The goal at Road America is clear for Brazil's Hoover Orsi (Hylton Motorsports/U.S. Print Swift). If he keeps up the performance from the first two-thirds of the season, the second year driver will be awarded the Championship trophy in Monterey,...
The goal at Road America is clear for Brazil's Hoover Orsi (Hylton Motorsports/U.S. Print Swift). If he keeps up the performance from the first two-thirds of the season, the second year driver will be awarded the Championship trophy in Monterey, California, at the conclusion of the 2001 campaign. Orsi and his competitors will kick-off the final third of the season in Round 9 of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship this weekend at Road America.
Orsi's record of finishes in the top-two spots have earned him a 25-point lead in the Championship over David Rutledge (Lynx Racing/Keg Steakhouse Swift) with four races remaining. If Orsi continues to have performances that land him second or better in the stretch run, there is no other driver in the Atlantic field that can catch him. On the way to his lead, Orsi has scored his four wins at Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago, and two weeks ago at the historic Grand Prix of Trois-Rivieres. Along with the wins, he has racked up three runner-up finishes at Long Beach, Nazareth, and Toronto. The only race that broke his run on the podium was Montreal, where a broken gearbox put an end to Orsi's day early in the race.
"Finishing in the top two in seven of the first eight races is great," said Brazil's Hoover Orsi. "That just shows how good the team and I are working together. We are like a family. We have won races in ovals, street circuits, and on road courses. It just proves how good my team is right now."
With results like that, Orsi has a good reason to look forward to the stretch run of the season. "We still have four races to go and I 'm really looking forward to that," beamed Orsi. "I'm sure that I will have a great car and we will be fighting for first place in every race."
Orsi will need to maintain his momentum with Rutledge trying to narrow the gap. Rutledge has posted three wins on road courses this season at Long Beach, Montreal, and Toronto. Even though Rutledge did not win at Trois-Rivieres, he set the fastest race lap with a damaged front wing. With the final four races being held on a combination of road courses and temporary street circuits, Rutledge is still in the hunt for the Championship.
"The Lynx team is working at a very high level right now," said Vancouver, Canada's David Rutledge. "I can't imagine how they could work any harder or smarter; and my driving and mental posture has really developed to the point where I expect to be on the pole and win every race. Obviously I don't, but to me it's a reasonable expectation. After all, we've done it three times this year; and in a series as competitive as Atlantic, that goes well beyond luck. And luck is really at the heart of it all right now. I had the car to win at both Cleveland and Trois-Rivieres, but people keep running over my front wing, so I've got to hope that we've gotten all our bad luck out of the way. And I'm not wishing bad things for Orsi because you have to be careful about karma, but every team has some tough times during a season, and his is about due to show up any time now. I'm confident about the outcome of a straight-across fight to the finish for the championship, but first we've got to get out the bulldozers and re-level the playing field."
For Martin Basso (Michael Shank Racing/3b Engine Valves Swift) and Tony Ave (P-1 Racing/Miller Genuine Draft Swift), catching Orsi and taking the Championship is a long shot. Even though the pair are not mathematically eliminated from contention being behind Orsi by 57 points and 65 points respectively, the focus now has to be trying to catch Rutledge in second and battling each other. Basso is only 32 points behind Rutledge, with Ave only down by 40 points.
Road America has been a good track for both drivers. Basso won the pole here last year along with setting the track record at 2:02.734 minutes (118.735 mph), following that with a podium performance in the race. The 4.048-mile course in Elkhart Lake is the home track for Ave who practically spent his childhood there with his father as he raced. Ave, the only other driver to win this year outside of Orsi and Rutledge, has more experience at Road America than any other driver in the field.
"I ran laps at Road America for the first time in a driving school back in the late eighties," said Ave. "I ran my first race there during an SCCA Club event in 1989, and have raced everything from Sport 2000, Formula Atlantic, to Trans-Am where I finished third last year. I really got hurt here in 1996 running in a club race and that broke the career momentum I had going at the time after winning at Homestead in Atlantic. So I'm looking for better results here this time around."
