Denver: Event preview

The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship Round 12, Shell Grand Prix Of Denver August 30-31, 2002, Denver, Colorado Round 12 of the 12-event CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will be held on the 1.65-mile temporary street course in downtown Denver,...

The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship
Round 12, Shell Grand Prix Of Denver
August 30-31, 2002, Denver, Colorado

Round 12 of the 12-event CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will be held on the 1.65-mile temporary street course in downtown Denver, as Saturday's feature event at the Shell Grand Prix of Denver in Denver, Colorado. Saturday's race will be the inageral event for the Championship on the streets of Denver.

The CART-sanctioned Toyota Atlantic Championship is the top rung on CART's "Ladder System", and is 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, Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani, former Champ Car stars Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan, as well as 1997 FIA Formula One Champion, Jacques Villeneuve.

Atlantic Schedule at Denver:

Friday, August 30:
Practice 11:45 a.m. -- 12:25 p.m.
Qualifying 4:00 p.m. -- 4:30 p.m.

Saturday, August 31:
Qualifying 9:00 a.m. -- 9:40 a.m.
RACE 3:30 p.m. -- 4:45 p.m. (38 laps/62.70 miles)

Race Preview: "Rocky Mountain Showdown" - Valiante and Fogarty to Settle 2002 Championship on the Streets of Denver.

Little did anyone know when the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship chose to finish out its 2002 season on the streets of Denver, that it would be a landmark event in the tradition rich series. Not only will the event, located at the base of the Rocky Mountains, be the first time the Atlantic Championship has competed in Denver, it will also play host to one of the closest and fiercest Championship battles in the 29 year history of the series.

This year's fight for the Championship is the closest since 1995 when American, 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.

Like the 1995 season ending battle, the 2002 Championship will once again come down to a duel between an American and Canadian driver. Burnaby, BC, Canada's Michael Valiante (Lynx Racing Swift 014.a) and Portola Valley, California's Jon Fogarty (Dorricott Racing/Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Swift 014.a) enter the season finale on Denver's 1.65-mile temporary street circuit locked in a six point battle that will see one of the two drivers join a list of Atlantic Champions such as Patrick Carpentier, Michael Andretti, and Gilles & Jacques Villeneuve by the end of the weekend. Valiante, who has taken three wins this season, holds the six point advantage over Fogarty.

Valiante nearly lost the points lead last week at the Molson Indy Montreal when a flat tire dumped him back to 27th place early in the race. However, Valiante showed a true Champions metal by storming back through the field to finish seventh. He earned nine Championship points that looked all but impossible to gain after the flat tire put him in the pits. Meanwhile, Fogarty, who wrapped up the 2002 Rookie of the Year Award last weekend, went into Championship mode by not risking contact in a late race pass by Rocky Moran Jr. (Sigma Autosport/Sunoco/BG Products Swift 014.a). Fogarty would finish the race in second closing the gap on Valiante from 14 to six points.

Although Fogarty only has one win, he has placed nine top-five finishes which has put him in position to win the Championship this weekend. 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 tiebreaker based on his three wins versus Fogarty's one. Therefore, Fogarty must gain seven points on Valiante to win the Championship. All of Valiante's wins have been on temporary street circuits like Denver. With victories coming at Long Beach, Toronto, and Trois-Rivieres, Valiante should be one of the favorites to win in Denver as well.

That gap could be narrowed before the 3:30 p.m. MST race because of the two bonus points up for grabs in Friday and Saturday qualifying. By winning poles and provisional poles, Fogarty has earned seven Championship points compared to only three points taken by Valiante. Without the bonus point advantage Fogarty has, his margin to makeup this weekend would have been in double figures instead of just six points. Both drivers have earned two bonus points each for leading the most laps in a race.

