Monterrey: Season opener preview

30th Anniversary season of CART Toyota Atlantic Championship gets underway with Sunday's Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix. INDIANAPOLIS (March 18, 2003) - Over the past 29 years, racing superstars like Gilles Villeneuve, Bobby Rahal, Jimmy ...

30th Anniversary season of CART Toyota Atlantic Championship gets underway with Sunday's Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix.

INDIANAPOLIS (March 18, 2003) - Over the past 29 years, racing superstars like Gilles Villeneuve, Bobby Rahal, Jimmy Vasser, Jacques Villeneuve, and Patrick Carpentier first made names for themselves in Atlantic competition. As the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship begins its 30th Anniversary season Sunday in the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix at Fundidora Park in Monterrey, Mexico (SPEED, Live, 11:30 a.m. ET), a new crop of up-and-coming racers will take their first steps toward building their own names.

Leading the charge in front of his countrymen will be second-year driver Luis Diaz (#33 Telmex Toyota/Swift/Yokohama), who returns to Toyota Atlantic for a second season with 2002 series champions Dorricott Racing. In his first Toyota Atlantic start last year, Diaz placed his car on the pole position in Monterrey, before finishing fifth on wet track conditions in the race. Diaz's teammate and eventual series champion Jon Fogarty claimed the victory. Diaz went on to claim a second pole position in Portland and victories at Portland and Road America, en route to fourth in the championship standings.

Another driver who will be flying the Mexican flag this weekend will be Mexico City's Eduardo Figueroa (#86 Gigante/Aviacsa/Millenio Toyota/Swift/Yokohama). Figueroa will once again be driving for San Diego-based Scuadra Fortia, and the team is looking for bigger things in its second year together after an extensive off-season testing schedule.

One driver who has been chomping at the bit to get back racing after narrowly missing the 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship title is Canadian Michael Valiante (#19 Lynx Racing Toyota/Swift/Yokohama). Valiante, who is competing in his second full season of Toyota Atlantic and third season overall, tied Ryan Hunter-Reay for the series high in victories last year with three, and finished second in the season point standings. The Burnaby, B.C. native began his 2002 campaign with a fourth place result in the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix.

American Joey Hand (#27 BG Products/DSTP Motorsports Toyota/Swift/Yokohama) returns for a third Toyota Atlantic season in 2003 after missing half of the 2002 season due to a back injury sustained in a crash during testing at The Milwaukee Mile. Hand earned the best result of his abbreviated '02 campaign in last year's Monterrey season opener with a third place run after qualifying second.

Scotland's Ryan Dalziel (#28 Discovery Lake/Daily Record Newspaper Toyota/Swift/Yokohama) established a career-best Toyota Atlantic mark when he charged from 10th on the starting grid to claim second place in Monterrey last season. He closed out the 2002 season with a pole position and a second place finish in Denver, and has joined Sierra Sierra Racing for his second tour of duty in the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship.

Other returnees to the series this weekend will be Jonathan Macri (#84 NTN Toyota/Swift/Yokohama), who has joined Polestar Atlantic, LLC for his third year of Toyota Atlantic Competition; Alex Figge (#69 Pacific Coast Motorsports/Patrick Racing Toyota/Swift/Yokohama), who returns for a second year with the newly-formed Pacific Coast Motorsports team; Venezuelan Alex Garcia (#9 Dixien/Omnisource Toyota/Swift/Yokohama), who is back for his second year with Transnet Racing; second-generation driver Kyle Krisiloff (#13 U.S. Grand Prix F1/Cameron Motorsports Toyota/Swift/Yokohama), who embarks on his first full season after competing in the final six Toyota Atlantic races of 2002; and Eric Jensen (#2 Starwood Hotels/Sheraton Hotels Toyota/Swift/Yokohama), who has made 20 Toyota Atlantic starts since 1997.

While the cast of series veterans is extensive, the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship also boasts an impressive crop of rookies. Among the drivers expected to lead the battle for BG Products Rookie of the Year will be 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series champion A.J. Allmendinger (#4 RuSPORT Toyota/Swift/Yokohama), who makes his Toyota Atlantic debut this weekend. Allmendinger won six races, had a total of nine podium finishes, and four pole positions in 10 BDPS races last year. His lowest finish of the season was a fourth place result.

