Round 10 of the 12-event CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will be held on the 4.048-mile permanent road course at Road America, as Sunday's middle event at the Motorola 220 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Sunday's race will mark the 8th time since...
Round 10 of the 12-event CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will be held on the 4.048-mile permanent road course at Road America, as Sunday's middle event at the Motorola 220 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Sunday's race will mark the 8th time since 1990 the Atlantic series has competed on the famous circuit in central Wisconsin.
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 Road America:
Friday, August 16:
Practice 11:45 a.m. -- 12:25 p.m.
Qualifying 4:00 p.m. -- 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, August 15:
Practice 9:00 a.m. -- 9:40 a.m.
Qualifying 12:20 p.m. -- 12:50 p.m.
Sunday, August 4:
Warm Up 8:30 a.m. -- 8:45 a.m.
RACE 11:15 a.m. -- 12:15 p.m. (17 laps/74.396 miles)
Road "A" Championship. Of the three events remaining on the 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic schedule, Road America is the biggest hurdle between Michael Valiante (Lynx Racing Swift 014.a) and a possible Championship. The famous 4.048-mile permanent road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin has been a thorn in Lynx Racing's foot the past few seasons and this year's performance could mean the difference between winning their first Championship since 1997 when Alex Barron drove for the team, or sending the Championship into a dog fight with at least two other drivers.
Valiante, who hails from Burnaby, BC, Canada, enters this weekend with a 19 point lead in the Championship over American, Jon Fogarty (Dorricott Racing/Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Swift 014.a). Fellow American driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay (Hylton Motorsports/Andor Capital Management/Medlock Ames Winery Swift 014.a) is only 21 points back. Both Fogarty and Hunter-Reay could exit the weekend with the Championship should Valiante slip at Road America.
That is a real possible scenario as the Lynx Racing team has not enjoyed the success here the past few years that they have at other venues. Although they won races here in 1996 and 1997 with Patrick Carpentier and Alex Barron, they have not finished higher than seventh in the past two races at Road America. Lynx Racing's David Rutledge came into last year's race chasing Brazil's Hoover Orsi in the Championship, but floundered to a 13th place finish while Orsi blistered the field on his way to his third straight victory of the season. Orsi's 21-point advantage at Road America allowed him to clinch the Championship in the following Round 10 race in Vancouver.
This year, the shoe is on the other foot for Lynx Racing. Now they enter the Road America event with the points lead and a solid result could almost secure this year's Championship. Valiante should be one of the favorites to win at the following two events in Montreal and Denver. Lynx has dominated the Montreal race the past two seasons with Rutledge winning poles and races in 2000 and 2001. Valiante finished runner-up to Rutledge last year at Montreal as well. In two weeks, the series will make its first visit to the temporary street circuit in Denver to finish up the season. All of Valiante's wins this season have come on temporary street circuits (Long Beach, Toronto, Trois-Rivieres); so if Fogarty or Hunter-Reay fail to close the gap on Valiante this weekend, the trophy maker may be able to get a head start on the name plate for the 2002 version.
Valiante's path to this point has been one of consistency. Valiante, along with Rodolfo Lavin (Michael Shank Racing/Corona Modelo Swift 014.a), are the only two drivers to complete every lap of competition thus far this season. While some of his competitors have suffered some mechanical problems and on-track incidents, Valiante has side stepped those kind of problems and finished in the top-ten in every race this year.
All three drivers, Valiante, Fogarty, and Hunter-Reay, have raced at Road America before with the Barber Dodge Pro Series and know the layout. Hunter-Reay placed third here in 2000, while Valiante finished second and Fogarty fourth here in 1999. Their teams are pretty well prepared also. Hunter-Reay's team, Hylton Motorsports, won this race last year with Orsi and holds the track qualifying record of 2:01.278 seconds (120.160 mph). Although the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship team, Dorricott Racing, is making their first appearance at Road America, their team is staffed with plenty of personnel with Atlantic experience.
Although not out of the Championship yet, Dorricott Racing's other two drivers will need to step up this weekend to keep themselves in the hunt. Alex Gurney (Dorricott Racing/Behr/Castrol Swift 014.a) is coming off his second runner-up finish of the season two weeks ago in Trois-Rivieres. The result moved him into fourth in the Championship with 92 points, 31 behind Valiante. Gurney has plenty of experience with the track running it twice in Atlantic and once in Barber Dodge. Gurney posted a fifth place finish at Road America in 2000 while driving for All American Racers. Luis Diaz (Dorricott Racing/Telmex Swift 014.a) will have a tougher battle on his hands than his teammates, Gurney and Fogarty. Although Diaz won earlier this season in Portland and has also won two poles, he is only in sixth place with 84 points. Now 39 points behind, Diaz is coming to a track he has never raced on before unlike most of the top drivers in the series who have competed here. Diaz's hopes to stay in contention will rely on how quickly he can get up to speed on an unfamiliar track.
Rounding out the top-five in the Championship is Rocky Moran Jr. (Sigma Autosport/Sunoco/BG Products Swift 014.a). Moran Jr., with 90 points, has been silently hanging around the top of the points all season posting six top-five finishes along with podium finishes at Laguna Seca and Toronto. The California driver has posted two sixth place finishes here in the past two Atlantic seasons along with several races in the Barber Dodge Championship in prior seasons Like Gurney and Diaz, Moran Jr. will need to cut into the Championship points lead to have a realistic chance at the title.
