LAZZARO WINS PLAYER'S/TOYOTA ATLANTIC RACE AT MILWAUKEE WEST ALLIS, Wis. (June 2) - - Running on a limited budget, slightly dated equipment, and tires that were used in a previous race this season, Georgian Anthony Lazzaro displayed grit, ...
LAZZARO WINS PLAYER'S/TOYOTA ATLANTIC RACE AT MILWAUKEE
WEST ALLIS, Wis. (June 2) - - Running on a limited budget, slightly dated equipment, and tires that were used in a previous race this season, Georgian Anthony Lazzaro displayed grit, ingenuity, and desperate persistence to score his first career victory in the Player's/Toyota Atlantic Championship at the Milwaukee Mile, Sunday, June 2.
Lazzaro, who hails from Acworth, Ga., started fourth but doggedly stuck with the front runners before overtaking race and series points leader Patrick Carpentier, of Joliette, Que., on the 25th lap, and eventually winning by a 0.273-second margin of victory over race runner-up Case Montgomery, of Salinas, Calif.
"The pass for the lead was a pretty sharp pass," said Lazzaro. "Patrick (Carpentier) got bogged down coming through turns three and four and I had a run going. I took my car to the inside wall and I've got to admit that it got pretty exciting down there. The car made it through turn one and that was essentially the critical moment in the race."
Driving the BG Products Ralt RT-40, Lazzaro averaged 121.61 miles-per-hour around the one-mile oval, and completed the 70-lap Atlantic sprint in 34:32.196, to become the fourth different Atlantic race winner in as many races this season. Lee Bentham, of Richmond Hill, Ont., finished third in the P1 Racing/NTN Bearings-TMI Ralt RT-41. Carpentier remained on top of the Atlantic leader board with a fourth-place showing in the Lynx Racing Ralt RT-41.
"This was a very satisfying win," said Lazzaro, whose previous best finish this season was fifth place at Nazareth (Pa.) one race ago. "A lot of people don't know that I have to share this car with another guy who is a club (amateur) racer. It's been very difficult to share a car in a pro series. This same car runs every weekend. Not only that, it crashes a lot on those weekends, and that's the part that's been tough. We weren't able to make the Thursday test day because of an accident the car suffered last week. I want to keep racing and I want to race in Montreal. I only had two thousand dollars for a budget this weekend so I guess you can say my winner's purse raised my bottom line a bit."
Lazzaro's take of the posted $87,000 was $22,000.
After Lazzaro took control of the race, it appeared only Miami race-winner Tony Ave, of Indianapolis, Ind., could seriously threaten Lazzaro for the lead. Ave, in the Olsson Engineering/Schuler Design Ralt RT-41, started ninth and quickly blew past six other drivers. The former Hurley, Wis., native then slipped past Carpentier on lap 35 for second place, and was setting himself up to catch Lazzaro when he tagged the turn three wall on lap 54 and was forced to retire for the day. Ave was passing lapped traffic on the outside when his car lost traction.
"I was coming up on a couple of guys who were busy racing each other," said Ave. "I went outside of the second one but he didn't know I was there. He pushed me into the marbles, I slid against the wall, and that was all she wrote. I was running second at the time, so this was a real heartbreaker. I didn't want to believe it. I was running as strong as ever but I couldn't bring it home."
From there, Montgomery stepped up his attack, and when a yellow flag came out for Ave's incident, Montgomery was ready to challenge for the race.
"I caught up to Lee (Bentham) and passed him on the outside of turn two on lap 46," Montgomery said. "I moved into a healthy lead over the next eight or so laps but then I got stuck in traffic and Lee caught up to me. On the re-start, he had a good jump and he dove to the inside before getting blocked himself. I, on the other hand, was able to hold my spot."
Bentham, flirted with the lead again when he passed Montgomery on lap 52 in his P1 Racing-NTN Bearings/TMI Ralt RT-41. He inherited again inherited second place, but by default, when Ave dropped out of the race. When the race resumed on lap 60, Bentham's defense against Montgomery fizzled and Montgomery was able to squeeze past him for a second time. Bentham fought steering problems throughout most the race, so he was pleased with his third-place showing.
"Overall, I had a good race," said a reserved Bentham. "The car was understeering at the beginning of the race, it was perfect in the middle of the race, and it was terrible at the end of the race. We did well to make the podium."
Paul Jasper, of Lake Forest, Ill., started from the pole, his first ever Atlantic pole position. Jasper, in the B.D.J.S./Quaker State/SHUR TECH/Agfa Ralt RT-41, clicked off a track record 25.187 seconds = 142.93 mph, which eclipsed a two-year-old mark set by Greg Ray of 25.611-seconds. Jasper held the lead for the first six laps, then went on to record a season-best fifth-place finish.
"It started well enough," explained Jasper. "I was leading for the first six laps and it felt really good. The car was perfectly set, but after about 10 or 15 laps, the car started to get loose."
Carpentier remained the series leader with 63 points, followed by Montgomery with 57, Bentham at 56, and Paul Jasper with 40 laps. Lazzaro's victory moved him into fifth place in the points chase with 38.
Atlantic veteran and Indy Racing League driver Stan Wattles, of Sewall's Point, Fla., returned to Atlantic competition for his first race action since he suffered injuries caused in a crash during a practice session while preparing for an Indy Racing League race at Phoenix International Raceway on March 22. Wattles qualified 10th and finished 11th in the Metro Racing Systems Ralt RT-41.
Bernie Schuchmann, of Montreal, maintained his lead in the C2 Championship with 52 points, following his fourth-place finish in class, and 18th overall in the race.
The Milwaukee race will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Sunday, June 9, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., EDT.
Round five of the 12-race 1996 Player's/Toyota Atlantic Championship is set to drop the green flag on June 15 in Montreal at the Canadian Grand Prix.
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