INDIANAPOLIS (July 24, 2003) - Following up on its successful first run during the 2002 season, the Champ Car Mentor Program will return this weekend at the Molson Indy Vancouver as part of the continuing effort to increase communication between...
INDIANAPOLIS (July 24, 2003) - Following up on its successful first run during the 2002 season, the Champ Car Mentor Program will return this weekend at the Molson Indy Vancouver as part of the continuing effort to increase communication between the rising stars of the Champ Car Ladder System and key team and sponsor personnel of the Champ Car World Series.
Three top drivers from the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship - Jonathan Macri, Aaron Justus, and Michael Valiante - are participating in the program at this weekend's Molson Indy Vancouver, and will be paired with Rocketsports Racing, Player's/Forsythe Racing, and Walker Racing, respectively. The drivers will have the opportunity to attend and take part in every aspect of a race weekend with the Champ Car teams, including debriefings, engineering sessions and team meetings, plus press and sponsor events. In addition, the drivers will listen in on team communications from pit lane during all practice and qualifying sessions plus the race.
Macri will be paired with Rocketsports Racing, which is in its first season of Champ Car World Series competition and fields a car for former Toyota Atlantic competitor Alex Tagliani. In his third year of Toyota Atlantic competition, the Canadian currently stands third in the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship point standings on the strength of five top-five finishes in seven starts thus far this season driving for the first-year Polestar Atlantic, LLC team.
Coming off his second runner-up finish of the season in Toronto, Justus will be spending the weekend with Player's/Forsythe Racing. The RuSPORT rookie has finished inside the top-five in six of his seven starts thus far in 2003, and currently ranks fourth in the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship point standings.
The winner of the season-opening Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix, Valiante will be paired with Walker Racing, and has already signed a letter of intent to drive for the Champ Car team in 2004 if funding can be secured. Despite missing the event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca due to an illness, the Lynx Racing pilot currently stands fifth in Toyota Atlantic points, on the strength of top-four finishes in five of his six starts. He was the championship runner-up during his first full season of Toyota Atlantic competition last year.
Due to prior commitments, current points leader A.J. Allmendinger and Ryan Dalziel, who is second in points are unable to participate in this weekend's program.
"The mentor program is a great idea because, now more than ever, it is extremely important for drivers in our series to introduce themselves to Champ Car teams," said CART Toyota Atlantic Championship president Vicki O'Connor. "It is fortunate for Jonathan, Aaron, and Michael are getting the opportunity to see the inner workings of a Champ Car team this weekend, and it should be a great benefit to them as they plan for their future. I'm pleased that we are able to give the drivers these types of opportunities, and I encourage all of them to ask as many questions and learn as much as they can this weekend."
Last year's inaugural Mentor Program placed Toyota Atlantic champion Jon Fogarty with Newman/Haas Racing and Patrick Racing, and the weekend in Vancouver with Newman/Haas led to a Champ Car test with the team in December. Likewise, Allmendinger, who was the 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series champion, participated in a mentor program with the Hylton Motorsports Toyota Atlantic team and the Fernandez Racing Champ Car program. This will be Valiante's second experience with the mentor program, as he spent the 2002 Vancouver race weekend with Player's/Forsythe Racing.
The Mentor Program is just one highlight of a continuing interaction between Champ Car personnel and Toyota Atlantic drivers and teams. Driver Alex Figge and Pacific Coast Motorsports are the official development team of long-time Champ Car World Series competitors Patrick Racing. In addition to its relationship with Pacific Coast, Patrick Racing has another connection to the Toyota Atlantic Championship as Operations Manager Steve Krisiloff's son, Kyle, is racing with Sierra Sierra. Also, Team Rahal has taken their involvement in CART Champ Car racing further by fielding a Toyota Atlantic team for Danica Patrick in addition to the Champ Car program it runs for Michel Jourdain Jr.
The Champ Car Mentor Program will continue during the Centrix Financial Grand Prix of Denver as the top Barber Dodge Pro Series drivers will be placed with selected Toyota Atlantic teams.
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." The series boasts $100,000 race purses and is noted for its long history of graduating its stars into Champ Car competition. Among the drivers who have graduated from Atlantic are current Champ Car competitors Jimmy Vasser, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, Roberto Moreno, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Rodolfo Lavin, as well as former Champ Car champions Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Michael Andretti and Jacques Villeneuve.