Long Beach: Friday qualifying notes

CANADIAN RACER ANTOINE BESSETTE LEADS FIRST ROUND OF ATLANTIC QUALIFYING AT TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH LONG BEACH, California (April 8, 2005) -- After just one day of official competition in the Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented ...

CANADIAN RACER ANTOINE BESSETTE LEADS FIRST ROUND OF ATLANTIC QUALIFYING AT TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH

LONG BEACH, California (April 8, 2005) -- After just one day of official competition in the Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama one thing is clear when it comes to the driving style of rookie Antoine Bessette (#3 Unik Auto Design) -- the talented Canadian responds well to the color red.

Bessette paced both Toyota Atlantic on-track sessions on Friday as the 2005 season officially got underway at the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. In both the morning practice session and the first round of qualifying, the 23-year-old Bessette turned the fastest lap among all 19 drivers immediately following a late red-flag caution period.

With a top lap of 1:19.974 (88.598 mph), Bessette grabbed the provisional pole position for Sunday's 32-lap race on the 1.968-mile circuit on the streets of Long Beach. The St. Bruno, Quebec native carded that quick time on his 14th and final lap of qualifying. An on-track incident between two cars brought out a red flag and stopped qualifying late in the session. With only two minutes remaining in the opening-round of qualifying, the full field got the green flag and had to hustle to try to post a quick time. Bessette was able to get up to speed quickly, producing his top lap before seeing the checkered flag to end the session.

Bessette, who joined Polestar Racing Group this season after finishing third in the 2004 North American Formula Renault Championship, secures a front-row starting spot for Sunday's season opener after leading today's qualifying and he also claims the first championship point available this season for his efforts.

After running among the top three in both sessions on Friday, sophomore Atlantic driver Tonis Kasemets (#6 Flexovit Abrasives/MK ind./TMI/Redline Oil) finished with the second-fastest time of the day at 1:19.994 (88.567 mph). The Mundelein, Illinois resident is one of only six drivers in the field with experience racing at Long Beach and he took advantage of that knowledge on Friday in his debut for Dan Cobb Racing/Team Tonis.

Bessette's Polestar teammate, Katherine Legge (#12 PKV Racing), also came out of the gates with a strong showing on Friday. After leading qualifying early on, the promising young female racer finished the day with the third-fastest time of 1:20.192 (88.348 mph) in her Atlantic debut.

Veteran Atlantic driver and California native Rocky Moran Jr. (#5 King Taco/Trench Shoring) is making his fifth career start at Long Beach this weekend. Moran had an impressive performance Friday for P-1 Racing as he posted a lap of 1:20.831 (87.650 mph) for the fourth-fastest time of the day, despite competing in a C2 class entry.

German driver Andreas Wirth (#8 KBE/Profine/Wurges Windows and Doors) completed the top five qualifiers as he made his debut for Brooks Associates Racing with a top time of 1:21.092 (87.367 mph). Wirth's teammate, Brazilian Fernando Rees (#10 Bahia/Natal/Santa Catarina), finished just behind his fellow rookie on the qualifying rundown after carding a lap of 1:21.124 (87.333 mph).

Another first-year driver enjoying his first Atlantic experience this weekend, Charles Zwolsman (#11 Condor Motorsports), finished seventh in qualifying at 1:21.780 (86.632 mph) for Condor Motorsports, while accomplished sports car racer Chris Dyson (#16 Thetford/Norcold) owned a best lap of 1:22.386 (85.995 mph) in his first Atlantic street racing experience.

Making his second series Long Beach start this weekend in a C2 entry, Tom Nastasi (#23 USG Sheetrock/Ramset Tools) wound up ninth in provisional qualifying with a fast time of 1:22.979 (85.381 mph) and Dan Selznick (#49 The Room Store) had a best lap of 1:23.094 (85.262 mph) to finish off the top 10.

The 240 HP Atlantic cars return to the track on Saturday morning with a 30-minute practice session beginning at 9 a.m. PT. The final round of qualifying will take place at 1:15 p.m. PT and the opening round of the 12-race Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama will take the green flag Sunday at 10:30 a.m. PT.

Quotes from Friday's top three qualifiers in Long Beach follow:

* ANTOINE BESSETTE (#3 Unik Auto Design) earned the provisional pole and a guaranteed front row start with a time of 1:19.974 (88.589 mph): "For me, this is a dream come true just to be able to drive the Atlantic car. To be P-1 (on the pole) is special. I'm working hard with the team. Polestar is very good to work with. I think (starting up front) is really important because of the famous wall. Turn 1 is very hard. I'm so glad to be on the front row (for the race). It feels good because we have a lot of room to improve."

* TONIS KASEMETS (#6 Flexovit Abrasives/MK Ind./TMI/Redline Oil) second quickest at 1:19.984 (88.567 mph): He ran a partial season last year and will run the full season this year in partnership with Dan Cobb. "As a driver, you work all kinds of deals and puzzles. I was able to put this together with Dan, who is fantastic. He helps me and I am able to help him. The Champ Car (test) over the winter helped get me going. Knowing the track (Long Beach) helps a little more. There are a lot of fantastic young drivers. The morning (practice) session was not hard. I was just shaking (down) the car. There was no off-season testing (for our team) so we didn't know what the car would do. We made some changes and it was very good for that one lap, but not good enough for pole. We'll see tomorrow. I'm not worried about the rookies. They're all fast. We'll see how they do on the race track. I think they will all race clean and I think I race clean."

* KATHERINE LEGGE (#12 PKV Racing) third quickest at 1:20.192 (88.348 mph): "I'm really happy just to be in an Atlantic (car). I'm massively happy that PKV Racing gave me this opportunity. I'm happy for Antoine, he's my teammate (Polestar Racing Group) but I won't hear the end of it. Polestar is fantastic. We've come a long way. You know when you cram for an exam, that's what it's like. But they have been great to work with. The whole package (has been different). These cars have a lot more downforce and a lot more horsepower than I'm used to. The hardest thing I've found is the setup. There are so many things in the car to change. I'm learning a lot."

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Series Atlantic
Drivers Rocky Moran Jr. , Katherine Legge , Antoine Bessette , Dan Selznick , Charles Zwolsman , Tonis Kasemets , Andreas Wirth , Fernando Rees , Dan Cobb , Chris Dyson