Highland Park, Ill. (May 24, 2001) -- With two races in the rear-view mirror, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship teams are in the midst of the longest break they will see for the next four months. On June 2, 2001, Round 3 of the CART Toyota...
Highland Park, Ill. (May 24, 2001) -- With two races in the rear-view mirror, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship teams are in the midst of the longest break they will see for the next four months. On June 2, 2001, Round 3 of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will be held at the Milwaukee Mile beginning a streak of eight races to be run over the summer months.
-CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT TAKING SHAPE-
After finishing a close second place in two straight races, Hoover Orsi (Hylton Motorsports/U.S. Print Swift) sits at the top of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship points standings with 32 points. Race winners Tony Ave (P-1 Racing/Miller Genuine Draft Swift (Nazareth)) and David Rutledge (Lynx Racing Swift (Long Beach)) are close behind Orsi with 31 and 28 points respectively.
"I want to win races this year for sure and I'm sure that I will; but my main goal is to win the championship. That is the most important thing," quoted the Brazilian points leader. "I'm gonna try as hard as possible to win the race; but if I'm not able to do it, I will try to get as many points as possible."
Ave is no stranger to championship battles. "We learned a lot at Nazareth and we know we have a good baseline oval setup heading into Milwaukee, although the tracks are different. We got enough data there that we can apply towards the track in Milwaukee." Ave continues, "We won the season opener at Homestead in 1996, so I have been at the front in the standings before in Atlantics, but I have fewer starts than the past 3 Atlantic champions, so I'm in the same boat as everybody else. Winning championships in other series in the past came from getting the season off on the right foot and we have done that here. I take that as a good sign."
Fourth through sixth place shows a Rookie of the Year battle heating up between Rodolfo Lavin (Michael Shank Racing/Corona Swift), Joey Hand (DSTP Motorsprots Swift), and Jonathan Macri (P-1 Racing/NTN Bearings Swift). Lavin leads the trio with 20 points, followed by Hand with 18, and Macri with 17.
Although the season did not get off to the start he and his team had hoped, Martin Basso (Michael Shank Racing/3b Engine Valves Swift) is still a threat to come back and win the title. The team struggled at Long Beach and Nazareth, but some of the tracks they had success with last year are still ahead on the schedule, including Milwaukee where Basso is the defending race champion.
"I think it's really hard to win the Atlantic championship because there are so many good teams and talented drivers, but I think we can do it," said Argentina's Martin Basso. "We didn't have very good finishes in the first two races, but there are still 10 more races to fight for the championship. Our next race is at Milwaukee and we won there last year, so we feel pretty good about going there. After that we go to Montreal, which is a very nice race track that is interesting and I like a lot, so I'm looking forward to racing there again and hopefully being on the podium." Michael Shank, Team Owner for Michael Shank Racing, the season is far from over as well. "If this were NASCAR I'd be saying Nazareth was "just one of them deals" right now, because if it could go wrong for him there, it did. But Martin proved last year that he's an extremely talented and competitive driver, so we fully expect him to be running back up front at Milwaukee where he won last year. Overall, there's still a lot of racing yet to do and anything can happen, so our team is just going to continue to put everything we have into each race and hope that a little luck comes our way."
A pair of drivers that have had very little luck come their way will be looking to change their fortunes when the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship races in Milwaukee. After two races, Grant Ryley (Worldspeed Motorsports/Northwest Speedwerx Swift) and T.J. Bell (Cobb Racing Swift) have been left scratching their heads wondering what is going to happen next. After qualifying fifth at Long Beach, Ryley's gearbox broke before the race even started. Things seemed to be heading back in the right direction for first year driver at Nazareth, as he was one of the fastest drivers during practice sessions. Things turned south for Ryley in the race though as a bobble over the turn 2 bumps caused him to lose control, making hard contact with the wall, in what Grant said had to be one of the hardest hits he had ever taken in a race car. T.J. Bell had qualified second in the rain at Long Beach; but times were set in the other qualifying session that had taken place on a dry track, putting him deeper in the field. Heading into turn 1, Bell never stood a chance as contact between two other cars collected him with nowhere to go. The fate in the Nazareth race was much the same as Bell was collected in the aftermath of Ryley's turn 2 accident.
