Highland Park, Ill. (February 6, 2001) - As preparations continue for the upcoming season, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship saw more drivers signing for the 2001 stint. The growing line-up of drivers along with a major announcement from...
Highland Park, Ill. (February 6, 2001) - As preparations continue for the upcoming season, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship saw more drivers signing for the 2001 stint. The growing line-up of drivers along with a major announcement from Toyota has enhanced the series as one of the premier training grounds for young drivers trying to make it to the CART Fedex Championship Series.
For the first time in CART's history, the CART Toyota Atlantic championship was included in CART's annual preseason media tour. Sneak Preview, formerly known as Spring Training, gives the media and fans a preview of the upcoming season.
The three-day event began with the Atlantic series participating in CART's All-Star Extravaganza at the Sun Theater in Anaheim, California. Also for the first time ever, CART Toyota Atlantic drivers were included in the yearly All-Star team. Drivers were elected by select members of the media, drivers and a celebrity voter. 2000 Season Champion, Buddy Rice, 2000 Rookie of the year, Daniel Wheldon, and Atlantic's most consistent driver, Rocky Moran Jr. were all honored as they took their place on the team. The trio joined five drivers from the CART FedEx Championshp Series and three more from the CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship. The evening was capped off with a concert by the popular rock band, The Goo-Goo Dolls.
A significant announcement was made the next day as Les Unger, Toyota National Motorsports Manager and Vicki O'Connor, CART Toyota Atlantic President/CEO announced a contract extension for three more years carrying Toyota's title support for the series through the 2003 season. "The success of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is, in a large part, due to the dedicated sponsors of the series, "O'Connor said. "For the past 13 years, Toyota has helped the series grow into one of the premier training ground for open-wheel racers. We are thrilled to have their support for an additional three years."
This announcement was followed by a press conference with the drivers and owners of the CART Toyota
Atlantic Championship. A large turnout of drivers who took part included; Martin Basso, Rocky Moran Jr.,
David Rutledge, Hoover Orsi, Tony Ave, Eric Jensen, DeWayne Cassell, Grant Riley, Jonathan Macri,
Hawk Mazzota, and Zac Mazzota. Daniel Wheldon, who has moved on to race in the Indy Lights
Championship next season, was also there to lend advice to the 2001 rookie crop.
After months of speculation, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship's lone returning All-Star announced plans for the upcoming season. Rocky Moran Jr., who drove for P-1 Racing last year, will take over the driving duties for Condor Motorsports. The California native was the only Atlantic driver to complete every lap run during the 2000 season. Joining Moran Jr. on a re-vamped Condor team will be Frank Dancs. The 37-year old driver from Hillsborough, California moves up to Atlantic after winning the 2000 Formula Russell Championship and after pre-season testing, Dancs seems to have made an easy transition to the Atlantic car.
"I've been looking for a driver of Rocky's talent and am pleased to be able to team Rocky with rookie Frank Dancs to assemble such a strong lineup," said Carlos Bobeda, long time Atlantic competitor and owner of Condor Motorsports. "We have greatly expanded our resources and facilities including a new 12,000 square foot shop near Fontana, California to invigorate our program."
P-1 Racing had already filled the seat vacated by Rocky Moran Jr. with the young Canadian Formula Ford Series Champ, Jonathan Macri. After that, the job at hand was to find drivers for the other remaining seats. Team owner, Bill Fickling struck gold when he signed Tony Ave of Indianapolis, Indiana. Ave is no stranger to Atlantic competition as he won the season opening race at Miami/Homestead in 1996. Ave has raced periodically in the Atlantic Championship, but for the first time since he started in 1993, he is ready to run the full schedule. In 1997, Ave had almost completed a full season in Atlantics but was injured in an accident at Road America while competing in a club race. Because of the injuries sustained in that accident, Ave was unable to compete in the remaining races that season. On the road to recovery, Ave has driven everything from snow mobiles and sprint cars to the SCCA Trans-Am Championship where he finished third at Road America last year.
Joining the P-1 Racing team as engineer will be David Bruns. Bruns, a Swift chassis specialist, has an extensive background working with the Swift chassis the Atlantic series uses. This background encompasses the design of the first seven models including the Swift 007.i Champ car that won its first race at Miami/Homestead in 1997. The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship uses the Swift 008.a chassis on every car competing in the series.
