Houston Race Report

LAZZARO HOLDS OFF TAGLIANI TO WIN RACE-SHORTENED KOOL/TOYOTA ATLANTIC FINALE AT HOUSTON 25th Anniversary Season Concludes with Exciting Finish HOUSTON, Oct. 4, 1998 - Anthony Lazzaro slipped by polesitter Alex Tagliani at the first...

LAZZARO HOLDS OFF TAGLIANI TO WIN RACE-SHORTENED KOOL/TOYOTA ATLANTIC FINALE AT HOUSTON

25th Anniversary Season Concludes with Exciting Finish

HOUSTON, Oct. 4, 1998 - Anthony Lazzaro slipped by polesitter Alex Tagliani at the first turn and held him off Sunday to win the season-ending KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship race at the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, wrapping up the series' Silver Anniversary year.

Lazzaro, of Acworth, Ga., and Tagliani, of Lachenaie, Que., were engaged in some of the tightest racing of the season before steady rain shortened the series' first venture into Texas to just 30 laps, originally scheduled for 45. Before the rain fell, however, Lazzaro and Tagliani ran nose-to-tail.

Lazzaro, in the MCI/PPI Swift, slipped by Tagliani at the first turn following the green flag, but had to endure pressure from Tagliani, Kenny Wilden, then Tagliani again before picking up his fifth Atlantic career victory, and third in the last four races.

Tagliani, in the Player's-Forsythe Swift, finished second, his fifth podium finish. Tagliani's teammate, 1998 KOOL /Toyota Atlantic Champion Lee Bentham, was running a very close third when the race was called, and finished third.

"After the restart (on lap 16), it took awhile for the tires to come back in, and when the rain started falling, I knew that every lap could be the last lap," said Lazzaro, who moved up from seventh to fourth in the championship by winning the last two races. "I've had it work against me in the past where I was the unlucky one who lost because it rained. Now, I'm the lucky one who won because it was raining."

Tagliani and Wilden, in the Mike Shank Racing - TrizecHahn/Newcourt Swift, were engaged in a tight battle for second behind Lazzaro, before Tagliani slipped by Wilden on the 25th lap. From there, Tagliani put heavy pressure on Lazzaro, appearing to be the quicker of the two cars right as the rain started to fall.

"I could have closed the door on Anthony but I didn't want to cause an incident. I'm particularly proud of the pass on Kenny Wilden because it's so hard to pass here. I fought hard all the way with Anthony," said Tagliani, who finished fifth in the championship, just three points behind Lazzaro. "Second place is a good finish, but at the end of the year, you want to win. I tried my best to win."

Bentham, who secured his first Atlantic championship with a second-place finish at the previous race at Laguna Seca, looked every bit the champion in his Player's-Forsythe Swift, picking up his ninth top-five finish, and was just a few car lengths from the lead when the rain fell.

"Even though it was very hot, the race was not that taxing physically. The rain came and put an end to the race which would have been a long one," Bentham said. "I was cautious, always keeping a distance with the car ahead. I wanted to win the race and was waiting for incidents. All season long, our Player's team has supplied me with a good, consistent car and I want to thank them. A championship underlines that fact."

Andrew Bordin, in the B.D.J.S.-Millennium Data Systems Swift, started 10th and finished fourth, and perhaps more important, won the KOOL Rookie Challenge for the season, and it's $15,000 payout. His fourth-place finish also secured his runner-up position in the final championship points standings. Bordin also won his fifth $1,000 "KOOL Rookie Challenge" award by being the highest-finishing first-year driver here.

Memo Gidley, the points leader throughout the first seven races, entered the weekend with a shot at finishing second in the championship. The Lynx Racing driver from Novato, Calif., made a run for the lead pack, starting ninth and finishing fifth, to place third in the final points. Gidley's teammate Buddy Rice underwent an emergency appendectomy three days before the race, preventing him from competing in the season finale. Lynx Racing team manager Steve Cameron filled the seat, starting 13th and finishing eighth, earning the $1,000 Yokohama "Now You've Got Control" award, along with the $1,000 "KOOL Move of the Race." David Rutlege, in the Binder Racing/TTF Racing-Player's/The Keg Swift, wrapped up his rookie season with a sixth-place finish. Rutledge also posted the fastest race lap at 1:09.268, earning the Vancouver driver his first "MCI Fast Pace" award, and it's $1,000 bonus. Brazilian Nicolas Rondet, in just his second Atlantic appearance, qualified third but lost several positions on the race start and eventually finished seventh.

