Round 11, Texaco Grand Prix of Houston October 5-7, 2001, Houston, Texas Event: Round 11 of the 12-event CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will be held on the 1.527-mile temporary street course as Sunday's opening event at the Texaco Grand...
Round 11, Texaco Grand Prix of Houston
October 5-7, 2001, Houston, Texas
Event: Round 11 of the 12-event CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will be held on the 1.527-mile temporary street course as Sunday's opening event at the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston. Sunday's race will mark the fourth time since 1998 the Atlantic series has competed on the streets of Houston.
Race Series: The CART-sanctioned Toyota Atlantic Championship is a key 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, Memo Gidley, Richie Hearn, Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani, former Champ Car stars Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan, as well as 1997 FIA Formula One Champion, Jacques Villeneuve.
Friday, October 5:
Practice 8:30 a.m. -- 9:10 a.m.
Qualifying 3:30 p.m. -- 4:00 p.m.
Saturday, October 6:
Practice 9:10 a.m. -- 9:40 a.m.
Qualifying 1:00 p.m. -- 1:30 p.m.
Sunday, October 7:
Warm Up 8:30 a.m. -- 8:45 a.m.
RACE 10:15 a.m. -- 11:20 a.m. (43 laps/65.661 miles)
Hoover Orsi (Hylton Motorsports/U.S. Print Swift) claimed the 2001 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship over a month ago in Vancouver, a first for team owner, Keith Hylton. Even though Orsi has secured the title, there is still plenty on the line as season concludes in Houston and Laguna Seca.
The CART FedEx Championship Series began racing on the streets of Houston in 1998 and the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship has been there with them for every event. Anthony Lazzaro captured the inaugural event, followed by Canadian, Andrew Bordin winning back to back in 1999 and 2000. Bordin's victory last year was the only time that the winner has come from the pole in the three-year history at Houston.
With the Championship decided, Orsi will be able to race for wins only without the worry of gaining Championship points and will be looking to pad his statistics for a possible move to the CART FedEx Championship Series. Orsi is also chasing Atlantic history trying to tie a mark set by Patrick Carpentier in 1996. During Carpentier's remarkable 1996 Championship season, Carpentier stood on the podium 11 times. If Orsi can score a podium finish in each of the final two races, Orsi will match Carpentier's 1996 accomplishment.
"I don't think the pressure is off, because I put a lot of pressure on myself to have a good performance at every race," said a confident Orsi. "Being the champ also puts some pressure on you to perform well. All of my career has been spent under a lot of pressure, because I never had a lot of money so I always had to perform well to get free drives to continue racing. So I'm use to it and I quite like it."
Orsi admits, though, that the next two races will be more fun with the Championship already in hand. "The whole team is going to be more relaxed at the race, because we don't need to worry about scoring points so we can just concentrate on winning," said Orsi. "Houston is a nice track and it is not that difficult to drive, but it is not an easy track to set up a car for either. So I'm gonna be working hard with Kyle and the team to improve our car even more because this track has lots of bumps and heavy braking. I'm really looking forward to the race weekend."
The points battle has now shifted to see who will join Orsi on stage at the awards banquet in Monterey, California, next week. Canadian veteran, David Rutledge (Lynx Racing Swift), who midway through the season was in the thick of the championship battle with Orsi, must now fight off Argentina's Martin Basso (Michael Shank Racing/3b Engine Valves Swift) and American rookie, Joey Hand (DSTP Motorsports/BG Products Swift).
For Rutledge to hold off the charge of Basso and Hand, he is literally going to have to keep his nose clean. The past three races have seen Rutledge either driving with a damaged front wing, or pitting to have them replaced. Many of the incidents were not of his doing; but for Rutledge to hold onto second place in the points, he will have to avoid the problems that plagued him in Trois-Rivieres, Road America, and Vancouver.
Rutledge holds a 14-point lead over Basso heading into the Round 11 event at Houston. Basso is the only Atlantic driver this season to have completed every lap thus far, which complicates Rutledge's task. Basso did encounter problems early in the season, including a wicked practice crash at Milwaukee that destroyed the car. This forced the MSR team to work all night rebuilding the car to get it into the race. The efforts in Milwaukee have allowed Basso to rally and be one of the most consistent drivers this year. With Basso that close in points, Rutledge cannot afford another problem that would force him to lose a lap. Working in Rutledge's favor is that he is only one of two drivers to have run every Atlantic race, thus far, at Houston. The other driver is 2000 CART Toyota Atlantic All-Star, Rocky Moran Jr. (Cobb Racing Swift). Rutledge should feel good about his chances after finishing second here last year to Bordin.
"There's no question that the level of familiarity with a track, particularly a street course which is typically the most technical type of track, is an advantage," said Vancouver's David Rutledge. "But you can't rely too heavily on it, because it takes a combination of things to do well. Track time is so short that you have to roll off the track with a good setup and you have to be focused even more than usual, because the consequences of a mistake on a street circuit are much greater. And then of course there's luck, which is an unquantifiable, but important part of any race weekend."
