LEGGE LOOKS FOR TRIPLE PLAY, ZWOLSMAN MAINTAINS SERIES LEAD AS TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP READIES FOR MILE HIGH SHOWDOWN INDIANAPOLIS (August 10, 2005) -- They've battled for the same piece of pavement in the last two Atlantic races as ...
LEGGE LOOKS FOR TRIPLE PLAY, ZWOLSMAN MAINTAINS SERIES LEAD AS TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP READIES FOR MILE HIGH SHOWDOWN
INDIANAPOLIS (August 10, 2005) -- They've battled for the same piece of pavement in the last two Atlantic races as they've inched closer together in the series point standings. It seems as if the respective paths of rookie racers Charles Zwolsman (#11 Condor Motorsports) and Katherine Legge (#12 PKV Racing) can't help but cross lately as the Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama prepares for Round 10 of 12 at the Centrix Financial Grand Prix of Denver Presented by PacifiCare, August 12-14 in the Mile High city.
Legge's light has burned brightest in the series over the last several weeks, winning the last two races to soar from fifth to third place on the championship leader board. Zwolsman has won the last four Atlantic pole positions but hasn't been able to capture the checkered flag on race day since July. Still, the driven Dutchman has seen his lead grow to 33 points in the title chase with just three rounds remaining.
While it may seem like the two drivers are linked by fate of late, it really shouldn't come as a surprise that this pair has a lot to share. They've simply emerged from the crop of talented up-and-coming racers in the rookie-dominated Atlantic field to grapple for the same prize over the last couple of races.
Heading into this weekend's Atlantic event -- the BOSPoker.com Toyota Atlantic Grand Prix of Denver (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED Channel -- Saturday, August 20 at 3 p.m. ET), Legge has certainly had the upper hand recently on not only Zwolsman, but the rest of the top Atlantic competitors. The 25-year-old British standout, who became the first woman to win a major North American open-wheel race at Long Beach in April, has added her second and third victories of the season in the last two Atlantic events at Edmonton and San Jose, respectively. Aggressive starts and smart driving were the keys to both wins and she also passed Zwolsman for the lead en route to each checkered flag. The impressive performances have allowed Legge to tie, guess who, for the series lead with three wins in '05? Yep. Zwolsman.
But while Legge might be grabbing the headlines, it's Zwolsman who's still in the driver's seat entering Denver's nine-turn, 1.657-mile street circuit around the Pepsi Center. Mechanical problems have haunted the 26-year-old native of the Netherlands in the last few weeks, but thanks to his resourcefulness and his closest championship pursuers' misfortune, he's been able to maintain and even extend his lead recently. The Condor Motorsports driver carries a 33-point advantage (243-210) over Tonis Kasemets (#6 Flexovit Abrasives/MK Ind./TMI/Redline Oil) in the race for the Atlantic crown, with Legge 35 points out of the lead in third place. Zwolsman can ill afford to let up now, however, with the championship beginning to come into view over Colorado's Rocky Mountains with a good result this weekend.
Kasemets will try to recover from a San Jose heartbreak during this Sunday's 35-lap Atlantic race. After leading the series early on this season, Kasemets surrendered the top rung on the championship ladder to Zwolsman in Round 6. He's been in hot pursuit of his rival since then and was in a good position to make a serious stand for the title in San Jose as he trailed by 15 points in the standings and he wrestled the lead of the race away from Zwolsman early with a great start at the green flag. After leading the first nine laps in comfortable fashion, disaster struck for Kasemets when his car's gear shifter broke in his hand, ending his day while adding 18 more points to his deficit at a crucial point in the season. He knows there's little room for error as he clings to second place in the standings and it will be interesting to see how he responds to the pressure on the streets of Denver.
Antoine Bessette (#3 Unik Auto Design) also saw a golden opportunity slip away in the last round. Legge's teammate at Polestar Racing Group, Bessette was fighting for third place in the latter stages of the San Jose race when he crashed into the tire wall. The incident marked the second time this season that the 23-year-old Canadian failed to finish a race. The result also saw him flip flop spots in the series standings with his teammate as he fell from third to fifth in points. After leading two out of the first three true street races this season, Bessette hopes the blacktop is kind again this weekend.
