Champ Car Ladder news - Maia to test RuSPORT Toyota Atlantic car
INDIANAPOLIS (September 30, 2003) - Following through on an agreement announced during the Grand Prix of Monterey weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in June, officials from the CART Champ Car Ladder System and Skip Barber Racing, LLC announced today that 2003 Barber Dodge Pro Series champion Leo Maia will participate in a two-day test with the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic championship-winning team, RuSPORT, at Sebring International Raceway on Wednesday and Thursday, October 1-2.
The 22-year-old from Oakland, Calif. earned the test as well as the Barber Dodge Pro Series title on the strength of a series record-tying six victories and a total of eight podium finishes in the 10-race championship. By scoring 188 championship points, Maia tied the record for most points in a single Barber Dodge season established by 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship champion A.J. Allmendinger, who also had 188 markers at the end of his Barber Dodge championship-winning season last year.
"I'm really looking forward to my first Toyota Atlantic test," Maia said. "Not only will I get my first taste of the Atlantic car, but I will also be testing with the top team in the championship. This is a tremendous opportunity for me and I hope to learn as much as I possibly can over the two days. The Barber Dodge Pro Series has prepared me well to take the next step on the Champ Car Ladder, and hopefully I can use this opportunity to impress a few team owners. I think A.J. Allmendinger has shown, and will continue to show, that the Champ Car Ladder System is a huge success. Hopefully I will be able follow him right up to the top."
Maia will drive RuSPORT's Toyota-powered, Yokohama-shod Swift 014.a for two days on the same Sebring circuit that is utilized by Champ Car teams for testing purposes, and the test begins three days after RuSPORT put the wraps on a phenomenal first season of Toyota Atlantic competition. During the 2003 Toyota Atlantic season, Allmendinger piloted one of the team's bright yellow machines to seven victories and tied the series single season record for most pole positions with nine, and clinched the title in Round 11 at Denver.
Rookie Aaron Justus placed fifth in the championsip, and between Allmendinger and Justus, the team earned 12 podium finishes. Maia is already quite familiar with RuSPORT, as he was paired with the team during the weekend at Denver as part of the CART Champ Car Mentor Program, and accompanied the team to its Loveland, Colo. base following the race to be fitted to the car and have a seat poured for him to use during the test.
"RuSPORT entered the 2003 season with two rookie drivers: Aaron from the FF200 championship and A.J. from Barber Dodge (having come through the entire ladder system)," said RuSPORT president Jeremy Dale. "So it is clear that we believe in and embrace driver development and therefore want to do whatever we can to support the process. The ladder that CART has developed is unprecedented in international motorsports and should be recognized as such. We won the Toyota Atlantic Championship this year with a rookie driver and also finished first and second in rookie points, so clearly the system works, but we must continue to support it, and we do so with enthusiasm."
The test was made possible in large part thanks to the participation of several CART Toyota Atlantic Championship partners, including Toyota, Yokohama, Toyota Racing Development (TRD), BG Products, and Bosch. Toyota and TRD will supply selected engine parts, while Yokohama will contribute tires and will also lend technical support. BG Products will cover Maia's travel costs and will offer product support in the form of lubricants and cleaners for the car as well as the team's transporters, and Bosch has provided a credit toward its products including spark plugs, injectors, and fuel pumps.
"I am grateful to our partners for stepping in and providing such tremendous support for this test," said CART Toyota Atlantic Championship president Vicki O'Connor, who will be present at the test in Sebring. "Leo showed extraordinary ability throughout the 2003 Barber Dodge Pro Series season, and I am excited to see what he will do in his first time behind the wheel of a Toyota Atlantic car. I am sure that RuSPORT will give Leo a great car for the test, and I'm also confident that he will make the most of this wonderful opportunity. This test should be extremely beneficial to Leo as he works on putting together a program to join us in Toyota Atlantic, and I look forward to seeing him in one of our cars next season."
Maia becomes the first Barber Dodge Pro Series champion to receive a RuSPORT Toyota Atlantic test but the team has pledged to provide a Toyota Atlantic test to the Barber Dodge champion in each of the next two racing seasons as well. In addition to the test, he will also receive a $100,000 Barber-Champ Car Career Enhancement Award designed to assist his efforts to take the next step on the Champ Car Ladder into the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship for 2004.
"This is a great opportunity for Leo, obviously," said Rick Roso, motorsports marketing manager for the CART-Champ Car Barber Dodge Pro Series. "RuSPORT, in just one year's time, has proved to be an absolute top-notch Toyota Atlantic team, so these two test days are a perfect reflection of how the Champ Car Ladder system works. A.J. Allmendinger, the 2002 Barber Dodge champion, as well as Ryan Hunter-Reay and Michael Valiente, are just the most recent examples of how well the system does work. We're extremely pleased that (RuSPORT owner) Carl Russo and Jeremy Dale have stepped up to the plate in this committed fashion. To make possible this testing program for each year's Barber Dodge champion is great for every faction within CART-Champ Car open-wheel racing."
Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (NYSE: MPH) owns, operates and markets Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. CART also owns and operates its top development series, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, and sanctions the Barber Dodge Pro Series as part of a marketing partnership with Skip Barber, LLC. The Barber Dodge Pro Series serves as the Official Entry Level Professional Race Series of CART Champ Car. For more information about the CART Champ Car Ladder System, log onto www.champcarworldseries.com and click on the respective links to the Toyota Atlantic Championship, Barber Dodge Pro Series, Formula Dodge National Championship and Champ Car Stars of Tomorrow.