Another promising rookie will be Allmendinger's RuSPORT teammate, Aaron Justus (#3 RuSPORT Toyota/Swift/Yokohama), the 2000 U.S. Formula Ford 2000 national champion. After sitting out much of 2001 and '02, Justus returned to racing in the final three events of the 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship with Performance Development & Racing, posting two top-10 finishes and a best result of seventh in the finale at Denver. Because he made only three starts last year, Justus is still considered a series rookie in 2003.

Likewise, Sierra Sierra Racing's Marc DeVellis (#67 Pro-Works Toyota/Swift/Yokohama) also maintained his 2003 Toyota Atlantic rookie status after making three starts in 2002. DeVellis, from Burnaby, B.C., Canada, had an impressive debut in 2002 by taking third place in his maiden race at Trois-Rivieres. Based on that performance, DeVellis remains one to watch in 2003.

One driver who is certain to get a lot of attention throughout 2003 is Danica Patrick (#24 Argent Mortgage Company Toyota/Swift/Yokohama), who is the first full-time female competitor in the 29-year history of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. Patrick won the pro division of the 2002 Toyota Pro Celebrity race at Long Beach last year and placed second in the 2000 England Formula Ford Festival, making her the highest finishing American driver in that prestigious race since Danny Sullivan in 1974 and the highest finishing female driver in event history. She joins the newly-formed Team Rahal Toyota Atlantic program, under the ownership of three-time Champ Car champion, Rahal, and late night television star David Letterman.

Two more rookies to watch will be Frenchman Romain Dumas (#88 Gigante/Aviacsa/Millenio Toyota/Swift/Yokohama), and Montreal's Philip Fayer (#8 PaySystems Toyota/Swift/Yokohama). Dumas, a veteran of Formula 3000 who also tested the Renault F1 machine last year, was recently announced as the second driver for Scuadra Fortia for the Monterrey event. Fayer, meanwhile, has won several races in SCCA competition and joins the two-car Starwood Team Jensen for 2003.

Every driver in the field will wheel Swift 014.a chassis, which are powered by 1.6-liter, four-cylinder, 16-valve, fuel-injected, dual-overhead cam Toyota 4A-GE engines, capable of producing 240 horsepower at 9,500 rpm and speeds in excess of 165 miles per hour. All cars will ride on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks.

The weekend gets underway for the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship on Friday, March 21 with a 30-minute practice session scheduled to begin at 8:00 a.m., and a 30-minute qualifying session slated to begin at 12:15 p.m. Saturday's activities include practice from 8:20-8:50 a.m. and final qualifying scheduled for 12:50-1:30 p.m. Race day begins with a 15-minute warmup session from 8:00-8:15 a.m., and the green flag drops on the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix and the season at 10:30 a.m. The scheduled distance of the race is 32 laps, but is subject to a 50-minute time limit.

SPEED Channel will carry live television coverage of the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET on Sunday. Live timing and scoring data will also be available for every session throughout the weekend and the season on the official web site of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, www.toyotaatlantic.com.

The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is one of the world's premier open-wheel development series and the penultimate step on the Champ Car "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. Drivers who have graduated from Atlantic are current Champ Car competitors Jimmy Vasser, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, Roberto Moreno, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Patrick Lemarie, and Rodolfo Lavin as well as former Champ Car champions Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Michael Andretti and Jacques Villeneuve.

CART TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local):

FRIDAY, MARCH 21
Practice, 8:00 - 8:30 a.m.
First-round qualifying, 12:15 - 12:45 p.m.

SATURDAY, MARCH 22
Practice, 8:20 - 8:50 a.m.
Final qualifying, 12:50 - 1:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, MARCH 23
Warm-up, 8:00 - 8:15 a.m.
Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix, 10:30 - 11:30 a.m.

U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE:
SUNDAY, MARCH 23 - SPEED Channel, Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix, 11:30 a.m. ET (Live).

-cart/atlantic-

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Series Atlantic
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Ryan Dalziel , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Patrick Lemarié , Roberto Moreno , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Jon Fogarty , Michael Valiante , Joey Hand , Jonathan Macri , Kyle Krisiloff , Luis Diaz , Danny Sullivan , Gilles Villeneuve , Ryan Hunter-Reay , A.J. Allmendinger , Alex Figge , Eduardo Figueroa , Eric Jensen , Romain Dumas , Philip Fayer , Danica Patrick