Denver: Round 10 preview

INDIANAPOLIS (August 10, 2004) -- It was the scene of his finest moment in racing and this weekend Jon Fogarty ( ...

INDIANAPOLIS (August 10, 2004) -- It was the scene of his finest moment in racing and this weekend Jon Fogarty (#96 Pacific Coast Motorsports/Umbrella Entertainment) hopes the familiar surroundings can help him hold off a furious charge from his chief rival in the Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama.

Fogarty has special memories of racing in Denver, and rightfully so. In 2002, Fogarty, then a rookie in the Atlantic series, arrived in Denver trailing by six points in the series championship. He needed to outperform then series leader Michael Valiante in the season's final race in order to grab the Atlantic crown. He did just that, making a daring pass for the lead early on in the race and holding off a hard-charging field for a dramatic victory that earned him the championship.

The Pacific Coast Motorsports racer hopes to recapture some of that Mile-High magic this weekend he prepares for this weekend's Round 10 of 12 in the championship -- the Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic Championship of Denver Presented by Yokohama (tape-delayed on SPEED Channel, Saturday, August 21 -- 12 p.m. ET).

This time around, it's not the season finale and the situation for Fogarty is certainly different. Entering this weekend's 37-lap event on the streets around the Pepsi Center, it's Fogarty who has the six-point lead in the title chase (239-233). And the driver who's hot on Fogarty's heels? It's none other than the man he managed to pass for the lead on that championship-winning weekend -- Ryan Dalziel (#28 ProWorks) of Scotland.

Dalziel is also the driver who enters the weekend with all of the momentum. Following last weekend's flag-to-flag victory at Road America, the 22-year-old Sierra Sierra Enterprises pilot has won three of the last four races and pole positions to close the gap on Fogarty while setting up a shootout for the title in the final three events of the season.

This weekend's tussle should prove to be especially interesting since both Fogarty and Dalziel have experienced success on the 1.647-mile street circuit. While Fogarty owns that 2002 victory and a fourth-place Denver finish last year, Dalziel won his first Atlantic pole position on the same city streets in 2002, finished second to Fogarty in that event and was on the podium in third place last season.

While the battle for the championship will likely be up front between those two competitors, some recent strong performances by the other top runners in the series indicate that the fights throughout the field will be just as heated.

Danica Patrick (#24 Argent Mortgage Company) has produced three straight fourth-place finishes to stay in the title hunt in third place, just 24 points in back of Dalziel and 30 markers away from the series leader. She also has a top-five Denver finish on her resume after finishing fifth last season as a rookie.

Sitting fourth in the championship is rookie Andrew Ranger (#27 Tide/Charmin/Mr. Clean/Snugabye). He's fresh off his fifth podium finish of the season in Road America and with his two best results of second place this year coming on street circuits, this week could prove to be the breakout for the Canadian teen.

The driver that's battled Ranger tooth-and-nail for top rookie honors all season, Ronnie Bremer (#4 Healthcare Privileges.com/PaySystems), comes into Denver trailing Ranger by eight points in the standings. Bremer flipped his car in a breathtaking crash last weekend at Road America. Only his pride was hurt in the accident, but he certainly wants to right the ship this weekend.

Two other drivers who are anxious to get back on track -- literally -- are Bryan Sellers (#19 Lynx Racing) and Alex Figge (#69 Pacific Coast Motorsports/Umbrella Entertainment). Sellers has five top-five results this season but he's finished the last two races outside of the upper echelon. Figge, who was born in Boulder, Colorado and still spends time there in the offseason, started fifth last weekend but only lasted one lap before he was forced out of action when his car was hit by another driver.

Two of the talented rookies in the series enter the weekend hoping to continue the momentum they established in Road America. Tonis Kasemets (#6 Flexovit Abrasives/MK ind./TMI/Redline Oil) produced his career-best Atlantic finish of fifth last weekend and he set a new course record for the fastest race lap on his way to the strong result. Australian teenager Josh Hunt (#15 Wright/Patton/Shakespeare/Atkinson Gore Group) also earned his best Atlantic result of seventh place one week ago and he'll strive for an even better showing in Denver.

Al Unser (#10 200 + Marketing and Management/Masterplan Group International) is back with the Atlantic series for the second consecutive weekend and third time this season as he prepares for his first start in the Mile High city. Unser, son of legendary racer Al Unser Jr., will be a tired young man on Sunday night as he prepares for some unique double duty. The 21-year-old Brooks Associates Racing driver will attempt to run in Kentucky on Saturday night in an Infinity Pro Series event before flying to Denver to race his Atlantic machine on Sunday. Unser finished ninth last week in his first complete Atlantic event.

