HOUSTON (October 7, 2001) -- The fans at the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston may have got a glimpse of what next year's Championship will look like on Sunday, as Joey Hand (DSTP Motorsports/BG Products) took advantage of a first turn melee to win...
HOUSTON (October 7, 2001) -- The fans at the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston may have got a glimpse of what next year's Championship will look like on Sunday, as Joey Hand (DSTP Motorsports/BG Products) took advantage of a first turn melee to win Round 11 of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. The California rookie is already secured for the DSTP seat next season and is putting his stamp as the man to beat for the Championship trophy next year.
Martin Basso (Michael Shank Racing/3b Engine Valves Swift) led the field to the green flag after winning the $1000 Toyota "Pole Award" on Saturday, but his lead was short lived as 2001 Champion, Hoover Orsi (Hylton Motorsports/U.S. Print) challenged Basso for the lead on the inside heading into the first turn. The cars made contact sending Basso spinning and Orsi nudging the tire wall. The ensuing chaos behind the pair collected the cars of David Rutledge (Lynx Racing Swift), Case Montgomery (Condor Motorsports/Ariba ERG Swift), and Rodolfo Lavin (Michael Shank Racing/Corona Swift). Hand was able to sweep by the mess from this third place starting spot to take over the lead as the yellow flag waved. Hand went on to lead the rest of the race on his way to a .594 second margin of victory.
"I saw those guys were going to go for it up in the front," said Hand about the start of the race. "Hoover (Orsi) made a good move inside Martin (Basso) and I backed off. It looked like trouble, so went ahead and backed out because nobody was coming inside of me. I just took evasive action. They slid wide and I went underneath and tried to pull out as big a lead as I could. The DSTP car was really good on long runs and I couldn't have asked for a better race car to help me hold for the win."
Hand continued on his win. "Fortunately, I got my first win at Vancouver so it was a bonus here. I was trying to drive as hard as I could because I saw those guys coming and I tried as hard as I could to put some quality laps down. My car was getting better and better as the green laps went on, so I knew I was okay. I felt pretty good about being able to win except for a little bit of lapped traffic that messed me up."
"I made a good start and went to the inside line," said Orsi on the incident with Basso. "I waited for Martin (Basso) to brake, and I braked after him, so I was side by side with him in the first corner. Unfortunately, he was closing the door and I was as close as possible to the inside wall. I was not able to give him more space, and we touched. After that, I hit the tire wall and had to wait for everybody to pass before I could re-join the race." Basso was disappointed with the results after winning the pole. "I'm turning into the first corner and felt Hoover (Orsi) touch me in the rear left wheel. I had to go forward in order to not crash into the protection barrier (tire wall). When I tried to restart, the rear shift locked, so I was unable to continue. Unfortunately, all the good work that we did running this weekend, can't be shown from the race."
Tony Ave (P-1 Racing/Miller Genuine Draft Swift) inherited second place after incident, but also was a victim and sustained damage in the first turn scramble causing him to retire later in the race. Orsi dropped to tenth place on the following restart and Rutledge to 13th following a trip to the pits to change a flat tire. Both drivers stormed through the field with the help of another yellow flag due to the spin of Scott Wood (Cobb Racing/ERG Swift). By the 18th lap, Orsi was back to second place where he pressured Hand for the remainder of the race. Rutledge took over third place a lap later and stayed in the shadow of Orsi and Hand until the checkered flag. Neither were able to mount a serious challenge on Hand as he won the $1000 WorldCom "Fast Pace award" in the closing circuits around Houston's 1.527-mile street course at 1:06.912 seconds (82.156 mph), breaking Andrew Bordin's 2000 record of 1:07.293 seconds (81.691 mph).
"There were a lot of different things going on in that first corner on the opening lap," said Vancouver's David Rutledge. "I was trying to avoid them (Orsi and Basso) and in the meantime, somebody came up from behind me and hit my rear wheel which caused it to deflate. That put me in last place on the track and I had to come back through the field. It was pretty exciting. There was a little bit of attrition, but also a lot of passing. We were able to make it back up in the top-three and fight these guys. I'm pleased with third place, considering all the things that went on today and we were looking for a strong finish to help us in the Championship and hold on to second more securely."
The victory was the second in a row for Hand after breaking into victory circle for the first time last month in Vancouver. The win also allowed Hand to take over third place in the points from Basso, and more importantly, close the gap on second place Rutledge to 15 points with one race remaining. Hand also nailed down the Rookie of the Year title over Jonathan Macri (P-1 Racing/NTN Bearings Swift) who finished fourth. Macri was running second early in the race, but sustained damage to the front wing of his Swift after making contact with rear of Scott Wood's car. Although Macri did not podium, his finish allowed him to move into fifth place in points past his teammate, Tony Ave.
Orsi's charge back to second place earned him his tenth podium of the season. If Orsi can podium next week at Laguna Seca, he will tie Patrick Carpentier's 1996 mark of eleven podiums in one season. The final yellow flag of the race came out midway through the event when Stephan C. Roy (Hylton Motorsports/Playstation 2 Momo Swift) and Rodolfo Lavin made contact in turn 4 sending both cars into the tire wall. Both drivers were uninjured in the incident but were eliminated from the race.
Basso dropped to fourth place in the Championship after his first lap incident with Orsi and lost any mathematical chance of catching David Rutledge for second place as Rutledge is 27 points ahead of him in the Champioship heading into the final race. Basso still has a shot at Hand in third trailing by 12 points.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship heads to beautiful Monterey, California and the Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway for its final race of the season next week.