Edmonton: Round eight preview

SERIES POINT STANDINGS TIGHTEN AS TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP LANDS IN EDMONTON FOR ROUND 8 INDIANAPOLIS (July 14, 2005) - Entering the 2005 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama season, it was tough to predict which drivers and...

SERIES POINT STANDINGS TIGHTEN AS TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP LANDS IN EDMONTON FOR ROUND 8

INDIANAPOLIS (July 14, 2005) - Entering the 2005 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama season, it was tough to predict which drivers and teams would emerge as dominant forces in North America's top open-wheel development series. Through seven of 12 rounds of competition, only two conclusions can be drawn when it comes to the Atlantic championship - there's a lot of talent at the top of the series standings and the battle among those top competitors for the '05 crown will be exciting to watch as the final five events on the calendar unfold.

There have been some impressive and surprising performances in the Atlantic series this season. But entering Round 8 of the championship this weekend at the Napa Auto Parts Presents the Toyota Atlantic Challenge of Edmonton (tape-delayed on SPEED Channel, Saturday, July 23 at 2 p.m. ET), no one series team or driver has assumed control of the title chase.

Things tightened up considerably in the points race this past weekend in Toronto when the two top series contenders struggled with their results, while yet another talented driver in the rookie-dominated Atlantic field shined with his first victory of the season. Now, with just five races remaining, the top three drivers in the championship are separated by just 23 points, while the gap from first in the standings to fifth overall is just 43 points. With that narrow margin looming, a suitor for the series title belt could literally change their fortunes with the results of just one race. That's the pressure awaiting the competitors this weekend as the Atlantic series returns to race in Edmonton for the first time in nearly 25 years.

The Atlantics did battle in the Canadian city from the mid 70s to early 80s, competing at a permanent facility just outside of town. The series is back for the first time since 1981 and ready to put on a good show for the knowledgeable race fans of Edmonton, this time competing at a new venue to all series competitors - the 1.973-mile Finning International Speedway airport road circuit.

The Canadian faithful will be happy to know that one of their own enters this weekend with a good amount of momentum and confidence. Antoine Bessette (#3 Unik Auto Design) of Polestar Racing Group took control of last weekend's event in Toronto with just two laps remaining and zoomed to the checkered flag for his first Atlantic series victory. The rookie from St. Bruno, Quebec is now a serious championship contender as he sits third in the standings, just 17 points out of the series lead. He would like nothing better than to make it two in a row in his home country while hoping for a chance at a Canadian triple play at Montreal in the final race of the season in late August.

The two drivers in front of Bessette in the standings have other ideas in mind. Series point leader Charles Zwolsman (#11 Condor Motorsports) of the Netherlands had a perfect weekend going in Toronto, leading both rounds of qualifying and most of the race itself, before mechanical problems ended his day. After proving all season that he can adapt quickly to new circuits, the rookie phenom is anxious to get back on track and show what he can do on a course where all drivers will be starting with a clean slate.

Estonian-born racer Tonis Kasemets (#6 Flexovit Abrasives/MK Ind./TMI/Red Line Oil) trails Zwolsman by just seven points entering Edmonton. Unfortunately, he was unable to make up any ground on his chief rival in Toronto as he also fought off mechanical gremlins and wound up eighth for his second worst result of '05. Kasemets is happy that he's still second in the standings after a tough trip to Toronto and he has no intention of repeating his struggles this weekend.

Perhaps the hottest driver going in Atlantics right now is young German racer Andreas Wirth (#8 Wurges Windows and Doors). He carded a third-place finish last weekend, becoming the first Atlantic rookie in eight years to post five straight podium finishes. He arrives in Edmonton looking to extend that streak and hoping for his first series victory. Currently ranked fourth in the standings, just 30 points behind Zwolsman, Wirth and his Brooks Associates Racing team believe that his consistency could be the key to a championship run late in the year.

With two podiums and victory on the streets of Long Beach this season, Katherine Legge (#12 PKV Racing) has opened more than a few eyes. Sitting just 43 points away from Zwolsman, the speedy Brit is fifth in the season rundown and she's aiming for another trip to Victory Circle in her first visit to Edmonton.

A career weekend in Toronto has Mexico's David Martinez (#7 Roshfrans/US RaceTronics) riding high as he hits the airport runways of Finning International Speedway. After reaching the podium in his hometown of Monterrey, Mexico in his first race of the year, Martinez improved on that third-place finish when he crossed the stripe second to Bessette last weekend. He also finished a career-best second in qualifying at Toronto so the 23-year-old rookie will be driving with supreme confidence when the cars hit the track.

