mile temporary downtown street circuit in a time of 51:42.928 minutes and an average speed of 72.612 mph. Fogarty also led the most race laps with 26. His closest challenger of the day, Scotland's Ryan Dalziel, finished 0.652-seconds behind for second place.

The situation for Fogarty entering the race was easy to understand. His best chance to win the Championship was to win the race, lead the most laps, and hope the only other title contender, Michael Valiante, of Canada, would finish no higher than third place. Fogarty trailed Valiante coming to Denver, 146-140.

Fogarty started fourth but quickly moved into second place on the opening lap behind Dalziel, who started from the pole. Dalziel led for the first 12 laps and, in fact, was pulling away from Fogarty. His comfortable lead extinguished on lap 13 when he locked up his brakes entering a hairpin corner in Turn 5. Fogarty slipped inside for the lead in what turned to be the most important Championship pass of the Atlantic season.

"I saw an opportunity to pass Ryan (Dalziel) in the brake zone when I beat him to the inside," said Fogarty on the pass. "Then I saw dust spewing from his undertray so I worked at beating him to the dry spot. I had the benefit to see how off he was. As soon as he braked, he locked them up. I made sure he would clear the apex then look for the best run possible off of the turn.

"Dalziel definitely pressured me to the end of the race. I knew he was quick through turns six, seven and eight. He was quick in practice and qualifying. I also thought if I could 'get on it' down the straight-aways he wouldn't be able to catch me. My car was good coming onto the straight-aways. It was tough for him to keep pace. It's a good feeling to lead and frustrating when you're only a little behind and trying to make up time. Our engine builder, Paul Hasselgren, once again gave us a strong motor. I owe him one."

Valiante, who started sixth, improved to fourth place. However, the pressure all shifted to Valiante as Fogarty's lead forced him to look to pick up positions if he was going to win the Championship. With five laps remaining and Fogarty pulling away, Valiante spun in Turn 5 while trying to pressure Dorricott Racing's Alex Gurney for third. It was all Fogarty needed to secure the 2002 title. Valiante finished 12th place in the race.

"When Fogarty moved into first, I had no choice but to try and pass Gurney. I kept going deep into Turn 5 to try and force him to make a mistake, but there's a transition between asphalt and concrete there and I just took it in too deep," said a despondent Valiante. "My car was good running alone, but close behind another car, it pushed and I spun. Then the engine stalled and it was over."

Fogarty continued on the Championship. "It's hard putting a meaning to this day and race into words at the moment. It meant so much for me because I was able to do it for Dorricott Racing. Since we decided to run Atlantic after the demise of Indy Lights, we knew we had a huge undertaking. It was frustrating to be in such a tough battle and going through a steep learning curve at the same time. We had a few baubles and when we did, Michael (Valiante) would capitalize on them. I feel that when it was said and done, this Championship was deserved."

The race itself was a bookend victory for Fogarty as he captured wins in the first and last races of the 2002 season. (Monterrey, Mexico & Denver). In between, there were 10 top-five finishes that propelled him to be the first Atlantic Rookie-of-the-Year to win the Championship since Alex Barron won the 1997 title.

It's arguable the real hero for Fogarty and Dorricott Racing was teammate Alex Gurney, of Newport Beach, Calif. Gurney not only earned the final podium spot and securing third place in the Championship, Gurney was directly responsible for keeping Valiante away from the one position that could have delivered him the Championship.

"First, I'm happy for Dorricott Racing," said Gurney. "Michael (Valiante) had a great season and was always competitive. However, something like this was meant to be for various reasons. There was a lot of pressure the entire race. I knew the points situation. I was certainly defensive, but definitely didn't make more than one move. That was what I had to do. I had to stay ahead of Michael and we accomplished what we sought."

"I want to thank my teammate, Alex Gurney," reflect Fogarty after the race. "When I was running up front and he had Michael behind him, for whatever reasons, I never doubted Alex would run clean and get the job done. I owe much of this championship to him not only for this weekend but for the entire season. We worked well together and he is a tremendous driver."

It was Gurney's fourth podium of the season and combined with Luis Diaz, of Mexico City, finishing sixth place in the race and fourth in the Atlantic Championship, Dorricott Racing captured the top four spots in the Atlantic Championship. The Championship also was the second straight for Dorricott in the CART Ladder Series and the third title in the last four years. Dorricott Racing won the 1999 and 2001 CART Dayton Indy Lights Championships with current CART FedEx Champ Car drivers Oriol Servia (1999) and Townsend Bell (2001).

Diaz successfully dealt with a variety of problems on race day. Saturday's final qualifying left him 15th on the grid because he missed most of it due to light contact with another car that forced him to a stop on course. His car was towed to a safe location but despite the car being able to continue, Atlantic officials required him to stay off-course until another caution period. That didn't occur until three minutes remained in qualifying.

On the race start, Diaz became entangled with a log-jam of cars entering turn one. He lost a position and fell to 16th before meticulously navigating through a cluttered mid-pack of cars to score his sixth place finish.

The first one-third of the race was run under green flag conditions, but as the race progressed, near oppressive Rocky Mountain heat (upper 90's) along with the demands of Denver's downtown street circuit started to take their toll. While running third, Ryan Hunter-Reay slid into the Turn 1 tire barrier on the 15th lap bringing out the first yellow flag. Shortly after, Grant Ryley struck the very same spot bringing out the yellow once again on Lap 21. The most spectacular incident occurred on the restart where Turn 1 claimed two more cars when Eduardo Figueroa ran into the back of the car of Eric Jensen sending Figueroa's car over the top of Jensen's, taking both out of the race.

The 2002 Atlantic Championship concluded with Fogarty scoring an Atlantic title winning 161 points. Valiante finished in second place with 150 points. Gurney held on to third place with 132 points followed by Luis Diaz's 124 points.

Dorricott Racing's drivers compose the majority of the top-five prize money winners this season (excluding mid-season bonus winnings). Fogarty was the top prize money leader with $142,500. Diaz is fourth with $101,600 while Gurney is fifth overall with $89,000. Total team purse money excluding bonuses has reached a team record $333,100.

A distinguishing side-note for the Atlantic record book is Fogarty became only the second driver to win the season opening race (Monterrey, Mexico) and continue to win a Championship since Mark Dismore did it in 1990.

Speed Channel televised the race live but an encore re-telecast is scheduled on Sept. 2, at 1:00 p.m. ET (Sept 1, at 10:00 p.m. PT).

-dr-

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Alex Gurney , Mark Dismore , Oriol Servia , Jon Fogarty , Michael Valiante , Grant Ryley , Townsend Bell , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Eduardo Figueroa , Eric Jensen