"The final result in the standings will depend on our performance during these final two weekends," said Michael Shank Racing's Martin Basso. "We must keep working hard and focus on our results and not worry about anybody else. At this moment we need to have good finishes in the last two races in order to not fall in the championship. We had a very important test at Blackhawk, so we hope that the improvement we made on the car there can show at Houston."
Hand is coming off of his first career Atlantic win a month ago at Vancouver, and the DSTP team has shown their strength at temporary street courses like Houston. Like Basso, Hand has his eye on a second place finish in the Championship. He is within striking distance of second place Rutledge, down by only 22 points. Hand is also trying to nail down the Rookie of the Year title holding a 22-point lead over Jonathan Macri (P-1 Racing/NTN Bearings Swift); but second in the championship is what his sights are set on.
"Yes, we are excited about going back to a temporary street course, because our strongest races have been on those type circuits," said DSTP Motorsports, Hand. "As far as the rookie of the year, we obviously want to win it, but our highest priority is getting second place. The way we see it, if we are in second place, we also win the rookie of the year. To get second place, we need to win the last two races, and that is what our goal is."
For the first time this season, Orsi will have a teammate. Stephan C. Roy (Hylton Motorsports/Playstation 2 Momo Swift) drove nine of the season's ten races with P-1 Racing and one lone race with Duesenberg Brothers Racing. He will compete in a second car prepared by the Championship team, Hylton Motorsports, in the final two races of the season. Roy, who is in a close fight for a top-10 spot in points, is currently 11th with a total of 47 points, one point behind rookie, Grant Ryley (Worldspeed Motorsports/Northwest Speedwerx Swift).
Ryley is not only looking to hold off the charge from Roy, but to move back up in the championship in what has been a roller coaster season for the Las Gatos, California driver. Ryley is the only rookie this year to win a pole which came at Milwaukee. Ryley went on to finish second in that race behind Orsi and later scored a third place finish at Toronto. T.J. Bell (Cobb Racing Swift) stands six ahead of Ryley at 54 points, with Rodolfo Lavin (Michael Shank Racing/Corona Swift) not much further ahead with 60 points. All four drivers will look to overtake Michael Valiante, who is seventh in the Championship with 64 points. Valiante has had a great season while driving a partial schedule for Lynx Racing, but he will not be competing in the final two races of the season.
Jason LaPoint (Lynx Racing Swift) will fill the seat of the second Lynx car in the final two events. LaPoint made his Atlantic debut at Road America with a third place qualifying effort. Although he only managed a seventh place finish in the race, LaPoint showed that he has the ability to run up front and could snatch a win in the final two races. Like LaPoint, Kasey Kahne (P-1 Racing/Ford Racing Technology Swift) made his Atlantic debut at Road America as well, and is set to run the last two races of the 2001 campaign. Unlike LaPoint, Kahne's first Atlantic race did not go as smooth, when a mechanical failure put an end to Kahne's day before he could even take the green flag.
Kahne's teammates will be fighting for a top five spot in the Championship during the final two races. Tony Ave (P-1 Racing/Miller Genuine Draft Swift), who won the second race of the season at Nazareth, is currently fifth in the Championship with 75 points, just six ahead of fellow P-1 Racing pilot, Jonathan Macri. Ave still has a shot at Hand and Basso, but has not finished in the top five on a road course since the Round 4 race at Montreal. Macri is trying to get into the top five in points, and also attempting to chase down Joey Hand for the Rookie of the Year Award. Macri trails Hand by 22 points with two races remaining.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship has raced on the streets of Houston at three times dating back to the 1998 season. The previous Atlantic winners at Houston are; Anthony Lazzaro (1998) and Andrew Bordin (1999, 2000).
Buddy Rice entered the 2000 Texaco Grand Prix of Houston as the Atlantic Champion after clinching the title in the Round 11 event at St. Louis. But the weekend belonged to Canada's Andrew Bordin who won the race from the pole setting both the track qualifying record and fastest race lap record.
Bordin set the track qualifying record late in the Saturday session with a time of 1:06.491 seconds (82.676 mph), following it with the fastest race lap the next day with a time of 1:07.293 seconds (81.691 mph). The race record was set trying to keep fellow Canadian driver, David Rutledge at bay. Rutledge went on to finish the race second behind Bordin with Rice rounding out the podium. The race was slowed by four yellow flags, but Bordin was able to keep the lead the entire 43 laps of the race.
ESPN2 and ESPN International will broadcast Sunday's Round 11 race from Houston on Sunday, October 14, at 8:00 p.m. ET, while Atlantic fans in Canada can watch the race on CTV SportsNet on Friday, October 19, at 8:00 p.m. in the EAST, Monday, October 15, at 7:00 p.m. in the ONTARIO and WEST Zones, and Tuesday, October 16, at 7:00 p.m. in the PACIFIC zone. CTV repeat dates are: PACIFIC, Friday, October 19, at 3:00 p.m. and WEST, Friday, October 19, 4:00 p.m. and Saturday, October 20, at 11:00 p.m. There are no repeat dates for the EAST and ONTARIO time zones. ESPN2 will replay the race on Tuesday, October 16, at 5:00 a.m. EST.
Next Race: The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will conclude its season next week at the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca as part of the Grand Prix of Monterey.