Hunter-Reay graduates to Champ Cars; will compete alongside Atlantic Grad Vasser in two-car entry for American Spirit Team Johansson.

INDIANAPOLIS (January 23, 2002) - American Spirit Team Johansson-which announced last month that it will field a two-car team in the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford-announced today that 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship standout Ryan Hunter-Reay and 1996 Champ Car champion and Toyota Atlantic graduate Jimmy Vasser will be the team's drivers for the upcoming season.

"I'm thrilled that Ryan has gotten the opportunity to take the final step on the CART Ladder and move up to the Champ Car series for 2003," said CART Toyota Atlantic President Vicki O'Connor. "Ryan proved to be a quick study while he was with us in Atlantic, and I have no doubt that he has the talent and determination to be extremely competitive in Champ Car. Likewise, Jimmy has been a great ambassador for the Atlantic series since his time with us, and his experience will be a great benefit to Ryan as he learns the nuances of Champ Car racing. This is definitely one of the teams that I will rooting for in Champ Car this season."

Ryan Hunter-Reay taking the checkered flag.
Photo by Michael Kim.

Hunter-Reay makes the move into Champ Car after competing in the 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship with Hylton Motorsports. As an Atlantic rookie, he took victories at Monterey, Calif.; Chicago; and Cleveland, tying Canadian Michael Valiante for most wins in the 2002 season. He also started from the pole position three times, at Milwaukee; Monterey, Calif.; and Cleveland, en route to sixth in the 2002 championship standings.

Hunter-Reay is the first driver to graduate to Champ Cars after taking every step on the CART Ladder. His racing career began in karts and he won three different national karting championships in 1997. He won 1998 Rookie of the Year honors in the Skip Barber Southern Race Series and parlayed his karting success into the Barber Karting Scholarship in '98. In 1999, he won the Formula Dodge Eastern Regional Championship and the one-race 1999 Formula Dodge National Championship, which enabled him to win the Barber Big Scholarship at the end of '99. He earned yet another scholarship by taking 2000 Barber Dodge Rookie of the Year honors, and finished fifth in the Barber Dodge Pro Series championship in 2001 with two victories.

"It's just a tremendous opportunity," said Hunter-Reay. "I know that might be understating it, but it shows that CART's Ladder System really works. They are getting young drivers up the ladder and getting American drivers into the series. I'm looking forward to working with American Spirit Team Johansson. I get to work with excellent people. I couldn't ask to learn from better people than Stefan Johansson and Jimmy Vasser."

Vasser participated in the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship in 1990 and '91, taking a total of seven victories and placing second in the championship standings in 1991. Vasser graduated from Atlantic to Champ Cars in 1992, and has ten career victories and eight career pole positions in Champ Car competition to go along with his 1996 series title.

"The Atlantic series is a great training ground," Vasser said. "I ran Atlantic so I've always had an affinity for them. As a result, I am always watching the guys who are in the series. I watched Ryan last year and saw him win some races. I'm looking forward to being part of an all-American team. Both of us are from Atlantics so I think that's cool."

American Spirit Team Johansson is headquartered in Indianapolis under the direction of 1992 Champ Car Rookie of the Year Stefan Johansson who scored four podium finishes in Champ Car competition from 1992-96. He also made 79 starts in Formula One and was an overall winner in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, had two 12 Hours of Sebring victories, and was 2001 champion of the European Le Mans Series in the LMP900 class.

"Ryan is definitely ready," said Johansson. "In his first year of Atlantics, he won three races and captured three poles. With a little more luck, he could have finished higher in the standings. Anyone who has proven to be a consistent winner is qualified to move up. He's shown the speed. With Jimmy as a teammate and an experienced team behind him, hopefully we can offer him an environment where he can hit the ground running."

Hunter-Reay joins Toyota Atlantic graduates Vasser, 1996 Atlantic champion Patrick Carpentier, and Alex Tagliani in the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. Hunter-Reay and Vasser make their public debut during Champ Car "Spring Training" in St. Petersburg and Sebring, Fla. on February 2-6. The inaugural Grand Prix of St. Petersburg kicks off the Champ Car season on the weekend of February 21-23.

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." The series boasts $100,000 race purses and a one million dollar points fund. It is also noted for its long history of graduating its stars into Champ Car competition. Among the drivers who have graduated from Atlantic are current Champ Car stars Jimmy Vasser, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani as well as former series champions Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Michael Andretti and Jacques Villeneuve.