MIAMI, Fla. (Sept. 29, 2003) - - Luis Diaz, of Mexico City, finished the 2003 Toyota Atlantic Championship and his Atlantic career with dignity and optimism, but also with a hint of frustration when another tremendous race start turned sour...
MIAMI, Fla. (Sept. 29, 2003) - - Luis Diaz, of Mexico City, finished the 2003 Toyota Atlantic Championship and his Atlantic career with dignity and optimism, but also with a hint of frustration when another tremendous race start turned sour through no fault of his or Dorricott Racing. When the race concluded, Diaz and the Telmex Swift 014a finished ninth at the Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic 100k of Miami, Sunday, Sept. 28.
Diaz started eighth for the 55-lap Atlantic race on the temporary 1.15-mile street circuit of Bayfront Park in Miami. The race start was disrupted by a yellow flag when the field approached Start/Finish improperly aligned. A green flag prevailed on Lap 2 and Diaz made an extraordinary charge toward the front in passing three cars before the first turn. Diaz was in fourth place by Lap 3 and running second fastest on the track.
Everything turned "south" on Lap 11. Diaz called his Dorricott Racing crew to report a suspected flat right rear tire. The timing couldn't have been worse. The field had been running under a yellow flag since Lap 8 after Marc Breuers spun into the tire barrier at Turn 3. Diaz discovered the flat tire moments after Atlantic officials issued a green flag for Lap 12. He pitted for a tire change but this forced him off the lead lap. A post pit-stop inspection revealed that Diaz's right rear tire had been punctured by unidentifiable debris on the track.
"I knew the tire was losing air but I didn't understand why," said Diaz. "We were fast and the car was set-up near perfect. I had a chance of winning this race and then another mystery problem found me and my hopes for a podium disappeared. It was frustrating because this flat tire pretty well described how most of my season went. We never got a break in our favor. The only luck we experienced was bad luck and there wasn't anything we could do about it."
Despite dropping to 12th place, Diaz managed to drive his way back into the top-10 for his ninth place finish. It was his ninth top-10 finish in 2003 and he finished eighth place in the 2003 Toyota Atlantic Championship with 88 points.
Diaz, who expects to move into Champ cars in 2004, finished this season as one of Atlantic's most consistent finishers, in part, because Dorricott Racing gave him a car each race that did not suffer any mechanical breakdowns during the 12-race schedule. Diaz completed a series second-best 447 race laps out of a possible 458 laps. Only Jonathan Macri completed more laps than Diaz but only by 11 in finishing all race laps in 2003.
Diaz was one five drivers to lead an Atlantic race in 2003. Moreover, he was one of only three drivers to start from the pole. His pole at Monterrey, Mexico, was his third career pole position while driving for Dorricott Racing. Atlantic champion A.J. Allmendinger and Ryan Dalziel were the only others to win poles in 2003.
Although Diaz's total race earnings were only $43,800, he was awarded a post-season bonus of $55,448 for finishing eighth place in the Championship bringing his season total earnings to $99,248.
Diaz's miserable luck this season didn't go unnoticed or absent a sympathetic following. Rather, Diaz was favorably recognized and honored during the Toyota Atlantic Championship Awards Banquet held at the Miami Hyatt on Sunday evening.
Diaz was presented the Gilles Villeneuve Award. The award, instituted in 1989 by Toyota Atlantic champion Steve Shelton, is presented to the driver who possesses extraordinary ability, has that special "star quality," and who has distinguished himself through sportsmanship, dedication, and perseverance in the face of disappointment. Diaz met all the criteria behind a positive outlook and philosophical view that these things happen from time to time in racing. It was just too bad it happened to him in his final year of full-time Atlantic competition.
Two delayed telecasts of the Miami Toyota Atlantic race will air on Speed Channel on Monday, Sept. 29, at 3:00 p.m. (ET), and at 5:00 p.m. ET on Friday, Oct. 3.