He saw his remarkable run of six straight podium finishes come to an end in San Jose with a fifth-place result, but Germany's Andreas Wirth (#8 Wurges Windows and Doors) won't be frowning when he laces up his driving helmet in Denver. Quite the opposite. As the only driver among the top five series contenders with experience racing at Denver, the 20-year-old rookie remains fourth in the title hunt and he returns to a track where he's been successful in the past.
Wirth won a pole and produced two top-four finishes during a Formula BMW USA doubleheader race weekend in Denver last season in a stretch that was crucial in his successful run for the series championship. Wirth will be looking to prove his worth for Brooks Associates Racing at the street circuit he remembers so well.
Street course specialist David Martinez (#7 Roshfrans/US RaceTronics) is also happy to be racing between the cement walls this weekend. The Mexican rookie has produced his two best Atlantic results on street circuits, including a runner-up finish to Legge last time out in San Jose where he pushed her all the way to the finish line. With a strong street course setup, Martinez and US RaceTronics will be looking for their first series win on Sunday.
The only driver in the field this weekend to produce a top-10 Atlantic result at Denver in the past is second-year series racer Al Unser III (#10 BOSPoker.net/PKV Racing). Last season, Unser did double duty on Denver weekend, racing in an Infinity Pro Series event on Saturday before coming to the Mile High City to race in the Grand Prix Atlantic race. He started from the back of the grid but went on to finish 10th. With his focus now solely on his Atlantic development and a year of experience under his belt, Unser could prove to be one to watch this weekend when the green flag drops.
Owner/driver Eric Jensen (#2 Penn Capital) of Jensen MotorSport has also raced on the Denver streets. With three previous Atlantic starts on the circuit, he's the most experienced driver in this weekend's field on this course. Canadian driver Chris Souliotis (#56 Speedway Motors) of Bite Racing will see his first Denver Atlantic action this weekend along with Dan Selznick (#49 The Room Store) of the The Room Store team. Alan Sciuto (#27 Dean R/C Products/Sparco), a 17-year-old California racer who did a tremendous job in his Atlantic debut two weeks ago with a fourth-place finish at San Jose with PR1 Motorsports, will make his first Denver Atlantic start as well.
The McAtee Motorsports team will be looking to bounce back from a tough experience at San Jose. Both of the team's rookie drivers, Kyle Kelley (#24 UP Racing.com) and Brian McAtee (#19 Cosby Oil/ Superior Auto Care), had to retire within the first 11 laps of the tough street race, as a result of contact. The team is hoping for a clean run on Sunday.
After clinching the Yokohama Tire C2 Cup championship in San Jose with his sixth C2 win in seven races, Justin Sofio (#15 RLM Investments) is aiming to keep his hot streak going this weekend in the class designated for pre-existing Atlantic equipment. Dan Cobb (#9 Camelot Construction), owner/driver for Dan Cobb Racing, ranks second in the C2 class and he'll be seeing his first Denver racing action. Seasoned racer Bob Siska (#18 RJS Motorsports), currently third in the C2 standings, has made one previous Atlantic Mile High start, in 2002, and he'll return to the track this weekend. Bite Racing's Daryl Leiske (#63 Speedway Motors) and Lee Atkins (#48 Advanced Medical, Inc.) of Atkins Racing will also both make their Denver debuts, competing in the C2 category.
This weekend's Atlantic racing in Denver will feature cars that are all Swift chassis powered by 240-horsepower Toyota 4A-GE engines capable of speeds in excess of 165 mph. All entries will compete on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks. The series schedule in Denver calls for the cars to practice for the first time Friday from 8:15-8:45 a.m. local (Mountain) time. The opening-round of qualifying will be held from 1:15-1:45 p.m. Friday. The Atlantics have just one session on Saturday with the final round of qualifying scheduled from 9:20-10:15 a.m. on Saturday morning. Sunday, the morning warm-up session will run from 8:30-8:45 a.m. followed by Round 10 of the Toyota Atlantic Championship -- the BOSPoker.com Atlantic Grand Prix of Denver -- which will take the green flag at 11:30 a.m. Sunday morning. The race is scheduled for 35 laps (57.995 miles) or 45 minutes.
SPEED Channel will provide tape-delayed television coverage of the Denver Atlantic race on Saturday, August 14 beginning at 3 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.