Valiante's Career Shifts Into a Higher Gear After a Successful Champ Car Debut in Mexico City, Rising Canadian Open-Wheel Star Michael Valiante Tests Dale Coyne's Champ Car and Will Co-Drive the Ten Motorsports Prototype at the 24 Hours of Daytona
Rising Canadian open-wheel racing star Michael Valiante shifted his career into a higher gear by out-qualifying and then out-racing a number of vastly more experienced drivers in his Champ Car debut with Walker Racing in Mexico City.
As a result of that performance and a year of behind-the-scenes work -- Valiante was invited to participate in a test at Sebring with Dale Coyne's Champ Car team, where he was the fastest of six drivers being tested by two different teams.
In a second development, Valiante has signed a deal with Rob Finaly's Ten Motorsports to co-drive the team's #19 Riley/BMW Daytona Prototype in the 2005 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona February 3 6. He tests with the Ten Motorsports team January 5, 67 at Daytona.
"Things were stuck in neutral for a while; there was a lot of interest from various teams, and I flew to some races expecting to drive, but somehow I never seemed to get in the car," says Valiante, who finished 2nd in the super-competitive Atlantic championship in 2002, and 3rd in 2003. "The Mexico City race seems to have broken the log jam, and two different Champ Car teams are working to find the funding to run me in 2005. I'm also pleased to add a page to my resume with a drive at Daytona with a team that is not only capable of winning, but is made up of people I know and have worked with before. It's too early for congratulations, and I have to keep up my own sponsor-hunting efforts, but I'm feeling cautiously optimistic."
The Dale Coyne Champ Car test took place on the 1.67-mile road circuit in Sebring, Florida. Also testing during the same 2-day period were Valiante's former Lynx Racing Atlantic teammate, American Bryan Sellers and Australian F3 and F3000 veteran Marcus Marshall. Also testing at the same time was the Forsythe Indeck Champ Car team, who ran Canadian Atlantic hotshoe Andrew Ranger and Monterey, Mexico Atlantic winner Alex Figge.
Valiante was able to complete 110 laps in Coyne's #11 yokeTV.com Ford- Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone, and posted the fastest time of the two-day test with a lap of 51.88 seconds. (Note: In earlier testing with the Walker Racing team, Valiante was also faster than 2004 Atlantic champion Ryan Dalziel and Jordan F1 driver Timo Glock).
"The day went very well and with just a bit more time to make adjustments we could have been a good bit quicker," said Valiante. "We had a few minor mechanical issues at the start that we had to work through, but the Coyne team is very professional and we just kept getting faster and faster. Dale Coyne is well known for his ability to spot and develop talent, and I want to thank him for giving me another chance to prove that I deserve a spot on the Champ Car grid for 2005."
Valiante went directly from his Champ Car test at Sebring to the Ten Motorsports Daytona Prototype test at Homestead Raceway south of Miami. There, after familiarizing himself with the first fendered, hard-top race car he has ever driven, he turned comparable times to Ten Motorsports' 2005 driver team, Champ Car veteran (and fellow Lynx Racing graduate) Memo Gidley, as well as Michael McDowell, who won the 2004 Star Formula Mazda championship with a dominant performance of six pole positions and seven victories.
"Driving a car with fenders and a roof for the first time was a really different experience," says Valiante. "We were running the car really hard, but from the driver's seat, things happen more slowly than in an open-wheel car. It's a different kind of challenge, to balance speed with mechanical reliability and race strategy to make sure you're in front when the checkered flag finally drops. The great thing about this team is that we're all equally fast, and will be working with top professionals on the other side of the wall."
The management, driver coaching and engineering staff on the Ten Motorsports team includes brothers Steve and Rick Cameron, who have served the same functions for all three drivers previously. The duo guided the early open- wheel careers of both Gidley and Valiante at the prestigious Lynx Racing driver development program, helped develop the current generation of Star Mazda race cars, and provided consulting services to the Valley Motorsports team with which McDowell won his championship.
"The advantage that Ten Motorsports brings to Daytona and to the chase for the 2005 Rolex Grand American Sports Car Series championship is these drivers," says Ten Motorsports team manager Steve Cameron. "To be competitive in this series, you have to be able to run these cars at the limit for hours at a time without breaking the hardware or going off the road. All three of these drivers and one more whom we'll announce soon -- have proved they can do that in open- wheel cars, and we're confident they can transfer those talents to this particular form of racing."
Valiante is enthused about his opportunity to go head-to-head with many of the world's greatest drivers at the Daytona race on February 3 7, but he also wants to be certain that no one mistakes where his focus lies.
"I'm excited about getting to drive at Daytona, and perhaps at some of the other long races that don't conflict with the Champ Car schedule," says Valiante. "Champ Car is what I've been working towards all along in my career; it's where I wanted to be and it's where I continue to put my focus. I'm just starting to get a little traction there, and I think that the series has some strength now where the costs are under control and it has something to offer sponsors with network television in the U.S. and Canada and major cable channels in Europe, South America, Asia and around the world. In the next few years, Champ Cars along with Formula One will be `it' for the top drivers in the world, and that's where I want to be."
Valiante competed in the Mexico City Champ Car race with sponsorship from JV Investments, Lynx Racing, Italkart, Wasteco, Serengeti Design Group, CMSI Canadian Mortgage Strategies & Investments and Premier Pacific Developments.
Valiante and Memo Gidley (who has also driven for Dale Coyne during his Champ Car career) are graduates of Lynx Racing, the most unique and successful driver development program in the history of open-wheel racing.
Throughout its 14-year history, Lynx Racing's mission has been to identify rising stars in the open wheel ranks, and provide them with the funding, training and equipment to make the jump to the top levels of open-wheel racing. Created and owned by two women, Peggy Haas and Jackie Doty, the 2-year, $2.5 million Lynx `scholarship' produced such drivers as this year's Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice, 2002 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Alex Barron, and Champ Car veterans Patrick Carpentier and Memo Gidley as well as the team's most recent graduate, Bryan Sellers.