Rookie Chris Festa (#25 SpacePak/CareCentric) will make his first Atlantic start in Denver on Sunday. The Atlanta native is coming off his sixth top-10 result of the year and will look to build on that come race time. Philip Fayer (#3 PaySystems) did not compete in Denver last season and was not able to run last week in Elkhart Lake, so he will anxious to see the first green flag of the weekend.

Experienced Atlantic drivers Eric Jensen (#2 Penn Capital/Konica Minolta) and Cam Binder (#65 Avmax/Western Avionics) will try to use their knowledge of the Denver circuit to produce good results this weekend. Jensen has run in both of the previous Atlantic events at the venue while Binder, competing in the lone C2 class entry at this year's race, improved three positions in his one Denver start in 2002.

This weekend's racing on the streets of Denver will feature Toyota Atlantic machines that are all Swift chassis powered by 240-horsepower Toyota 4A-GE engines capable of speeds in excess of 165 mph. All cars will ride on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks.

The event schedule calls for the Atlantic cars to hit the track for the first time on Friday morning with practice from 9:15-9:45 a.m. MT. First-round qualifying is set for 3:15-3:45 p.m. Friday afternoon. On Saturday, the Atlantics will have just one session of extended track time with the final round of qualifying set to take place from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. On race day, warm-up is scheduled for 8-8:15 a.m. Sunday morning and Round 10 of the series -- the Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic Championship of Denver -- will take the green flag at 10:30 a.m. MT. The race is scheduled for 37 laps (60.939 miles) or 50 minutes.

SPEED Channel will provide tape-delayed television coverage of the Denver Atlantic race at 12 p.m. ET on Saturday, August 21. The race will also air to U.S. service men and women in 77 countries around the world through the American Forces Radio & Television Service. For additional information, visit the series' official web site, www.toyotaatlantic.com.

FAST FACTS

WHAT: Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic Championship of Denver Presented by Yokohama

WHERE:  Street of Denver -- Denver, Colorado

WHEN: Friday-Sunday, August 13-15

TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local):

FRIDAY, AUGUST 13
9:15-9:45 a.m.., Practice
3:15-3:45 p.m., First-Round Qualifying.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 14
11:30 a.m. -- 12:30 p.m., Final Qualifying.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 8
8-8:15 a.m., Warm-up;
10:30-11:30 a.m., Atlantic Race.

U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE:
SATURDAY, AUGUST 21 -- SPEED Channel, Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic Championship of Denver Presented by Yokohama, 12 p.m. ET (Tape-Delay).

2003 CHAMPION:  A.J. Allmendinger

2003 POLESITTER: A.J. Allmendinger
TRACK LAYOUT:  1.647-mile temporary street circuit

RACE LENGTH: 37 laps (60.939 miles) or 50 minutes

TRACK RECORDS:
Qualifying (one lap) -- 2003, A.J. Allmendinger, 88.540 mph (1:06.966).
Race -- (one lap) 2003, A.J. Allmendinger, 88.109 mph (1:07.294)

RACE ROUND: 10 of 12 in the 2004 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama.

NEXT EVENT: August 29, Molson Indy Montreal -- Montreal, Quebec, Canada

INSTANT REPLAY: Rookie A.J. Allmendinger earned his seventh victory of the season, establishing a new Toyota Atlantic series record for a first-year driver, and he wrapped up the series title with a victory on the streets of Denver. Allmendinger started and won from the pole, also for the seventh time, in a remarkable rookie season that allowed the California RuSPORT driver to lock down the season championship with one race remaining on the schedule. He was never challenged for the lead but there was plenty of action behind him as Allmendinger's RuSPORT teammate Aaron Justus passed Michael Valiante for second place in the first turn after the green flag. The two battled it out for much of the race before Justus slid into a tire barrier in Turn 1 on a Lap 34 restart. Valiante wound up second and Ryan Dalziel brought home third place for his fourth consecutive podium finish. The Scotsman, who would end up finishing second in the final season rundown, was not able to close the gap on Allmendinger in the point standings, however, and the rookie was able to mathematically eliminate all competitors. It marked the second consecutive season that the Atlantic crown was won in Denver as Jon Fogarty captured the title on the streets of the Colorado city one year earlier.

-ccws-

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Series Atlantic
Drivers Ryan Dalziel , Jon Fogarty , Michael Valiante , Al Unser Sr. , A.J. Allmendinger , Alex Figge , Eric Jensen , Aaron Justus , Ronnie Bremer , Bryan Sellers , Andrew Ranger , Philip Fayer , Chris Festa , Tonis Kasemets , Josh Hunt , Danica Patrick