TAGLIANI MAKES IT TWO STRAIGHT AT TROIS-RIVIERES; BENTHAM TAKES OVER LEAD IN POINTS WITH FIVE TO GO TROIS-RIVIERES, Que. - Alex Tagliani of nearby Lachenaie, Que., led from start to finish to win Sunday's Player's Challenge for the ...
TAGLIANI MAKES IT TWO STRAIGHT AT TROIS-RIVIERES; BENTHAM TAKES OVER LEAD IN POINTS WITH FIVE TO GO
TROIS-RIVIERES, Que. - Alex Tagliani of nearby Lachenaie, Que., led from start to finish to win Sunday's Player's Challenge for the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship race at the Player's Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres, making it two straight victories for the fiery Player's-Forsythe driver. Tagliani won two weeks ago at Toronto, then defended his victory here last year with a nearly perfect weekend.
Tagliani, in the Player's Forsythe-Indeck Swift 008.a, had to fight off the early challenges of Anthony Lazzaro before eventually beating him by 1.276 seconds at the famed Quebec temporary road course - the 23rd time North America's richest open-wheel development series has competed in Trois-Rivieres. Tagliani's teammate Lee Bentham, who won the opening round of the Player's Challenge at Montreal, finished third. Bentham now leads the drivers' championship with 100 points, ousting Memo Gidley, who led the standings for the first seven races. Tagliani's victory moved him into a second-place tie with Gidley at 98 points. Tagliani earned the $20,000 winner's share of the guaranteed $85,000 race purse.
Tagliani, and the Player's-Forsythe team, is clearly on the rise, after two straight victories and three victories in the past four races for the team - all Player's Challenge events. Tagliani leads the Player's Challenge points standings with 60. Bentham is second with 52, followed by Kenny Wilden at 33 points, Matt Sielsky at 32 and Andrew Bordin at 28.
"Anthony put a lot of pressure on me at the start of the race. I knew he was very quick, but I had to make sure not to make a mistake," Tagliani said. "I had a conversation with Player's coach Richard Spenard before the race, and he basically told me to stay on the track and make sure to not give Lazzaro any opportunity to pass. I never stopped pushing as hard as I could, and I it was only with eight laps to go that I lifted ever so slightly because my oil temperature was starting to get a little bit too high."
Lazzaro, in the PPI/MCI Swift 008.a, again knocked on the door to victory, but came up a little shy. "The MCI team did a great job this weekend and the car was super. At about the half-way point, the temperatures in the car started getting extremely high," Lazzaro said. "I would've loved to have raced with Alex some more because he is very fun to race with. I saw Lee (Bentham) in the mirrors and had to push harder, and I didn't know if the car would be able to take it. I wanted to win so bad this week; the team is so deserving of a victory."
Bentham was in a race-long battle with Gidley for third-place, which ultimately meant the lead in the championship. Bentham, of Richmond Hill, Ont., started sixth - two places behind Gidley - and knew he had to at least beat Gidley, if he couldn't win.
"It was tough out there getting a draft anywhere. I just kept working on Memo, trying to gain a 10th of a second each lap," Bentham said. "Then he got a little 'squirrely' at one turn and missed a shift, and then I got by him. I had to work on him a lot. I didn't know if I could catch Lazzaro, so I slowed a bit so I could keep my place and the lead in the championship. Now that we've got the lead, we've just got to keep it, and maybe put some distance between us and the field. It's going to be difficult now because all of the other teams are running the same machinery."
If the Player's Challenge events have been wonderful for Tagliani and Bentham, the same could not be said for Gidley and his Lynx Racing team. Gidley won three of the first four races and built a commanding lead early, but has struggled since. "The car was actually pretty good in the opening stages, but it deteriorated during the race. I tried every adjustment I could make, but it would oversteer, then understeer. I realized that I had a fourth- or fifth-place car, and that's what I was going to finish with."
Wilden, in the Mike Shank Racing - TrizecHahn/Newcourt/Swift 008.a, qualified second, but jumped the gun at the start and was pulled in for a stop-and-go penalty, dropping him to 13th on lap six. He eventually worked himself back up to place seventh. Andrew Bordin, in the B.D.J.S.-Millennium Data Services/Ralt RT-41, qualified and finished fifth. Jeff Shafer was impressive throughout the weekend in his PPI-Derek Daly Academy/ Swift 008.a, starting ninth and finishing a season-best sixth.
Local hero Jacques Villeneuve of nearby St. Cuthbert, Que., who raced to success in the Atlantics in the 1980s, made his first series start since 1994, jumping into the RDS Motorsports - AGIP/Unipro/ Ralt RT-41. Villeneuve, brother of the beloved Gilles and uncle to the F1 champion of the same name, was running well before early-race contact ended his day. He finished 31st.
Tagliani also posted the fastest race lap at 1:02.147 to win $1,000 and the "MCI Fast Pace" award. Bordin was the highest-placing rookie and won $1,000 and the "KOOL Rookie Challenge". Jean-Francois Dumoulin of Trois-Rivieres started 20th and finished 10th to earn $1,000 and the "KOOL Move of the Race" and the $1,000 "Yokohama Now You've Got Control" honor.
ESPN2 will televise Sunday's Round 8 at Trois-Rivieres on Saturday, Aug. 8, at 4 p.m., with repeat broadcasts on Sunday, Aug. 9, at 12:30 a.m., Monday, Aug. 10, at 5 a.m., and Sunday, Nov. 22, at 3 a.m. ESPN International will telecast the race on Saturday, Aug., 8, at 2 p.m. CTV will air it on Saturday, Aug. 15, at 3 p.m., while RDS will broadcast the race on Sunday, Aug. 2, at 3 p.m., immediately after the race ends. All times are Eastern. The KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship continues Sunday, Aug. 9, at the Miller Lite 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.