ANTOINE BESSETTE CAPTURES HOMETOWN WIN IN MONTREAL AS CHARLES ZWOLSMAN CLINCHES TOYOTA ATLANTIC TITLE MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada (August 28, 2005) -- The hometown hero came up big and the quiet but consistently quick Dutch rookie clinched the...
ANTOINE BESSETTE CAPTURES HOMETOWN WIN IN MONTREAL AS CHARLES ZWOLSMAN CLINCHES TOYOTA ATLANTIC TITLE
MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada (August 28, 2005) -- The hometown hero came up big and the quiet but consistently quick Dutch rookie clinched the series title Sunday in the Molson Indy Montreal Atlantic race (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED Channel -- Saturday, September 3 at 9 p.m. ET), the final round of the 2005 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama.
The level of drama was certainly different for both drivers at the 2.709-mile Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve road course but both Canadian racer Antoine Bessette (#3 Unik Auto Design/Gouin Leblanc C.A./Services de Courtage Lessard) and first-year Atlantic sensation Charles Zwolsman (#11 Condor Motorsports) were both left smiling and doused with champagne following Sunday's 25-lap race.
While Bessette used his rally-racing skills to take advantage of some mistakes from the two drivers in front of him early in the race before fighting off a dramatic late challenge for his second series victory, Zwolsman calmly and easily brought home the '05 Atlantic championship. With a large lead over Tonis Kasemets (#6 Flexovit Abrasives/MK ind./TMI/Redline Oil) in the series point standings entering today's season finale, all Zwolsman needed to do was start the race in order to clinch the title. He did that and then some, finishing sixth for his 11th top-10 result in 12 races this season.
The day started with a steady rain falling in Montreal. The morning warm-up was run in a fierce downpour and Bessette set the tone for the day as he topped the practice session. By the time the Atlantic machines lined up for the start of the race, however, the rain had ceased and the track began to dry. All competitors began the race on slick tires, but that didn't prevent Bessette from trying to take advantage of his wet-racing skills.
The 23-year-old native of nearby St. Bruno, Quebec, made an aggressive move at the green flag but backed off as polesitter David Martinez (#7 Roshfrans/US RaceTronics) guided the field through Turn 1. Coming through the second turn, however, Martinez slid a bit on some of the remaining water on the track and that allowed Kasemets, who started second, to capture the race lead. Bessette was also able to pass Martinez on the opening lap.
Kasemets, who entered the race trailing Zwolsman by 26 points in the championship chase, led the first three laps of the event but the dampness of the circuit would also come back to bite the Estonian racer. Kasemets slid off the track in the water at Turn 8 and was able to gather his car back under control, but the momentum lost allowed the hard-charging Bessette to sneak by into the race lead.
Once Kasemets recovered, he went on to pressure Bessette throughout the remainder of the race. Just when it looked as if Bessette would start pulling away, the driver who earned his first series victory in Toronto earlier this season, started to see the yellow car of Kasemets filling up his mirrors. Without benefit of radio communication with his team, Bessette wasn't sure exactly how much time Kasemets was making up or how many laps were left in the race. Once he saw the white flag signifying one lap to go, he did everything he could to hang on. Bessette wound up beating Kasemets to the finish line by .555 of a second for his second career Atlantic victory.
Martinez came back strong late in the race, posting the fastest lap of the event on his final turn around Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve at 1:35.648 (101.961 mph). The talented Mexican driver finished third for his fifth podium of the year and fourth in the last six races and he wound up finishing fifth in the final season standings, despite missing the first race of the year.
Finishing fourth and securing a third-place result in the series championship was British rookie Katherine Legge (#12 PKV Racing). After becoming the first woman to win a major open-wheel race in North America when she captured the season opener in Long Beach, Legge claimed two more victories (Edmonton and San Jose) and she closed the year with five top-five results in the last seven events. Legge and her Polestar Racing Group teammate Bessette finished tied in the series standings, but Legge secured third place based on the fact that she earned more victories than the Canadian.
Al Unser III (#10 BOSPoker.net/PKV Racing) produced his fourth top-five result of the year when he claimed fifth place in today's race, while Zwolsman came home sixth. Dan Selznick (#49 The Room Store) ended his second Atlantic season the way it began at Long Beach -- with a career-best seventh-place result.