Another driver coming off a personal-best result is Albuquerque native Al Unser III (#10 BOSPoker.net/PKV Racing). Continuing to mature as a road racer, Unser came from seventh place in Toronto to equal his career-best Atlantic finish of fourth last Sunday. With his Brooks team starting to hit its stride, it appears Unser is headed for his first series podium. He's hopeful that it will come this weekend.

In addition to Bessette, two more Canadians will race in the championship class this weekend in front of their countrymen. Owner/driver Eric Jensen (#2 Konica Minolta/Epson Canada), an experienced Atlantic racer, made his first start of 2005 last weekend with impressive results. The Montreal native improved more positions than anyone else in the field as he established a career-best result of fifth place for Jensen Motorsport. He returns to the cockpit in Edmonton. Chris Souliotis (#56 Speedway Motors), a dentist from Victoria, British Columbia, will make his sixth start of the season this weekend for Bite Racing, the Atlantic team that he also owns.

The Yokohama Tire C2 Cup is a championship within a championship in the series this season. The competition between pre-existing Atlantic cars has been a close one since Round 1 and category leader Justin Sofio (#15 RLM Investments) is on a roll entering Edmonton. He posted his fourth class victory while finishing seventh overall in Toronto. He now holds a 10-point lead in C2 over fellow rookie Dan Cobb (#9 Camelot Construction). Cobb has also run well this year and he'll be looking to close the gap in the standings on Sunday.

British Columbia's Daryl Leiske (#63 Speedway Motors) has been the fastest C2 driver on course in a pair of events this season. Turning that speed into a category win in front of the Canadian faithful will be his goal in Round 8. Coming off his second top-10 finish of the year, Bob Siska (#18 RJS Motorsports) will return to the track this weekend for his RJS Motorsports team. Also competing in the C2 class, Nevada native and motorsports veteran Roger Glover (#21 Custom Boat and Marine/Depoe Bay Raceway) will make his third series start, running for Blackjack Racing.

The Atlantic cars that will be racing wheel-to-wheel in Edmonton this weekend 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.

This weekend's series schedule on the tarmac calls for the cars to practice for the first time Friday from 12:30-1 p.m. local (Mountain) time. The opening-round of qualifying will be held from 4:45-5:15 p.m. Friday. On Saturday, the Toyota engines will first fire with a practice session from 12:30-1 p.m.., while the final round of qualifying will run from 4-4:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Sunday, the morning warm-up session is scheduled from 9- 9:15 a.m. followed by the Napa Auto Parts Presents the Toyota Atlantic Challenge. Round 8 of the Toyota Atlantic Championship will take the green flag at 11 a.m. Sunday morning and is scheduled for 32 laps (63.136 miles) or 50 minutes.

SPEED Channel will provide tape-delayed television coverage of the Edmonton Atlantic event on Saturday, July 23 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

FAST FACTS

WHAT: Napa Auto Parts Presents the Toyota Atlantic Challenge of Edmonton

WHERE: Finning International Speedway, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

WHEN: Friday-Sunday, July 15-17

TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local): FRIDAY, JULY 15 -- 12:30-1 p.m.., Practice; 4:45-5:15 p.m., First-Round Qualifying. SATURDAY, JULY 16 -- 12:30-1 p.m.., Practice; 4-4:30 p.m., Final Qualifying. SUNDAY, JULY 17 -- 9-9:15 a.m., Warm-up; 11 a.m.-12 p.m., Atlantic Race.

U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: SATURDAY, JULY 23 -- SPEED Channel, Napa Auto Parts Presents the Toyota Atlantic Challenge of Edmonton, 2 p.m. ET (Tape-Delay).

TRACK LAYOUT: 14-turn, 1.973-mile temporary street course
RACE LENGTH: 32 laps (63.136 miles) or 50 minutes

TRACK RECORDS: No track records have been established in Edmonton since this marks a new venue in 2005 for the Toyota Atlantic Championship

RACE ROUND: 8 of 12 in the 2005 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama.

NEXT EVENT: July 29-31, San Jose Grand Prix -- San Jose, California

-atlantic-

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Katherine Legge , Bob Siska , Eric Jensen , David Martinez , Charles Zwolsman , Tonis Kasemets , Justin Sofio , Andreas Wirth , Dan Cobb , Chris Souliotis , Al Unser III