Rocky Moran Jr. (Condor Motorsports/Ariba Swift) continues to add to a very impressive streak dating back to the start of the 2000 season. After finishing on the lead lap two weeks ago in Nazareth, the CART Toyota Atlantic All-Star has now completed every lap turned in 14 straight races for a total of 568 laps. Not only is this a true testement of Moran's skill as a driver, but also to the durability of the Toyota 4A-GE engine that is used by every competitor in the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. Moran hopes to add 65 more laps to the total in Milwaukee on June 2.
Moran currently stands 9th in the championship standings with 11 points.
-STRONG PRESENCE AT INDY-
With the field set for the 85th running of the Indianapolis 500, nine spots belong to drivers touting Atlantic experience in the resumes. This equals over one-quarter of the field, in what is called "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing". The first eight rows (24 cars) will have at least one former Atlantic driver in it.
Among those starting in the front two rows are 1999 IRL Champion, Greg Ray, and 1990 Atlantic Champion, Mark Dismore. Ray, who will line up in the middle of the first row, won three Atlantic Championship races in 1994, two of those coming on the ovals at Phoenix and Nazareth. Dismore, who holds the record for most career Atlantic victories with 15, dominated the Pacific Division during his championship season winning 7 of 8 races. Dismore will line up on the inside of row 2 for the 500.
Six CART FedEx Championship drivers will start the 500 this year, two of which have their roots tied in the Atlantic Championship. The 1983 Atlantic Champion and 1991 CART FedEx Champion, Michael Andretti returns to the race for the first time since 1995. Andretti will start in the outside of the seventh row. Jimmy Vasser, who narrowly missed winning the 1991 Atlantic Championship by four points, returns to Indy after finishing seventh in last year's event. Vasser won the CART FedEx Championship in 1996 and will start the 500 on the outside of row 4.
Current Indy Racing League point leader, Sam Hornish Jr. will start this year's event on the inside of row 5. Hornish was the 1999 CART Toyota Atlantic Rookie of the Year, finishing seventh in the overall Championship points, with one win coming on the oval in Chicago. Scott Goodyear was the 1986 Atlantic Champion, barely missing victories in the Indianapolis 500 in 1995 and 1997. Goodyear will start this year's race on the inside of row 6.
Other former Atlantic drivers include; Robbie Buhl (outside row 3), Felipe Giaffone (outside row 11), and Jeret Schroeder (middle row 8).
-CASSEL SET TO START IN MONTREAL-
DeWayne Cassel (CasselRacing/ADT Tyco International Swift) will make his 2001 Atlantic debut during Round 4 at Montreal. Even though Cassel was entered last year at Cleveland, he only completed 4 laps before dropping out of the race. With strong backing from ADT/Tyco International, the Montreal race will be his first Atlantic event with the proper funding to compete. This will also mark the first time that an African-American driver has entered into the series on a full-time basis.
"It has been a real whirlwind the past 4 or 5 weeks," said the 40 year old driver from Peoria, Illinois. "We are putting this team together from scratch and it has become a bigger undertaking than anybody thought it would. We are still shooting for the Montreal race, but it is going to be tough to be completely ready by then. Right now, we are setting up a full test schedule and then getting some track time is next."
-T.J. BELL, THE FAN-
As a driver, sometimes the shoe goes on the other foot; and in T.J. Bell's case, he will become a fan as one of Cobb Racing's crew members takes his turn behind the wheel. Josh Ferguson, Second Mechanic for Cobb Racing, will be competing in Round 2 Kart Pro Moto in Sacramento, California. T.J., along with his parents, will go along for support.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is one of the world's richest open-wheel development series and is a key rung on CART's "ladder system". 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, former Champ Car stars Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan, as well as 1997 FIA Formula One Champion Jacques Villeneuve.
For more information on the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, visit www.toyotaatlantic.com.