Although the Championship has came down to 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 and more drivers have a shot at that position. Fogarty's teammates, Alex Gurney (Dorricott Racing/Behr Castrol Swift 014.a) and Luis Diaz (Dorricott Racing/Telmex Swift 014.a) hold the third and fourth spot in the Championship with 117 and 114 points respectively. While Gurney is still looking for his first career Atlantic win, Diaz has captured two checkered flags this season. Now the two teammates will have to duke it out with each other for third in the Championship along with holding off the hard charge from Rocky Moran Jr., who won last week in Montreal. The win in Montreal put Moran Jr., who is competing in his fourth full season in Atlantic, in position to place his best finish in the standings since his fifth place in 2000 which landed him on the inaugural CART Toyota Atlantic Championship All-Star team. Last week's victory in Montreal was the first of the season for Moran Jr.; and possibly could have been his second in a row. Two weeks ago, Moran Jr. spun off course at Road America after contact with eventual winner, Luis Diaz. Moran's 110 points put him right in the fight with the Dorricott drivers and should be as good of a battle as the one for the Championship.

Before the Championship hit the three race home stretch starting at Road America, Ryan Hunter-Reay (Autobytel/Andor Capital Mangement/Medlock Ames Winery Swift 014.a) was right in the thick of the Championship battle with Valiante and Fogarty. The Boca Raton, Florida driver had posted wins at Laguna Seca, Chicago, and Cleveland and looked like he would give Hylton Motorsports its second straight Championship after winning last year with Brazil's Hoover Orsi. The hopes were sidetracked with non points producing finishes at Road America and Montreal and now Hunter-Reay finds himself struggling just to land a top five position in the Championship. Hunter-Reay now stands sixth in the Championship with 102 points; and although he has not finished on podium since the middle of July, he is still a threat to win this weekend and finish out the season in the top-five.

Jonathan Macri (P-1 Racing/NTN Bearings/Miller Genuine Draft/Battlefield Equipment Rentals Swift 014.a) placed fifth in last year's Championship, but will not be able to repeat that performance in 2002. Macri has had strong races producing runner-up finishes in Portland and Toronto, but various contact incidents have knocked him out of Championship contention. Macri, who is seventh in the Championship with 85 points, will look to hold his position this weekend from Rodolfo Lavin (Michael Shank Racing/Corona/Modelo Swift 014.a) and the hard charging Scotsman, Ryan Dalziel (Hylton Motorsports/Telemetry Swift 014.a).

Lavin trails Macri by nine points heading into the final race while Dalziel, who is tenth in the Championship is only 13 points behind. Dalziel, who ran his first race of the season last week with Hylton Motorsports, will most likely take over ninth place from Roger Yasukawa by default. Yasukawa occupied the seat that Dalziel is now in for nine races this season. At the half-way point of the 2002 Championship, Yasukawa was in third place only seven points out of the lead, but a series of incidents in the second half of the season ended his season pre-maturely. Lavin grabbed his sole podium finish with a runner-up performance at the Milwaukee Mile.

Dalziel ran the first ten races of the season with Michael Shank Racing placing a runner-up finish at the season opening event in Monterrey, Mexico. Then last week in his first race with Hylton Motorsports, Dalziel was again on the podium with a third place showing in Montreal. With eleventh place Waldemar Coronas (Scuadra Fortia/Aviacsa/Royse/ Maizoro/ Millenio Swift 014.a) 23 points back, the drivers in the top ten are fairly set and will not have to worry about holding their spot in the group.

Joey Hand (DSTP Motorsports/BG Products Swift 014.a) is four points behind Coronas and an eleventh place finish in the Championship would be remarkable considering Hand missed six races this year. The 2001 Rookie of the Year entered this year's Championship with high hopes; but a May testing accident in Milwaukee sidelined the title hopeful until the event in Trois-Rivieres. 2000 Champion, Buddy Rice, drove five races for DSTP while Hand mended from the injuries.

It will be a homecoming race for Boulder, Colorado's Alex Figge (Worldspeed Motorsports/Northern Trust/Redline/ Ironclad/Wine Country Motorsports Swift 014.a). Figge is coming off his best road course finish of the season last week in Montreal and should be pumped up racing in his home state. Figge is mired back in 17th in the Championship, but solid results this weekend could move him as high as 14th to finish out the season.

-cart/atlantic-

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Alex Gurney , Ryan Dalziel , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Jon Fogarty , Richie Hearn , Hoover Orsi , Michael Valiante , Joey Hand , Jonathan Macri , Rocky Moran Jr. , Luis Diaz , Danny Sullivan , David Empringham , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Rodolfo Lavin , Alex Figge , Waldemar Coronas , Michael Shank
Teams Michael Shank Racing