LAZZARO CLINCHES 1999 ATLANTIC TITLE WITH FOURTH VICTORY OF SEASON AT LAGUNA SECA MONTEREY, Calif., Sept. 11, 1999 -- Anthony Lazzaro clinched the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship with his fourth victory of the season Saturday at...
LAZZARO CLINCHES 1999 ATLANTIC TITLE WITH FOURTH VICTORY OF SEASON AT LAGUNA SECA
MONTEREY, Calif., Sept. 11, 1999 -- Anthony Lazzaro clinched the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship with his fourth victory of the season Saturday at Laguna Seca Raceway, leading wire to wire to win the series' next-to-last race.
Lazzaro, of Acworth, Ga., led Canadian Kenny Wilden by 33 points heading into the race and needed only a fourth-place finish or better to assure himself of his first Atlantic title. Starting on the pole in the PPI-MCI WorldCom Swift, Lazzaro never wavered, leading all 30 laps and eventually beat second-place finisher Buddy Rice, of Phoenix, Ariz., by .684 second. Lazzaro's PPI teammate, Canadian Andrew Bordin, finished third.
Wilden, of Burlington, Ont., needed to win the race and also have Lazzaro finish fifth or worse to keep his championship hope alive heading into the season finale at Houston. Wilden started 11th and made a valiant effort to move to the front, eventually finishing fourth, but it was Lazzaro's precise drive that stole the show.
"This is a dream come true," said Lazzaro, who has nine Atlantic career victories to his credit. "I have to thank Call Wells, MCI WorldCom, BG, and the entire PPI team for giving me the resources, the people, and the confidence to win this championship. It's been an incredible season, the best I've ever had. It's great that we did it, and it's even better that we did it in style. It was a tough race to hold on to. There were moments there when I had to push real hard to hold on and you think to yourself, 'you don't have to do this.' But I just kept working at it, stayed calm and focused, and it went our way."
Lazzaro took the points lead in the second round, winning wire-to-wire at Nazareth, and never looked back, building a monumental lead after winning round seven at Trois-Rivieres, Que. In rounds eight, nine and 10, Lazzaro and his PPI team played it cautious, posting a pair of podium finishes. Before the race, Lazzaro said he told his team that he couldn't hold back anymore, and his nearly flawless drive proved his point.
"I'm very proud to have helped bring this championship home for Cal, Nick Harvey (program manager), Kyle Brannan (engineer), and all my guys. It means more than I can say," Lazzaro said.
Lazzaro earned the $1,000 Toyota Pole Award during the Friday qualifying session. Saturday's final qualifying session was canceled in consideration and respect for FedEx Championship Series driver Gonzalo Rodriguez and his family. Rodriguez died as a result of injuries received during Champ Car practice Saturday morning.
In the race, Rice made a move early in his Lynx Racing Swift, passing Player's-Forsythe driver Alex Tagliani on lap six, and appeared to have enough to push Lazzaro for the lead, but it was Lazzaro's day.
"We're really happy with everything," said Rice, who finished second for the third time this year. "We qualified fifth from yesterday's session. Coming out fifth, we made an excellent decision on our set up and we just went for it. We didn't change anything."
Bordin, with his second-straight podium finish, started third, fell to fourth when Rice made his early move, then finished third in one of his stronger performances of the year.
"I'm really happy for the team. For me, it's a good finish, but to be a part of the championship-winning team is also really special. It was a great race," said Bordin, who won at Road America. "My biggest concern was making sure Anthony made it through the start. I didn't want to put either of us in a position that would compromise the race."
Wilden, in the Michael Shank Racing-Newcourt/TrizecHahn Swift, had little chance at victory after qualifying 11th in the first qualifying session. Nonetheless, Wilden ran strong moving up seven positions in a competitive field to narrowly miss his fifth straight podium finish.
Tagliani started second and was running third before contact with Jim Lovett on lap 16 ended his day. Vancouver winner William Langhorne qualified fourth but had mechanical problems right before the start, and entered the field after the start of the race, eventually finishing 25th.
Lazzaro's championship-clinching drive netted him the $1,000 "Yokohama Now You've Got Control" award. Bordin posted the fastest race lap at 1:20.522 to earn the $1,000 "MCI WorldCom Fast Pace" award.
ESPN2 will televise Saturday's KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship race at Laguna Seca on Saturday, Sept. 18, at 4:30 p.m., with repeat broadcasts on Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 4 a.m., and on Saturday, Sept. 25, at 4 a.m. The French-speaking RDS Canadian network will broadcast the race on Sunday, Sept. 26. Check local listing for the RDS time. ESPN International will televise the Vancouver race on Saturday, Sept. 18, at 4:30 p.m. All times are Eastern. Canadian broadcaster CTV SportsNet is airing the race on Tuesday, Sept. 21, at 8 p.m. in all local markets.
The 26th season of the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship concludes Sunday, Sept. 26, at the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston. ###