Road America: Penultimate round preview

ZWOLSMAN EYES TITLE AS TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP ENTERS PENULTIMATE ROUND OF COMPETITION AT ROAD AMERICA INDIANAPOLIS (August 17, 2005) -- He is perhaps the most unlikely of potential champions in the 32-year history of the Toyota ...

ZWOLSMAN EYES TITLE AS TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP ENTERS PENULTIMATE ROUND OF COMPETITION AT ROAD AMERICA

INDIANAPOLIS (August 17, 2005) -- He is perhaps the most unlikely of potential champions in the 32-year history of the Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama. A rookie who had never raced in the United States and didn't even have a ride until a week before the first green flag of the season. In fact, if he didn't drive through the field to a podium finish in that first event, he probably would never have even seen Round 2.

Yet, with all those strikes against him, Charles Zwolsman (#11 Condor Motorsports) is on the verge of clinching the championship in North America's top open-wheel development series. With a strong performance this weekend at the BOSPoker.com Toyota Atlantic Grand Prix of Road America (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED Channel -- Saturday, August 27 at 2 p.m. ET), part of the GENERAC 500 Presented by the Chicago Tribune, the 26-year-old speed demon from the Netherlands can wrap up the Atlantic crown in the 11th of 12 rounds for the '05 season. Zwolsman has certainly come a long way since his improbable run from back-of-the pack to third in the season opener at Long Beach in April.

After surviving an opening-lap dustup with fellow rookie standout Katherine Legge (#12 PKV Racing) last Sunday on the streets of Denver, Zwolsman fought to a third-place finish -- his series-leading eighth podium in 10 events this season. The result enabled him to stretch his lead in the championship to 34 points over the next closest competitor.

Zwolsman also watched as his season-long rival for the championship, Estonia's Tonis Kasemets (#6 Flexovit Abrasives/MK Ind./TMI/Redline Oil), allowed a golden opportunity to draw closer to Zwolsman in the title chase slip away in Denver as he spun while trying to win the race on the final turn of the last lap. With a disappointing eighth-place Mile High finish, Kasemets fell to third in the standings, now 42 points away from top of the leaderboard.

As the 240-horsepower Atlantic machines enter the storied and challenging 4.048-mile classic Road America road course for this weekend's racing, Zwolsman needs to contend with the newest winner in the series in order to move closer to his goal. Young German driver Andreas Wirth (#8 Wurges Windows and Doors) converted a great start into a wire-to-wire victory in Denver for his first series win. The Brooks Associates Racing pilot also withstood that ill-fated pass attempt by Kasemets to give his team it's first-ever series win.

Wirth should provide a formidable challenge for Zwolsman and all series competitors this weekend. Not only is the 20-year-old driving with supreme confidence after his win, but he also has experience racing at the longest course on the Atlantic schedule. Last season, he earned two podium finishes, including a victory, in a Formula BMW USA doubleheader weekend in Elkhart Lake. All Zwolsman needs to do to wrap up the title this weekend is make sure that he has better than a 35-point lead in the series standings after Sunday's 17-lap race. It won't be easy, as this is his first time competing at one of the most difficult circuits in North America and several of his closest pursuers for the crown have logged significant successful miles on the course. But to seal the deal he just needs to gain two points during the weekend on Wirth, who ranks second in the chase. And Zwolsman, who's finished on the podium in five of the last six races, doesn't want to have to wait until next week's season finale in Montreal to lay claim to the championship.

While Wirth might provide the biggest obstacle for Zwolsman, Kasemets may also factor heavily in this weekend's 21st Atlantic race at Road America. The 31-year-old Kasemets has extensive SCCA racing experience at the venue and last season he established a new Atlantic record for the fastest race lap at the legendary circuit, earning the top finish of his rookie season in fifth place. After watching his last two races come to frustrating endings with on-track incidents while at the front of the pack, he also desperately wants to get back on track, literally, at a place where he feels he has an edge.

Sitting fourth in the standings, Canadian Antoine Bessette (#3 Unik Auto Design) also has something to prove this weekend. The winner of Round 7 in Toronto, Bessette has struggled a bit since then going without a podium finish in three straight events. He's looking to make his way back into the top three to close out the year strong.

Bessette's teammate at Polestar Racing Group, Legge, is also anxious to get back on track this weekend. The personable Brit won Rounds 8 and 9 to move into third place in the championship hunt, but after the first-turn incident with Zwolsman at Denver, Legge suffered her worst finish of the season in 17th place. She fell back to fifth in the standings, now 51 points behind. The 25-year-old rookie will be seeing her first Road America action this weekend.

Even outside of the top five, the series lineup this weekend is one of the deepest of the year with several new rising stars of racing also joining the series for the first time. This race also marks the only time this season that Atlantics will compete without the Champ Car World Series. Racing with Atlantics this weekend will be the cars of the American Le Mans Series, the Trans-Am Road Racing Series, The Barber Dodge National Championship, The Star Mazda Series and the IMSA GT3 Cup.

