And Then There Were Two . . . Only One Obstacle Remains Between Jon Fogarty And The 2002 Toyota Atlantic Championship BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (Aug. 28, 2002) - Two things are certain as the 2002 Toyota Atlantic Championship is decided this weekend...
And Then There Were Two . . . Only One Obstacle Remains Between Jon Fogarty And The 2002 Toyota Atlantic Championship
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (Aug. 28, 2002) - Two things are certain as the 2002 Toyota Atlantic Championship is decided this weekend at Shell Grand Prix of Denver.
First, Dorricott Racing's Jon Fogarty, of Portola Valley, Calif., is one of only two drivers remaining who can win the Atlantic Championship at Denver. Fogarty, who is the 2002 Toyota Atlantic Rookie of the Year, is also figuring to become the first driver to win the season opening race (Monterrey, Mexico) and continue to win a Championship since Mark Dismore did it in 1990.
Second, third place Alex Gurney, of Newport Beach, Calif., and Luis Diaz of Mexico City, aren't the least biased in which teammate wins the Denver inaugural as long as Fogarty and Dorricott Racing win the Atlantic Championship in its very first year of Atlantic competition.
The 38 lap (62.70 miles) Atlantic sprint around the nine-turn, 1.65-mile newly created downtown street circuit is scheduled to drop the green flag at 3:30 p.m. MT. It is the featured support event for the Shell Grand Prix of Denver CART FedEx Championship race to be run on Sunday, Sept. 1.
There are no keys to winning at Denver yet because the Atlantic Championship has never before raced in Denver. It will be for all intents and purposes a neutral track that will play host to one of the closest and fiercest Championship battles in the 29-year history of the series.
This year's Atlantic Championship is the closest since 1995 when Californian Richie Hearn entered the season ending event at Laguna Seca with a two-point lead over Canadian David Empringham. Hearn would place second in that event just ahead of Empringham to capture the title by only four points.
As in 1995, the 2002 Championship will turn between an American and a Canadian. Michael Valiante, of Burnaby, BC, Canada, enters the season finale with only a six-point margin over Fogarty, 146-140. The Champion will join a distinguished list of Atlantic Champions such as Patrick Carpentier, Michael Andretti, and Gilles & Jacques Villeneuve.
Fogarty nearly regained the points lead last week at the Molson Indy Montreal when Valiante suffered a flat tire that dropped him back to 27th place early in the race. However, Valiante was able to maneuver to a seventh place finish and earn nine Championship points.
Meanwhile, Fogarty, who wrapped up the 2002 Rookie of the Year Award at Montreal, showed Championship savvy in avoiding unnecessary risk of contact in a late race pass by Rocky Moran Jr. Fogarty visited the podium in second place and softened Valiante's lead from 14 to six points.
Fogarty is a proven, time-tested road racer. Besides winning the season opener at Monterrey, Mexico, Fogarty's championship foundation is glued by nine top-five finishes. The downside to the lack of wins is that if the two drivers come out of Denver tied in points, Valiante would win the Championship in the tie-breaker based on his three wins versus Fogarty's one. Therefore, Fogarty must gain seven points on Valiante to win the Championship.
That margin could be narrowed before the race because of the two bonus points up for grabs in Friday and Saturday qualifying. On the year, Fogarty has earned seven Championship points by winning poles and provisional poles compared to only three points by Valiante. Both drivers have earned two bonus points each for leading the most laps in a race.
Valiante has only qualified well in one event in 2002 when he won the pole at Trois-Rivieres. Dorricott Racing, meanwhile, has ruled Atlantic qualifying by capturing six of 11 pole positions. Diaz earned poles at Monterrey, Mexico, and Portland, while Fogarty led qualifying at Chicago, Toronto, Road America, and last weekend at Montreal.
Fogarty has started 10 of 11 in the first two rows. His Atlantic-leading four pole positions have complemented with outside poles at Portland and Cleveland, and second row grid spots at Monterrey, Long Beach, Laguna Seca, and Trois-Rivieres (4th). His worst starting position has been sixth at Milwaukee.
Besides seeking to win the Atlantic Championship in his rookie Atlantic season, he is also attempting to become the first driver to win the season opening race (Monterrey, Mexico) and continue to win a Championship since Mark Dismore did it in 1990.
All of Valiante's wins have been on temporary street circuits like Denver with wins at Long Beach, Toronto, and Trois-Rivieres.
It should be remembered, however, that Valiante's victory at Toronto was tainted by an illegal pass. On the lap six restart, Valiante, who was in third place at the time, charged to the inside of Gurney and Fogarty heading into Turn 1. Valiante ducked low nearly striking the wall before completing the pass of Fogarty and Gurney. Fogarty battled Valiante down the long straight heading into Turn 3. As the pair jockeyed for position, Diaz made tire-to-tire contact with the rear of Fogarty's car sending Diaz airborne into the tire wall. The incident eliminated both of the Dorricott cars from the race that otherwise would not have been in that predicament had Valiante not illegally passed them.
Valiante continued unchallenged for the next 29 laps to win the race. Five hours after the race had ended, CART determined that Valiante's off-course maneuver was illegal.
Valiante entered and exited Turn One on lap six with all four wheels of his car clearly below and outside the defined race track surface. This immediately improved him two positions over Fogarty and Gurney. Television videotape clearly showed the violation, but corner workers failed to report the violation to CART Atlantic officials. CART Toyota Atlantic Championship Stewards determined that Valiante had shortcutted the course but he was only assessed a minimal five-point penalty.
Although the Championship is now a two-driver fight this weekend, they won't have the track to themselves to decide who the champion will be. Third place is equally as close with Gurney and Diaz taking the limelight.
Gurney and Diaz are in third and fourth, respectively, 117-114. While Gurney is still looking for his first career Atlantic win, Diaz has captured two checkered flags this season at Portland and Road America. Now the two will vie for third place while also seeking to hold off a late season rally from Montreal race winner Rocky Moran Jr. His win in Montreal put Moran Jr., who is competing in his fourth full season in Atlantic, in position to score his best finish in the standings since his fifth place in 2000. Moran has 110 points.
Gurney has been a consistent high qualifier and finisher all season. He was race runner-up at Trois-Rivieres, and fifth place at each of the other Canadian races in Toronto and Montreal. He finished second place at Long Beach, and has qualified seven times in the first two rows as well as being a leading contender in nearly every race. Gurney earned championship bonus points at Toronto and Trois-Rivieres for winning the provisional poles, and has started in row two in five races.
Speed Channel will broadcast Saturday's 2002 Atlantic season finale from Denver LIVE on Saturday, August 31, at 5:30 p.m. ET (2:30 p.m. PT).