San Jose: Round nine preview

'FANTASTIC FIVE' PREPARES FOR FINAL FOUR RACES OF '05 TOYOTA ATLANTIC SEASON AS SERIES FINDS ITS WAY TO SAN JOSE INDIANAPOLIS (July 27, 2005) -- With the final four events of the 2005 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama season...

'FANTASTIC FIVE' PREPARES FOR FINAL FOUR RACES OF '05 TOYOTA ATLANTIC SEASON AS SERIES FINDS ITS WAY TO SAN JOSE

INDIANAPOLIS (July 27, 2005) -- With the final four events of the 2005 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama season looming, the cream has certainly risen to the top of the series standings.

The top five competitors in North America's top open-wheel development series have begun to pull away from the pack as the 12-race championship enters its climactic final quarter. Atlantic's "Fantastic Five" have all demonstrated at different points of the season the ability to take control on a given race weekend. The five drivers have accounted for all eight series victories and 95 percent of all laps led in competition this year. With only 40 points separating the talented quintet in the standings entering Round 9 this weekend, all signs point to a fight to the finish for the Atlantic crown.

The question of which one of these rising open-wheel racers will begin to show their fantastic side in the series first-ever visit to San Jose, California will be answered this Friday-Sunday, July 29-31 at the Taylor Woodrow Grand Prix of San Jose (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED Channel - Saturday, August 6 at 1:30 p.m. ET). The Atlantic machines will attack the 11-turn, 1.448-mile temporary street circuit constructed around the San Jose Convention Center with the opening round of qualifying set for Friday, final qualifying on tap for Saturday and the 45-lap race staged in front of an expected capacity crowd witnessing the city's first Champ Car Grand Prix on Sunday.

A season-high 21 entrants will be featured in the Atlantic field this weekend, and no driver carries as much momentum onto the San Jose streets as British rookie Katherine Legge (#12 PKV Racing). While capturing the checkered flag in her very first series race of the season at Long Beach, Legge became the first woman to win a major open-wheel race in North America. The up-and-down performances that usually come along with a first-year driver followed, along with some frustrations from the 25-year-old Polestar Racing Group pilot. But Legge has turned the tide again in the last two events, racing with renewed confidence and aggression, and she turned her best qualifying effort into her second victory of the season two weeks ago on another course new to the circuit in 2005 at Edmonton. Legge is looking to make it two wins in a row at new Atlantic venues this season as she continues to refine her road racing skills.

Although she might be the hottest driver in the series entering this weekend, Legge ranks fifth among the top five championship contenders, still only 40 points behind series point leader Charles Zwolsman (#11 Condor Motorsports) of the Netherlands. Zwolsman has had a whirlwind rookie season that's included six podiums and a series-high three victories and four pole positions. Still, the unflappable Dutchman hasn't tasted victory in more than a month and, despite winning the last three consecutive poles, he's been unable to put away his competition and now faces a dogfight the rest of the way. After some early contact with Legge and a race-long battle in Edmonton between the two series standouts, eventually won by the speedy Brit, Zwolsman is anxious to find his way back Victory Lane on Sunday.

One driver who will desperately try to prevent Zwolsman from reaching that destination is second-year series racer Tonis Kasemets (#6 Flexovit Abrasives/MK Ind./TMI/Redline Oil). The closest pursuer to the championship leader, Kasemets is only 15 points behind Zwolsman in the season standings. He's had his troubles recently, however, failing to produce a top-three result in the last three events after back-to-back wins and four consecutive podium finishes earlier in the year. Kasemets will try to turn his luck around and draw even closer in the title chase this weekend.

Sitting just 24 points out of the series lead is quiet Canadian rookie Antoine Bessette (#3 Unik Auto Design). The proud owner of seven top-five finishes this season, Bessette staged a late rally to win his first Atlantic race on the streets of Toronto in early July. He nearly won on the other true street circuit on the series calendar, before finishing second to his Polestar teammate Legge at Long Beach. The native of St. Bruno, Quebec appears to be at home on streets so he's also anxious for the green flag to drop in downtown San Jose.

The last of the top five championship hopefuls has been fantastically consistent in '05. Andreas Wirth (#8 Wurges Windows and Doors) has quietly emerged as a legitimate suitor to the crown after producing an impressive six straight podium results, the longest streak in four years among Atlantic competitors. The 20-year-old German driver sits fourth in the standings, just 35 points behind Zwolsman, and after finishing third for the last four consecutive races, Wirth wants to see what the other two steps on the podium feel like.

David Martinez (#7 Roshfrans/US RaceTronics) of Mexico produced his career-best finish of second at the last series downtown street circuit event in Toronto. Currently sixth in the standings, 80 points out of first, he's hoping for similar results this weekend for the California-based US RaceTronics team. Brooks Associates Racing's Al Unser III (#10 BOSPoker.net/PKV Racing) has qualified and finished inside the top 10 in all six of his starts this season. The 22-year-old American will look to extend that run in San Jose as he continues to sniff out his first Atlantic podium performance.