Eric Jensen (#2 Konica Minolta/Gehl Company) of Canada crossed the stripe eighth while Chris Souliotis (#56 Speedway Motors) of British Columbia equaled his career-best series finish of ninth. Souliotis' Bite Racing teammate Daryl Leiski (#63 Speedway Motors) earned his second Yokohama Tire C2 Cup win of the year as he completed the top 10 finishers.
ATLANTIC RACE NOTES
* Today's race was completed in 40:47.532 and Bessette won with an average speed of 99.615 mph.
* Leiski also recorded the fastest C2 race lap with a time of 1:40.815 (95.470 mph) and earned a bonus point for the performance.
* Bessette also earned an extra championship point for improving the most positions during the race.
* Sunday's race represented the 25th Atlantic race run in Montreal.
* Zwolsman, who recorded three wins, five poles and eight podiums this season, became the 33rd driver in the history of the Atlantic series to win the series title.
Quotes from the top three drivers from today's race, and the 2005 series champion, follow:
ANTOINE BESSETTE (#3 Unik Auto Design/Gouin Leblanc C.A./Services de Courtage Lessard -- Polestar Racing): "It is a incredible feeling. I just can't explain what I feel. I think I am going to realize what happened only tonight. I am overwhelmed right now. It was a really good race. The car was really good. We managed to put the car just like I wanted for the race. I was wishing for rain and it turned out my way. I had a good start and then my competitors made a few mistakes to my advantage and I took the win. Thanks guys for showing me the way! (laughing).
(On his broken radio) The radio broke after five laps. It made the race very long because I had know idea how many laps I had left and where Tonis was, though I knew he was close towards the end because I could see him in my mirrors.
(On driving in the rain) I come from rally, so I like to be sideways. I get all excited when we get the first days of snow here (Montreal) because I love to slide. I guess that's why I like the rain. It is a shame that the track was drying for the race."
TONIS KASEMETS (#6 Flexovit Abrasive Prods/MK/TMI/Red Line Oil -- Dan Cobb Racing/Team Tonis): "The car was good, the team did a good job. I skipped the morning warm-up and it was not to my advantage at all. I just did not want to take the risk to damage my car during the warm up and not be able to fix it before the start of the race. We thought that the track was going to dry for the race but there was actually more water than we thought under the bridge at Turn 8 and Antoine (Bessette) got me there. I lost the win, but at least, I am second in the championship.
(On his weekend) We were fast and we came here to win, but David was faster and it did not turn out exactly as we wanted. But I am still happy with the result and above all I am happy to be second in the championship. Hopefully it will build momentum for next year whether it is in Atlantic or in Champ Car."
DAVID MARTINEZ (#7 Roshfrans/US Race Tronics -- US Race Tronics): "I guess that we had different conditions than we were expecting. And that forced me to make some mistakes that allow Tonis and Antoine to go by me. After that I just focused on my race and toward the end I started to gain some speed and I posted the fastest lap. Like I said, the rain took us by surprise, and even during the warm-up, we thought that the race was going to take place in dry conditions. I did my best effort and all I could do was third. I have to be happy with it.
(Looking back on his season) We grew really strong as a team along the year. Everybody within the team did a great job, and hopefully we will be stronger for next year."
CHARLES ZWOLSMAN (#11 Continental Cartage - Condor Motorsports): "It was a really strange to take the green flag and not to worry about the remainder of the race. It has been a long and intense season and the feeling you get when you finally win the championship is really hard to describe. I think I'll realize tomorrow.
(On this race) I was happy to see the rain this morning because we've been down on power and we could make up for power loss in wet conditions. But the track dried out right before the race, so it was a bummer. This season was a rollercoaster. At the beginning of the year we had some sponsorship issues. I just couldn't put a budget together to do the whole season. And then the good results came and I finally found some sponsors. From then it's been a great season.The team was great all season and I thank them very much.
(On driving a Champ Car at the Mexico City Grand Prix) I am very excited about racing in Champ Car. I hope that this test will open some doors for next year in Champ Car. I guess it is going to be very different than racing in Atlantic, but I take this as an opportunity and I will do my very best."