OPEN-WHEEL CHAMPS DAVID BESNARD, JEFF SIMMONS BOTH TAKE SPIN IN MCI WORLDCOM ATLANTIC CAR BUTTONWILLOW, Calif., Nov. 23, 1998 - The MCI WorldCom/PPI KOOL/Toyota Atlantic team on Monday provided a day to remember for both U.S.
OPEN-WHEEL CHAMPS DAVID BESNARD, JEFF SIMMONS BOTH TAKE SPIN IN MCI WORLDCOM ATLANTIC CAR
BUTTONWILLOW, Calif., Nov. 23, 1998 - The MCI WorldCom/PPI KOOL/Toyota Atlantic team on Monday provided a day to remember for both U.S. F2000 champion David Besnard and Barber Dodge champion Jeff Simmons with a day-long test session in a PPI-prepared Swift 008.a at Buttonwillow Raceway.
MCI WorldCom/PPI Atlantic team manager Nick Harvey said both Besnard and Simmons immediately took to the No. 25 MCI WorldCom-Atlantic car that was driven by Anthony Lazzaro to victory in three of the final four KOOL/Toyota Atlantic races this past season.
"Both David and Jeff are outstanding drivers with bright futures ahead of them. They're both very confident drivers with different but strong driving styles, and champions out of the formula they ran," Harvey said. "David's very fast, has great car control and very aggressive but under control. He's ready to get into an Atlantic car. Jeff is very smooth and got down to a very competitive time quickly and has a good feel for the car. David had about 100 miles in the Atlantic car while Jeff got over 60 miles."
For Besnard, it was a racing experience he won't soon forget, according to the 21-year-old driver from Sydney, Australia. Besnard earned the day in the Atlantic car by winning the U.S. F2000 championship the past year.
"The Atlantic car had a lot more power than I was expecting," Besnard said. "The biggest difference from my experience in other open-wheel cars was in the braking. It's unbelievable. You can go from 125 miles an hour to 25 in about 40 feet. That was probably the most impressive thing. To be able to be with such a great team like the MCI WorldCom-PPI team, and being pretty much in the best car in the series, is terrific. It's a wonderful program from Toyota and the PPI Atlantic team."
Simmons, the 22year-old driver from East Granby, Conn., said he would enjoy stepping up to the challenge of running an Atlantic car full-time.
"I was trying to be real smooth since it was their equipment. The PPI car was obviously set up well and they virtually rolled it off the truck and it was ready. I think anytime you get time in another car it makes you more adaptable, and the more adaptable you are as driver, the better driver you are. These guys were great. I got a lot more laps than I was expecting," said Simmons.
Les Unger, national motorsports manager for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., said it is essential that young, talented open-wheel drivers continue to get opportunities like the Toyota-sponsored session at Buttonwillow in order to show their capabilities in the upper levels of the sport.
"While the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship serves as a premier training ground for CART, the Atlantic series has to be looking for the stars of tomorrow in Atlantic. Obviously, one of the strong feeder series is the U.S. F2000. David has demonstrated tremendous talent right off the bat. We're fortunate that a team like PPI has faith in the Atlantic series by running a team in that series and taking the time to look at some of the Atlantic stars of the future," Unger said.
Lazzaro, who finished fourth in the 1998 KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship with three victories, took both the young drivers under his wing, setting up the car early in the day and providing instruction throughout the day, along with the rest of the MCI WorldCom/PPI Atlantic team.