Martin Basso used the time in between races to go home to Argentina and visit with family, but veteran team owner, Michael Shank gave his outlook for the team for the remainder of the season. "After finishing second at Trois-Rivieres and showing a lot of speed in the four races going into there, we finally feel like we've got the kind of momentum going that we were looking for earlier in the season," said Shank. "Unfortunately, with just four races to go, time is running out for Martin and anyone else who still has a mathematical chance of keeping Hoover Orsi from winning the title. Basically, we need Orsi, and David Rutledge, to have some problems, and Martin to finish first, second or third the rest of the way, with a pole or two thrown in. We know it's a long shot, but it's certainly not impossible, which is what makes racing so interesting this time of year. Right now, we're just looking forward to seeing what happens at Road America this weekend. Martin ran extremely well last year, winning the pole and setting a new track record in the process, so if there is any place to him to make up some ground in the championship hunt, that would be it."
Heading into the Round 9 race at Road America, the chase for the Rookie of the Year Award has turned into five-way battle. Five spots in positions fifth through tenth in overall Championship points belong to rookie drivers, with the point spread only 11 points. Joey Hand (DSTP Motorsports/BG Products Swift) leads the rookies with 56 points. Hand, who is driving for the 2000 Championship DSTP team, nearly grabbed his first career Atlantic win earlier this summer at Cleveland in a last lap duel with Orsi. Trailing by just three points is Ontario, Canada's Jonathan Macri (P-1 Racing/NTN Bearings Swift). Macri has had near misses for podium spots thus far this season, but as last year when the car was piloted by CART Toyota Atlantic All-Star, Rocky Moran Jr. (Cobb Racing Swift), Macri has continued a streak of consistency for the blue NTN Bearings Swift, completing all but one lap run so far this season. The only lap Macri lost came on the final one in Montreal where Macri ran off course and stalled after a battle for third with Martin Basso. Moran was the only driver during the 2000 Atlantic season to complete every lap run during the 12 events, while driving for P-1 Racing.
Michael Valiante (Lynx Racing/Copart Auto Auctions/Italian Motors Swift) and Grant Ryley (Worldspeed Motorsports/Northwest Speedwerx Swift) remain in the rookie chase as well. Despite only running four of the eight races so far this year, Valiante is only eight points behind Hand. If Valiante can score podiums at his remaining races in Vancouver and Laguna Seca and his fellow rookie competitors struggle, he could win the Rookie of the Year Award while just running half of the season's 12 races. Ryley, who is only nine behind Hand, continued with his do or die season two weeks ago at Trois-Rivieres, losing power on the final lap dropping from seventh to ninth, costing him two valuable points in the Championship. This was just another moment in a long line of bad luck for Ryley this season that most likely has kept him out of contention for the Championship. However, the Worldspeed team has seen some bright spots with a pole at Milwaukee and two podium finishes.
The final rookie in the picture is Mexico's Rodolfo Lavin (Michael Shank Racing/Corona Swift) who stands 11 points behind Hand. The Dayton Indy Lights veteran has enjoyed success on ovals this season posting a third at Nazareth and a fourth at Chicago. A pair of seventh place finishes have been Lavin's best showings on non-oval type tracks this year. (Long Beach and Trois-Rivieres)
Stephan C. Roy (Duesenberg Brothers Racing/Western Union First Data Swift) will make a change to a new team for the Road America race after running the first eight races of the season with P-1 Racing. Roy is currently eighth in the Championship tied with Ryley at 47 points.
Outside of the top 10 and looking in are Moran Jr. and his teammate, T.J. Bell (Cobb Racing Swift). Bell is eleventh in the points, just three points behind Lavin with Moran in twelfth with 35 points. Bell scored his first career Atlantic podium on the rain soaked track at Cleveland. Moran joined Bell at Cobb Racing after running the opening five races with Condor Motorsports.
Two new drivers will make their Atlantic debut this weekend at Road America. Indianapolis's Kasey Kahne (P-1 Racing Swift) and Jacksonville Beach's Jason LaPoint (Lynx Racing Swift) will tackle the 4.048-mile road course for the first time in a CART Toyota Atlantic Championship Swift. Kahne has been running in USAC Midgets and Silver Crown cars in 2001, while LaPoint has been one of the top contenders in the USF2000 Championship this season.
Returning in what is becoming an Atlantic tradition at Road America is the charity basketball game pitting Atlantic drivers against the U.S. Special Olympic team from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Taking place on Thursday afternoon at the Farnsworth Middle School in Sheboygan, the "Racers vs. Rockets" game is one of the highlights of the race weekend at Road America. This year's squad for the Racers include: T.J. Bell, Rocky Moran Jr., Jonathan Macri, Joey Hand, Stephan C. Roy, Grant Ryley, Frank Dancs (Condor Motorsports/Ariba Swift), and Case Montgomery (Condor Motorsports Ariba Swift).