Cleveland preview



CLEVELAND, Ohio (July 8) - - The battle for the KOOL/TOYOTA Atlantic Championship has taken on a five-driver twist as the series heads to Cleveland, Ohio, where the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum will present round six of the 12-race KOOL/TOYOTA Atlantic Championship, sanctioned by SCCA Pro Racing, on Sunday, July 13. The 25-lap, 59.225-mile sprint around the 2.369-mile temporary road circuit at Burke Lakefront Airport is scheduled to begin at 11:45 a.m., and is the featured support race to the PPG CART World Series Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland later that day. Championship leader Alex Barron, of Vista, Calif., and Anthony Lazzaro, of Acworth, Ga., are locked in a tight chase for this year's crown. Barron leads the standings with 60 points heading into Cleveland while Lazzaro is a close second with 57 points. Barron has proven to be a wizard on one-mile ovals with consecutive wins at Nazareth and Milwaukee, but his prowess around Montreal's sleek road circuit one race ago and his subsequent second place showing ended any doubts as to road racing skills. Even more impressive is the fact that Barron started from the pole in each of his victories and led the entire 60-laps per win. Cleveland will only be Barron's sixth start in an Atlantic car. The 27-year-old Atlantic rookie was signed in December to drive Lynx Racings second Atlantic car. Barron has been a regional, state and national karting champion since 1985 and ran FF2000 in 1996 where he scored a "fastest lap" and podium finish in the last race, and finished in the top-ten six times during the intensely competitive series that routinely starts fields of 40 or more cars. Lazzaro cracked the winner's circle in the season opening Toyota Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead Motorsports Complex. He claimed second-place honors at Long Beach in round two, but he was temporarily derailed in round three at Nazareth when a mid-race incident with another driver ended his day in the turn one wall and 25th place. Subsequent sixth and fifth place finishes at Milwaukee and Montreal, respectively, have propelled him back into title contention. Barron's Lynx Racing teammate, Memo Gidley, of San Rafael, Calif., is hot on the trail of both front-runners with 53 points. Gidley, who is coming of back-to-back third-place outings at Milwaukee and Montreal, also visited the podium in his Atlantic debut at Homestead as runner-up to Lazzaro. The 27-year-old Californian hasnt surprised anyone with his ability to race up front. Gidley was asked to step into the shoes of 1996 Atlantic champion Carpentier last winter and accept all of the pressures inherent to the job. His racing past is loaded with podium moxie that includes bicycles, motorcycles and karts, as well as the USAC Russell Championship Series, Shelby Pro Series, Formula Ford 2000 and Barber Dodge Pro Series. Fourth in points with 49, Canadian Alexandre Tagliani, of Lachenaie, Que., is poised to return to the top of the Atlantic leader board - a spot he held one race earlier entering Montreal. Tagliani's season has been like a roller coaster ride with lows ranging 30th place at Montreal to a win at Long Beach, and a third place showing at Nazareth Speedway. Look for Tagliani to make a solid run in the Players Forsythe Racing Ralt RT 40. Player's Forsythe Racing is also showcasing another French Canadian driver in Bertrand Godin, of St. Hyacinthe, Que. Godin stunned Atlantic followers in Montreal when he won the pole, and then proceeded to win after leading the last 26 laps of the 27-lap race. The affable Godin ran part-time in Indy Lights in 1996 with stops at Toronto, Trois-Rivieres, Vancouver, and Laguna Seca. Case Montgomery, of Salinas, Calif., has kept a steady pace by scoring podium finishes at Homestead (third) and Nazareth (second), but a top-five finish is almost a "must do" at Cleveland in order for "Monty" to mount a second half title run. He stands in sixth place with 38 points. 1996 U.S. Formula Ford 2000 National Champion Steve Knapp, of Salem, Wis., has shown that he can jump up and become a checkered flag reality. Fifth and fourth place finishes at Long Beach and Nazareth, respectively, have maneuvered him into a second-half title fight with 37 points, and seventh place entering Cleveland. Knapp was a four-time race winner in the 1996 U.S. Formula Ford National Championship with victories at Richmond (Va.), Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio, and Las Vegas. A two-way tie has surfaced for eighth place between rookie David Pook, of Long Beach, and Eric Lang, of New York City. Each has 36 points. Pook missed the season opener, but has rebounded with sixth place finishes at Nazareth and Montreal, and a second place showing at Milwaukee. Lang proved in 1996 that he has the talent to compete with the higher echelon drivers of Atlantic competition despite running on an inadequate budget. This year, Langs racing program under D & L Racing has been upgraded, and three top-10 finishes including fourth place at Montreal suggest that Lang is ready to assert himself among the front-runners. Langs best showing in 96 was fourth place at Toronto. Veteran Trans-Am driver and 1996 Homestead Atlantic winner Tony Ave, of Indianapolis, Ind., scored fifth and fourth place finishes, respectively, at Nazareth and Milwaukee, and quietly needs a solid performance at Cleveland to jump start his season. Ave rounds out the top-10 with 33 points. First-year Atlantic driver Joao Barbosa, of Valongo, Portugal, surprised series veterans and followers alike when he scored back-to-back fourth place finishes in the opening two races this year. The 1995 Italian Formula Europa Boxer National Champion is in 11th place with 31 points. Chuck West, of Sonoma, Calif., only ran a five-race schedule in 1996 but five top-10 finishes including three podium stops were enough to persuade him to take it full time in 1997. West, who is currently 13th in the standings with 22 points, is scored electrifying fifth place finish at Milwaukee after starting 18th in round three. He opened the season by winning the pole at Homestead, and he finished sixth place at Long Beach. West expanded his World Speed Motorsports program last winter to include a second car for rookie driver Mark Tague, of Laguna Hills, Calif. A field of more than 30 cars is expected to take the "standing start" at Burke Lakefront Airport with an array of Atlantic veterans and rookies including Cleveland hometown favorite Ted Sahley; Cam Binder, of Calgary, Alta.; Kenny Wilden, of Burlington, Ont.; Michael David, of Corona, Calif.; and the PPI/MCI tandem of Jeret Schroeder, of Vineland, N.J., and 1992 Toyota Atlantic champion Chris Smith, of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. ESPN2 will broadcast round six of the KOOL/TOYOTA Atlantic Championship, presented by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Saturday, July 19, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET. RDS (French) will telecast the race Friday, July 18, between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

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Series Atlantic
Drivers Memo Gidley , Jeret Schroeder , Tony Ave , Alex Barron , Anthony Lazzaro , Steve Knapp , Joao Barbosa , Chris Smith , Bertrand Godin , Eric Lang