"What A Blast To Drive" - Lapoint Pilots Michael Shank Racing's New Swift 014.A In Series Sponsored Test
BLOOMINGDALE, Ga. (December 20, 2001) -- Every season, the reigning US Formula Ford 2000 Champion receives a CART Toyota Atlantic Championship Series sponsored test with an Atlantic team. But this season's test was special as the 2001 Champion, Jason LaPoint, not only got to take in a beautiful Georgia day in an Atlantic car, he became one of the first drivers to take the new Swift 014.a out onto a track for official testing.
LaPoint spent Wednesday with veteran Atlantic team, Michael Shank Racing, tooling around the 2.02-mile Roebling Road Raceway which is located 20 miles from Savannah, Georgia. The first part of the day was spent shaking down the new Swift 014.a as it made its first appearance on the track. The MSR team turned LaPoint loose in the afternoon to see what he could do with the new car, and he continued to show why he will be an Atlantic driver to be reckoned with in the future. LaPoint drove three races this past season with Lynx Racing producing instant results placing the car third on the grid at Road America during qualifying in his first race.
"Jason came out and set the fastest time at Roebling Road since we have been coming here," said team owner Michael Shank. "Needless to say, I'm impressed with the speed, but more so with the feedback he was able to give back to our engineers. The guy really deserves a shot in this series."
"You could have not asked for a better day to be outside racing in a car, the conditions were perfect," said an excited LaPoint. "Personally, I had wanted to test with Michael (Shank) all year because they have always been real supportive of me. It's great that the series, Toyota, and Michael Shank Racing made all of this happen."
The test was also the first day on track for Michael Shank Racing's new Swift 014.a which will replace the Swift 008.a that has been in service with the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship since 1998. There were a few minor glitches that you might expect with any new car going out the first time, but the small obstacles were overcome and Swift's new chassis passed its first test with flying colors.
"The car really exceeded our expectations," said a pleased Shank. "For the first time out, the car ran virtually flawless. It really looks like Swift did their homework on this car. The improvements we asked for as team owners are there and we're pretty excited to dig into the car further in the upcoming months."
"Like any new car, there were some little problems," said LaPoint at the conclusion of the day. "The changes we made to the chassis during the day were minor and car was very predictable; what a blast to drive. I have never been in a car that close and that fast right out of the box. The fact that it is brand new is amazing."
LaPoint was not the only driver turning heads on Wednesday at Roebling Road. Seventeen year old, Matt Green from Jacksonville, Florida spent the day on track, as well, in one of Michael Shank Racing's Swift 008.a cars that Martin Basso drove last year. Green, who is set to take over LaPoint's USF2000 Championship seat this upcoming season, got his first taste of a Toyota 240 horse powered Swift and by the end of the day, was turning laps equal to Shank's past drivers that tested at Roebling Road.
"I was really surprised with Matt (Green)," said Shank. "The thought that a 17-year old with only one year of experience in full size cars could come in and perform like this is amazing to me. Needless to say, we will be following Matt's season in USF2000 this year very closely."
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", which features a one million dollar year-end points fund. It is also noted for its long history of graduating its stars into CART competition. Among the drivers who have graduated from the Atlantic Series are CART Champ Car stars Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Barron, Memo Gidley, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani as well as former series champions Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan and Jacques Villeneuve.