Coming off his fifth top-five finish of the year in Denver, David Martinez (#7 Roshfrans/US RaceTronics) of Mexico will make his first Atlantic start at Road America. Last season Al Unser III (#10 BOSPoker.net/PKV Racing) produced a ninth-place finish in his first taste of Atlantic racing at Road America. The next generation of racing Unser hopes to better that result on Sunday. Rookie Kyle Kelley (#24 UP Racing.com), also making his first Elkhart Lake start, has run well in limited action this season finishing in the top ten in four of his five finishes this year.

Alan Sciuto (#27 Dean's R/C Products/Sparco) created quite a stir last weekend in Denver as the 17-year-old American led both rounds of qualifying to become the youngest driver ever to win a series pole. He finished second behind Wirth in just his second series start and he could shape up to be the dark horse this weekend with the momentum he carries into Road America. Series regular Chris Souliotis (#56 Speedway Motors) will also run at Road America for the first time in his racing career.

Four new drivers will debut in an Atlantic car on the 14-turn circuit and two of them will be local favorites. Bobby Wilson (#5 Ocala Gran Prix/BW Race Schools), who hails from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, joins Dan Cobb Racing for the first time this weekend. He captured the 2004 Formula Ford Zetec crown at Road America one year ago and he'll be looking to draw on his experience in his first Atlantic go around. Chris Prey (#2 Gehl Company) , from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, also breaks into action this weekend as he brings his impressive Skip Barber and Formula Dodge resume to the Jensen MotorSport team.

Armsup Motorsports enters the series at Road America running two drivers that previously ran in the Champ Car ladder system. Former Indy Lights driver Chris Menninga (#55 Armsup Motorsports) will see his first Atlantic action along with former Barber Dodge Pro Series standout Daniel Di Leo (#54 Armsup Motorsports).

The Yokohama Tire C2 class will be represented by five category stalwarts at Road America. Justin Sofio (#15 RLM Investments), who's posted seven C2 victories en route to the '05 class title, will lead the charge. Dan Cobb (#9 Camelot Construction) ranks second in class while Bob Siska (#18 RJS Motorsports), Lee Atkins (#48 Advanced Medical, Inc.) and Daryl Leiski (#63 Speedway Motors) will also race in the category for pre-existing Atlantic cars.

All Atlantic machines that will battle wheel-to-wheel at Road America are Swift chassis powered by 240-horsepower Toyota 4A-GE engines capable of speeds in excess of 165 mph. All entries will compete on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks. The series weekend lineup calls for the Atlantics to practice for the first time Friday from 10:05-10:35 a.m. local (Central) time. The opening-round of qualifying will be held from 3:15-3:45 p.m. Friday. Morning practice for the Atlantics will run Saturday from 10:50-11:20 a.m. with the final round of qualifying scheduled from 3-3:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Sunday, the morning warm-up session will run from 8:40-8:55 a.m., followed by Round 11 of the Toyota Atlantic Championship -- the BOSPoker.com Atlantic Grand Prix of Road America -- which will take the green flag at 12 noon on Sunday. The race is scheduled for 17 laps (68.816 miles) or 50 minutes.

SPEED Channel will provide tape-delayed television coverage of the Road America Atlantic race on Saturday, August 27 beginning at 2 p.m. ET. The race will also air to U.S. service men and women in 133 countries around the world through the American Forces Radio & Television Service. For additional information, visit the series' official web site, www.toyotaatlantic.com.

FAST FACTS

WHAT: The BOSPoker.com Toyota Atlantic Grand Prix of Road America

WHERE: Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

WHEN: Friday-Sunday, August 19-21

TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local): FRIDAY, AUGUST 19 -- 10:05-10:35 a.m., Practice; 3:15-3:45 p.m., First-Round Qualifying. SATURDAY, AUGUST 20 -- 10:50-11:20 a.m., Practice; 3-3:30 p.m. Final Qualifying. SUNDAY, AUGUST 21 -- 8:40-8:55 a.m., Warm-up; 12-1 p.m., Atlantic Race.

U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: SATURDAY, AUGUST 27 -- SPEED Channel, BOSPoker.com Toyota Atlantic Grand Prix of Road America 2 p.m. ET (Tape-Delay).

TRACK LAYOUT: 14-turn, 4.048-mile temporary street course

RACE LENGTH: 17 laps (68.816 miles) or 50 minutes

TRACK RECORDS: Qualifying (one lap) -- 2004, Ryan Dalziel, 121.944 mph (1:59.504). Race -- (one lap) 2001, Jonathan Macri, 118.779 mph (2:02.688); (17 laps) 1999, Andrew Bordin, 115.877 mph (35:37.944).

RACE ROUND: 11 of 12 in the 2005 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama.

NEXT EVENT: August 26-28, Molson Indy Montreal -- Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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Series Atlantic
Drivers Ryan Dalziel , Jonathan Macri , Chris Menninga , Katherine Legge , Bob Siska , Skip Barber , Andrew Bordin , Kyle Kelley , Antoine Bessette , Charles Zwolsman , Tonis Kasemets , Justin Sofio , Andreas Wirth , Lee Atkins , Dan Cobb , Chris Souliotis , Daryl Leiski , Bobby Wilson , Alan Sciuto , Al Unser III