"Tony did a one-off race for us at Trois-Rivieres in 1993," noted P-1 principal Bill Fickling. "Ever since then, he has been on my short list of drivers I would select if the sponsorship could be arranged. This is the year all the pieces have come together with David (Bruns) coming on as well, I feel we will be serious contenders for the championship."
"I have to thank Bill especially, for putting this whole deal together for me," added Ave. "He gave me a few free test days this off-season hoping something would come up financially so we could do this, and it did. This is a dream come true."
With championship contender, Martin Basso on board for the 2001 season, Michael Shank Racing announced that his teammate would be Dayton Indy Lights veteran, Rodolfo Lavin of Mexico. The 23 year old drove the past five years on the Lights circuit; most recently with Brian Stewart Racing in 2000. Corona Extra and Modelo Especial will sponsor Lavin's MSR Swift 008.a, which will carry number 11. Even though this will be Lavin's first year in the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, he is no stranger to many of the tracks that he will be running.
"I think Rodolfo is an excellent addition to our team," said MSR team owner Michael Shank. "He's tested really well with us and has a lot of experience on the tracks we're going to this year, so we're expecting him to have a solid season and to be in a position to win some races."
"Michael Shank Racing has proved over the past several seasons that they are one of the top teams in the Atlantic series, so I think it's the best place for me to be this year," stated Lavin. "From the very first test I felt comfortable with the car and the team, so I'm looking forward to Long Beach and the start of the season."
Hylton Motorsports got down to business as they took their newly retooled team to the track for the first time. Hoover Orsi and the Hylton Motorsports team did a two-day test at Buttonwillow Raceway in California. With new members Kyle Brannon (Director of Engineering) and David Empringham (Driver Development Manager), the Hylton team is truly excited about the prospects going into the 2001 season. Everyone with Hylton felt the opening test was a huge success.
"This was the first time the entire team was together on a track this season, and I am very pleased with our results" said Team Manager Richard Raeder. "I am extremely impressed by the attention to detail by our mechanics, and our ability to run 400 miles without a single problem. The mechanics are the foundation of this team."
"Working with Kyle (Brannon) and David (Empringham) is very nice. They are very smart and experienced. The car is much easier to drive and a lot faster" said Orsi. Orsi continued, " I must thank u.s print for putting this championship team together and supporting my career. Without strong and supportive sponsors, championships are not possible."
Brannan, was pleased with the car's performance. "I was very impressed with Hoover's (Orsi) ability to step into the car with our new setup and drive as well has he did. It usually takes drivers a few days to get comfortable with the setup. He is a very talented and quick driver, and I'm pleased we were within a few hundredths off our target time." commented Brannan.
"I have seen lots of teams over the years and this was an awesome first day" said Empringham. After the first day of testing for 2001 and working closely with driver Hoover Orsi, Empringham confirmed that the young professional is coachable and is positive Hoover will be ready for Champ Cars next season. Empringham continued, "It was a great experience to collaborate with Kyle, and see Hoover (Orsi) execute the ideas and decisions, increasing lap times. It should be a very exciting year at Hylton Motorsports."
Price Cobb and the Cobb Racing Team are expecting to make an announcement any day on their drivers for the 2001 season. The team will be fielding two cars for this season after running a solo entry last year. Bob Perona of Denver, Colorado piloted the Cobb entry last season.
Owner John Brooks and his BBGP Racing team are keeping busy as well. Brooks is planning on fielding a two-car team for the 2001 season and is spanning the globe for the right drivers. In January, Brooks attended a race show in Birmingham, England to talk with European drivers about making the jump across the pond and driving in the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship.
For more information on the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, visit www.toyotaatlantic.com.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is one of the world's richest open-wheel development series and is a key rung on CART's "ladder system". It is also noted for its long history of graduating its stars into CART competition. Among the drivers who have graduated from the Atlantic Series are CART Champ Car stars Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Barron, Memo Gidley, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, former Champ Car stars Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan, as well as 1997 FIA Formula One Champion Jacques Villeneuve.