In his last Toyota Atlantic race, first-year driver Kyle Kelley (#24 UP Racing.com) looked to have locked up his first podium result in Round 4 at Portland. His car did not pass a postrace inspection, however, and he wound up with no points after a hard-fought battle on track. Kelley is back to try and regain those points this weekend, competing for the McAtee Motorsports team, located in San Clemente, California. Kelley's teammate, Brian McAtee (#19 Superior Auto Care/Cosby Oil), also returns to action and he'll donate all of his prize winnings this weekend to the Canary Fund, a non-profit organization that helps fight cancer. McAtee lost his mother Nancy to the disease earlier this season.

Several California racers will also see their first Atlantic action of the season in their home state this weekend. San Jose native Grant Ryley (#22 Intervision Systems/Network Appliance/Juniper Networks/Extreme Networks/Bakbone/Trend Micro) will make his first series start in nearly three years in his hometown, while 18-year-old Ryan Spencer-Smith (#2 DUC Housing Partners) of nearby Napa is set to make his Atlantic and pro racing formula debut. Both drivers will compete for the veteran Jensen Motorsport team. Talented open-wheel racer Phil Giebler (#41 Jos. J Albanese Concrete Construction) of Oxnard, California also will earn his Atlantic stripes this weekend as he joins the Condor Motorsports team for his first series start. Another promising young American talent, Alan Scuito (#27 Dean R/C Products/Sparco), of Orange, California, will get his first taste of Atlantic competition for PR1 Motorsports.

Series drivers Dan Selznick (#49 The Room Store) and Chris Souliotis (#56 Speedway Motors) will also be in action at the Grand Prix of San Jose in the championship class.

A deep field of competitors in the Yokohama C2 Cup class will add to the entertaining street racing throughout the weekend. Leading the way in the category comprised of pre-existing Atlantic cars, Justin Sofio (#15 RLM Investments) of Arleta, California has produced five C2 victories in '05. The former series mechanic is hoping to actually wrap up the C2 title with a strong performance this weekend. He'll have to fight off fellow rookie Dan Cobb (#9 Camelot Construction), who ranks second behind Sofio in the C2 rundown. San Francisco's own Bob Siska (#18 RJS Motorsports) sits third in the category standings and the series veteran is looking forward to his team's home race.

Returning to action in C2 this weekend are two competitors who ran strong early in the year. Bay-area resident and businessman Mark Ishikawa (#71 Bay TSP) will see his first action since Round 4, as will talented and determined racer Lee Atkins (#48 Advanced Medical, Inc.) of Washington. Bite Racing's Daryl Leiske (#63 Speedway Motors) has been running well in the C2 class and he hopes that trend continues this weekend.

All Atlantic cars feature 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. This weekend's series schedule in San Jose calls for the cars to practice for the first time Friday from 9-9:30 a.m. local (Pacific) time. The opening-round of qualifying will be held from 1:15-1:45 p.m. Friday. Saturday begins with a practice session from 9-9:15 a.m., while the final round of qualifying will run from 1:15-1:45 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Sunday, the morning warm-up session is scheduled from 8- 8:15 a.m. followed by Round 9 of the Toyota Atlantic Championship, which will take the green flag at 11:15 a.m. Sunday morning. The race is scheduled for 45 laps (65.16 miles) or 50 minutes.

SPEED Channel will provide tape-delayed television coverage of the San Jose Atlantic race on Saturday, August 6 at 1:30 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 Taylor Woodrow Grand Prix of San Jose Toyota Atlantic race

WHERE:  The Streets of San Jose, San Jose California

WHEN: Friday-Sunday, July 29-31

TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local):

FRIDAY, JULY 29 -- 9-9:30 a.m., Practice; 1:15-1:45 p.m., First-Round Qualifying.

SATURDAY, JULY 30 -- 9-9:15 a.m., Practice; 1:15-1:45 p.m., Final Qualifying.

SUNDAY, JULY 31 -- 8-8:15 a.m., Warm-up; 11:15 a.m.-12:05 p.m., Atlantic Race.

U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: SATURDAY, AUGUST 6 -- SPEED Channel, San Jose Grand Prix Atlantic Race, 1:30: p.m. ET (Tape-Delay).

TRACK LAYOUT: 11-turn, 1.448-mile temporary street course
RACE LENGTH: 45 laps (65.16 miles) or 50 minutes

TRACK RECORDS: No track records have been established in San Jose since this marks a new venue in 2005 for the Toyota Atlantic Championship

RACE ROUND: 9 of 12 in the 2005 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama.

NEXT EVENT: August 12-14, Grand Prix of Denver -- Denver, Colorado

-atlantic-

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Grant Ryley , Katherine Legge , Kyle Kelley , David Martinez , Antoine Bessette , Dan Selznick , Charles Zwolsman , Tonis Kasemets , Phil Giebler , Justin Sofio , Andreas Wirth , Lee Atkins , Dan Cobb , Mark Ishikawa , Brian McAtee , Chris Souliotis , Ryan Spencer-Smith