Wilden, who started sixth, hit the wall as Tagliani passed him for second on lap 25, breaking his suspension and finishing his day, eventually placing 20th. Masaoki Nagashima, who qualified a season-best fifth in his PPI-Panasonic/Duskin Swift, got caught in an opening-lap incident, ending his day.

ESPN2 will televise Saturday's Round 13 at the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston on Saturday, Oct. 10, at 4:30 p.m., with repeat broadcasts on Sunday, Oct. 11, at 6 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 13, at 5 a.m., and on Friday, Oct. 23, at 2 p.m. ESPN International will telecast the race on Saturday, Oct. 10, 4:30 p.m. CTV will air it in Canada on Saturday, Oct. 10, at 4 p.m. All times are Eastern.

HOUSTON - Results Sunday of the 30-lap, 45.81-mile KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship race at the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, with finishing position, starting position in parenthesis, driver, hometown, car, laps, and reason out, if any.

1. (2), Anthony Lazzaro, Acworth, Ga., Swift 008.a, 30. 2. (1), Alexandre Tagliani, Lachenaie, Que., Swift 008.a, 30. 3. (4), Lee Bentham, Richmond Hill, Ont., Swift 008.a, 30. 4. (10), Andrew Bordin, Woodbridge, Ont., Swift 008.a, 30. 5. (9), Memo Gidley, Novato, Calif., Swift 008.a, 30. 6. (8), David Rutledge, West Vancouver, B.C., Swift 008.a, 30. 7. (3), Nicolas Rondet, San Diego, Calif., Swift 008.a, 30. 8. (13), Steve Cameron, Sonoma, Calif., Swift 008.a, 30. 9. (12), Matt Sielsky, Northbrook, Ill., Swift 008.a, 30. 10. (7), Case Montgomery, Salinas, Calif., Swift 008.a, 30. 11. (14), Cam Binder, Calgary, Alberta, Swift 008.a, 30. 12. (19), John Brooks, Tucson, Ariz., Ralt RT-40, 30. 13. (18), Eric Lang, New York, N.Y., Swift 008.a, 30. 14. (20), Joe Sposato, Arcadia, Calif., Ralt RT-41, 30. 15. (21), Scott Wood, Houston, Texas, Ralt RT-41, 30. 16. (23), Fernando Rama, Montevideo, Uruguay, Swift 008.a, 30. 17. (17), Michael David, Corona, Calif., Ralt RT-41, 29. 18. (11), Rocky Moran Jr., Coto De Caza, Calif., Swift 008.a, 27. 19. (24), Bob Ferstl, Houston, Texas, Ralt RT-41, 27. 20. (6), Kenny Wilden, Burlington, Ont., Swift 008.a, 25, suspension. 21. (22), Frank Allers, Coquitlam, B.C., Reynard 93H, 24, mechanical. 22. (25), David Cutler, Medina, Wash., Swift 008.a, 23, shifter. 23. (16), Michael Conte, Seattle, Wash., Swift 008.a, 8, crash. 24. (5), Masaoki Nagashima, Tokyo, Japan, Swift 008.a, 1, crash. Race Statistics: Time of race: 41:26.827. Margin of victory: race ended under yellow. Winner's speed: 66.315 mph. Fastest race lap: Rutledge, 1:08.268. Final top-10 points (13 races): Bentham, 163; Bordin, 139; Gidley, 134; Lazzaro, 133; Tagliani, 130; Sielskyk, 109; Rice, 108; Wilden, 92; Rutledge, 70; MacDonald, 62.

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Series Atlantic
Drivers Memo Gidley , David Rutledge , Rocky Moran Jr. , Anthony Lazzaro , David Cutler , Buddy Rice , Andrew Bordin , Masaoki Nagashima , Eric Lang , Steve Cameron , Lee Bentham