Long Beach: Race report

Valiante flexs muscel at Long Beach Avoids first lap incident to take first career win. LONG BEACH, Calif. (March 14, 2002) -- Moments after the green flag dropped for Round 2 of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, turn 1 of the 1.968-mile ...

Valiante flexs muscel at Long Beach
Avoids first lap incident to take first career win.

LONG BEACH, Calif. (March 14, 2002) -- Moments after the green flag dropped for Round 2 of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, turn 1 of the 1.968-mile temporary street course at Long Beach resembled a parking lot. Michael Valiante (Lynx Racing Swift 014.a) avoided the first turn carnage and outran Alex Gurney (Dorricott Racing/Behr Castrol Swift 014.a) for his first career Atlantic victory.

Winner of the $1000 Toyota "Pole Award", Joey Hand (DSTP Motorsports/BG Products Swift 014.a) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Hylton Motorsports/Medlock Ames Winery/Autobytel/U.S. Print Swift 014.a), led the field down Shoreline Drive, drag racing toward turn one running side by side. Jon Fogarty (Dorricott Racing/Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Swift 014.a), who won the season opener in Mexico, jumped on the opportunity to take the lead and pulled to the inside of the pair heading into the turn. The trio held the three wide position into the narrow turn and by the exit, the entire field except for two cars, sat parked in the turn. Valiante and Gurney were the only two cars to escape.

"I am so happy to get the first win out of the way, and to make it two for two for Lynx Racing at Long Beach," said Valiante, who took over for David Rutledge, winner of the 2001 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. "The team gave me a really good car, but there was a bit of luck involved in that I was able to get through the first lap pileup. We had a chance to develop the car over the off-season and I'm really clicking with my engineer Rick Cameron, so I think Lynx Racing is showing its true form here, and we'll only get better as the season goes along."

Fogarty escaped the mess in third place while Hunter-Reay lost a lap after making light contact with the tire wall. Hand dropped to eighth and was eliminated later in the race when he ran into the same tire wall in turn 1 while fighting for fifth place with Rocky Moran Jr. (Sigma Autosport Swift 014.a). The first lap incident also put Ryan Dalziel (Michael Shank Racing Swift 008.a), who entered this weekend second in Championship points, out of the race. Dalziel went airborne after contact with Jonathan Macri (P-1 Racing/NTN Bearings/Miller Genuine Draft Swift 014.a) and landed on the car of Luis Diaz (Dorricott Racing/Telmex Swift 014.a). Macri lost a lap making repairs while Diaz was able to remain on the lead lap after replacing the rear wing two times.

"At least four of us went into the first turn real hot," said Fogarty, who remains the leader in Championship points. "Everybody was late to the brakes. I just avoided stuffing it into the tire barrier. It looked like Ryan Hunter-Reay just nicked them and then only a few cars got through. It was really tight. It didn't spread out going down the straight-away. I think the pole sitter waited a long time to go to the throttle with the green flag so it bunched the rest of the field. I came away unscathed so I'm happy for that."

Gurney held the lead for the first 20 laps, 13 of which were run under yellow flag conditions. On the restart on lap 21, Valiante used the draft down the long front straight to pull to the outside of Gurney. Valiante entered the first turn faster than even he admitted he wanted to, but held onto the car, just passing inches from the wall on the exit. "When I passed Gurney the car got sideways but I was able to gather it up and stay ahead of him," said Valiante.

"We probably ran too much downforce and that made us vulnerable," said Gurney on the pass by Valiante. On the re-start when Michael passed me, he braked later and then almost crashed. I thought he was toast for a moment. He did a nice job to recover. I'm happy I earned points because I didn't get any in Mexico. My father (Dan Gurney) was here today and I'm sure he's very happy. It was his birthday yesterday so this is a nice present."

Due to the long yellow flag periods during the first half of the race, the event was cut down to 29 laps instead of the scheduled 32 laps.

Gurney held off his teammate, Fogarty to take second place. The finish was his best of his career with his previous best being a third place in the 2000 Trois-Rivieres event. Fogarty's third place finish allowed him to hold onto the lead in the Championship with a total of 35 points with Valiante now only trailing by three points.

Hunter-Reay fought his way back through the pack and passed leader, Valiante, to get back on the lead lap. On the final lap of the race, Hunter-Reay set the fastest race lap of 1:18.456 seconds (90.303 mph). It also narrowly broke the one-year old track record held by David Rutledge which was 1:18.465 seconds (90.292 mph). Hunter-Reay finished the race in 18th.

Valiante's teammate, Grant Ryley (Lynx Racing/Northwest Speedwerx/Cupertino Electric/Glycomax Swift 014.a) earned his best finish of the season coming in fourth, while Rocky Moran Jr. came in fifth, moving him to third in points with a total of 21.

The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will take another long break before kicking off a furious summer of racing beginning with the Miller Lite 250 at the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wisconsin, on June 2, 2002.

Race Video Highlights
CART Toyota Atlantic highlights from the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Sunday, April 11, 2002 will be included in the following VNR (Video News Release):
7:30-7:45 p.m. EST, Sunday, April 12, 2002 Galaxy 11 K12 Transponder Downlink Frequency 11940, Audio 6.2/6.8 (Vertical Polarization)

For full results and statistics, go to www.toyotaatlantic.com and www.carttiming.com

The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is one of the world's premier open-wheel development series and the top rung on CART's "ladder system", as well as having $100,000 race purses and a one million dollar points fund. It is also noted for its long history of graduating its stars into CART competition. Among the drivers who have graduated from the Atlantic Series are CART Champ Car stars Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani as well as former series champions Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan and Jacques Villeneuve.


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Series Atlantic
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Alex Gurney , Ryan Dalziel , Michael Andretti , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Michael Valiante , Grant Ryley , David Rutledge , Joey Hand , Jonathan Macri , Rocky Moran Jr. , Luis Diaz , Dan Gurney , Danny Sullivan , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Michael Shank
Teams Michael Shank Racing