Canada's Jonathan Macri (P-1 Racing/NTN Bearings/Miller Genuine Draft/Battlefield Equipment Rentals Swift 014.a) and Mexico's Rodolfo Lavin are entering this weekend still searching for their first career Atlantic wins. With 72 and 71 points respectively, neither driver is mathematically out of the Championship; but 50 plus points may be too much to make up this deep into the season. The new motivation is to get their first wins; and Macri has as good as a shot as anyone. Along with his two runner-up finishes this season at Portland and Toronto, Macri got his first career podium here at Road America last year finishing second behind Orsi. While on the way to that podium, Macri broke and now holds the track race lap record which stands at 2:02.688 seconds (118.779 mph). Lavin placed a runner-up finish earlier this season at Milwaukee; and like Valiante, has been steady completing every lap this season. Lavin's teammate last year, Martin Basso, won the pole in 2000; so Lavin could be a sleeper for a great race this weekend.
At the half-way point of the season heading into the Round 7 race at the Molson Indy Toronto, Roger Yasukawa (Hylton Motorsports/Autobacs/U.S. Print Swift 014.a) was in third place in the Championship just seven points behind Jon Fogarty, who held first place at the time. Yasukawa's next three races showed just how much fate can play into a Championship bid as he failed to complete any of them. His car was struck from behind at races in Toronto and Cleveland and a broken gearbox put him out of the event in Trois-Rivieres. From being right in the middle of the Championship hunt at mid season, three races later finds Yasukawa all but out of it in ninth with 67 points, 56 behind the leader.
Scotland's Ryan Dalziel (Michael Shank Racing Swift 014.a) and Argentina's Waldemar Coronas (Scuadra Fortia/Aviacsa/Royse/Maizoro/Millenio Swift 014.a) will be slugging it out for the final top-ten spot in the Championship in the next three races. Although either driver could get on a hot streak and move further up, the pair are currently locked in a tight battle for the tenth with Dalziel leading 51-48. Dalziel started the season strongly with a runner-up finish at Monterrey, Mexico and followed it with a fourth place run at Laguna Seca. Coronas, who drives for the first year Scuadra Fortia team, has posted six top-ten finishes. Dalziel and Coronas have had the best results of the drivers that are new to this year's circuits.
Grant Ryley (Lynx Racing/Northwest Speedwerx/Cupertino Electric Swift 014.a) had one of his best efforts of the season two weeks ago at Trois-Rivieres when he qualified fourth for the race. Ryley ran in the top-three for most of the event before spinning late in the race dropping him to a 13th place finish. Ryley's 33 points have him close enough to charge into the top-ten should he be able to piece some solid finishes together to close out the season.
After suffering injuries in a May testing accident that forced him to miss six races, Joey Hand (DSTP Motorsports/BG Products Swift 014.a) made a successful return to racing two weeks ago in Trois-Rivieres. The 2001 CART Toyota Atlantic Rookie of the Year, qualified his car fifth for the race, but dropped deep in the pack early after sustaining damage to his front wing. Hand's team fixed the damage and the California driver displayed the talent that earned him third in the 2001 Championship by screaming through the field for a ninth place finish. Hand had a solid run at Road America last year, placing third behind Orsi and Macri.
Making his Atlantic debut this weekend with be 2000 USF2000 Champion, Aaron Justus (Performance Development & Racing Swift 014.a). After winning the 2000 Championship, Justus took part in a series sponsored test with Lynx Racing, and now will make his first start this weekend as teammate to Carl Russo (Performance Development & Racing Swift 014.a).
Last Year at Road America:
Brazil's Hoover Orsi turned in one of his best performances of the season at Road America on his way to the 2001 Championship trophey. By the time Orsi left Road America, the Hylton Motorsports driver had nearly clinched the Championship.
Orsi started the weekend off by shattering the track record in Saturday qualifying, but his nearest follower in the Championship, David Rutledge, shared the front row with him.
While Orsi led every tour of the 17-lap event, Rutledge struggled to a 13th place finish allowing Orsi to open his point lead to 47 points with only three races remaining. As good as Orsi was, he was not the fastest car on the track. Canada's Jonathan Macri set a record fastest race lap while in persuit of Orsi and finished the race in second, his first career podium. Joey Hand completed the podium as he limped home third with gearbox problems.
Orsi would clinch the Championship at the following race that took place in Vancouver. The points earned over Rutledge at Road America allowed Orsi to coast through the remaining two events at Houston and Laguna Seca.
Atlantic History at Road America:
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship has raced at Road America sevenx times, dating back to the 1990 season. The previous Atlantic winners at Road America were: Jimmy Vasser (1990), Patrick Carpentier (1996), Alex Barron (1997), Anthony Lazzaro (1998), Andrew Bordin (1999), Buddy Rice (2000), and Hoover Orsi (2001).
Speed Channel will broadcast Sunday's Round 10 race from Road America Broadcasts on Sunday, August 16, at 1:30 p.m. ET same day delay, while Atlantic fans in Canada can watch the race on RDS, Saturday, August 24 at 9:30 a.m. ET.
Next Race: The 2002 Championship ends in a flurry with the final two races of the season taking place in the next two weekends. The Championship heads north next weekend for its final visit to Canada for the Molson Indy Montreal, followed by the season ending race the next weekend at the Shell Grand Prix of Denver.