MONTEREY, Calif. (October 13, 2001) -- All weekend long, Rocky Moran Jr. (Cobb Racing Swift) had been one of the fastest cars on track in preparations for Round 12 of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship at the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. ...
MONTEREY, Calif. (October 13, 2001) -- All weekend long, Rocky Moran Jr. (Cobb Racing Swift) had been one of the fastest cars on track in preparations for Round 12 of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship at the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. From his third place starting position, Moran grabbed the lead going into the first turn and kept 2001 Rookie of the Year, Joey Hand (DSTP Motorsports/U.S. Print Swift) at bay in the closing laps to claim his first career Atlantic victory.
Moran Jr., who was voted onto the 2000 CART Toyota Atlantic All-Star team along with 2000 Champion, Buddy Rice and Daniel Wheldon, had finished no higher than third in Atlantic competition and fifth was his best finish of this season. But, this weekend seemed different for the California driver as he opened up quickest in Friday practice and carried the momentum all the way to victory lane Saturday. Not only was it Moran's first win, but it was the first for owner, Price Cobb and Cobb Racing.
"I knew I had to get into the lead on the first lap," said Moran Jr. of his first lap pass. "Somehow, some way, and everything just opened up. I got a good jump and was right up Joey's gearbox. I was able to drop low and pull up on him a little bit. It looked like he was a little concerned with Macri and he left me a little bit of room. We grew up racing against each other, so I knew he was a clean racer and would leave me the room. It was really tight through the first corner, but once I got through, I knew all I had to do was be consistent. I had a great car and everything worked great."
Moran continued. "I'm as happy for my crew as I am for myself. They have been working really hard. I've got a couple of good mechanics and a great engineer and I'm really happy for Price and Charissa Cobb."
Hand won his first career $1000 Toyota "Pole Award" earlier on Saturday and started alongside fellow rookie, Jonathan Macri (P-1 Racing/NTN Bearings Swift), making it the first time this year that rookie drivers have made up the front row of a CART Toyota Atlantic Championship event. Hand and Macri battled at the drop of the green flag, which allowed Moran to get the lead going into the first turn. Hand stayed in Moran's mirror for the entire 30 lap event, but could never mount a serious challenge on Moran for the lead. Macri lost third on the eleventh lap of the event to 2001 Champion, Hoover Orsi (Hylton Motorsports/U.S. Print Swift) and the two dueled for the final podium spot for the remainder of the race. Orsi was able to hold onto third despite Macri winning the $1000 WorldCom "Fast Pace Award" on the next to last lap.
"I had a great race car, and I knew that I did, so I just wanted to get through turn one so I could race," said Hand. "Rocky (Moran) came down inside, I gave him a little bit of room, and he made a good pass. He had a great race car and was able to get away. I made a mistake late in the race and dipped a tire and fell back a little bit and just wasn't able to catch back up."
Hand was trying to catch David Rutledge (Lynx Racing Swift) who was 14 points ahead of him in second place in the Championship. Rutledge finished ninth and Hand's runner-up effort left him two points shy of Rutledge for second; 131 to 129.
"I had a pretty good race," said Brazil's Hoover Orsi. "My car was really good. Unfortunately, I started fourth and it was pretty tough to get by Macri. After I did get by him, he stayed close behind me and I was able to keep him behind me. I was trying to catch Joey (Hand) and Rocky (Moran), but they had good cars and it was tough to get close to them. It was a pretty good result, another podium, and I hope I can move up to Champ cars next year."
Orsi's podium finish was the eleventh of the season, tying Patrick Carpentier's 1996 mark. The only race Orsi failed to finish on the podium was the fourth race of the season at Montreal where a gearbox failure put him out of the race early in the event.
Martin Basso (Michael Shank Racing/3b EngineValves Swift) rounded out the top five behind Macri in fourth. Basso placed fourth in the Championship with 110 points with Macri finishing the season in fifth with 93 points.
The race was slowed by two yellow flags lasting for ten laps. The first came early in the race on the fourth lap when Bakir Begovic (Begovic Racing/B & H Engineering) spun in turn 3 and stalled off course. The car would not roll forward causing additional problems to the CART Simple Green Safety Team in removing the car from the track. Soon after returning to green flag conditions, the second yellow came out when Kasey Kahne (P-1 Racing/Ford Racing Technology Swift) spun off course in turn 6 and made contact with the tire wall. Moments later, Scott Jenkins (Duesenberg Brothers Racing/Hasa Pool Products/AGG Enterprises Swift) and Frank Dancs (Condor Motorsports/Ariba Swift) made contact in the corkscrew turn sending Dancs into the tire wall and damaging the left front suspension of Jenkins.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship concluded its 2001 season this weekend in Monterey, California and now looks forward to the 2002 season which is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in Atlantic history.