An interview with Toyota Atlantic Driver Michael Valiante And now we bring in Toyota Atlantic driver Michael Valiante. Michael is a 22-year-old native of British Columbia who captured the win Saturday in an Atlantic race in Toronto. It was an...
An interview with Toyota Atlantic Driver Michael Valiante
And now we bring in Toyota Atlantic driver Michael Valiante. Michael is a 22-year-old native of British Columbia who captured the win Saturday in an Atlantic race in Toronto. It was an interesting day for Michael and the Lynx Racing Team. After starting third in the day he made a spectacular pass that put him into lead in lap six of the race and he went onto his second Atlantic victory of the season. He captured the points lead in the Series as well. It was announced after the race that the team was fined five championship points for the pass as he put all four wheels under the curb in Turn One in Exhibition Place. Despite that, he still leads the points race with 89 to 75 over Jon Fogarty as we head into the next race in Cleveland coming up this weekend. It had to good feel good to take home a victory, second in Atlantic series as we pointed out in your home country of Canada.
Michael Vaiante: Great for the team. Had a rough mid-season, higher speed tracks struggling a little bit and the race before Toronto in Chicago where we struggled the past few -- past few years on the oval. We had a great car and finished third and carried the momentum into Toronto. It was great to get a victory in Canada.
Q: Have you had a chance to look at the tape of that pass and do you agree with Wally?
Michael Vaiante: I spoke to the officials at the end of the race and I found out about 45 minutes after that there's a question whether I would be disqualified or not. And my intentions actually never were to really even use the curbing going into Turn One. Gurney blocked the inside and I had to go really tight down low so that we wouldn't get collected because Gurney and Fogarty actually touched. If anything, I was trying to avoid the accident and intention wasn't to use the curbing, so I was a little surprised to hear I was penalized five points.
Q: Did you in fact go over -- have all four wheels over the white line?
Michael Vaiante: I think my two left wheels are on the curbing, the red and white. So it was questionable. But I mean it could have been worse if you look at it. I think Dario was penalized in the CART race. Obviously I'm a little disappointed because taking five points away in the championship which might be crucial at the end of the year.
Q: At the same time I'm sure that's motivation to get five points back in Cleveland this week?
Michael Vaiante: Yes, exactly.
Q: Great to have you on the radio show when we were in Toronto, Michael. Talk about the bizarreness of the situation. You win in Toronto, go to Cleveland, but you are not running this season in Vancouver. That's got to be a little bit strange?
Michael Vaiante: It was disappointing when I heard at the beginning of the season that we were not going to be running in Vancouver after such a strong showing last year. It would have been great to have a win in my hometown. I'm definitely disappointed but I guess the way the schedule was structured it was just going to be difficult to go from eastern United States, or eastern Canada, all the way to the West Coast.
Q: Has there been any discussion now that Atlantic is the only development rung at least in the top of the ladder with Indy Lights no longer in the picture, darn it, if CART is going to be performing in Toronto or Vancouver that Atlantic should be there too?
Michael Vaiante: I think what CART was trying to do is cut their cost and I think Atlantic is the same thing. They're always trying to keep in mind the Atlantic budgets, because as you add more events it becomes more expensive and in the season we only have 14 test days to control some of the costs. So adding another event would be great from a driver's point of view. But looking at the costs, you're looking at the teams to raise more money and have to travel further. So I don't think we can really do more than 12 events. I think it would be great if we could participate at all the CART events but I don't think it could happen because with budgets where they are right now, it would be really difficult.
Q: Another quick question. A former teammate of yours, David Rutledge is sort of on the outside looking in, star in the Atlantic Series and now he is beating weeds as fervently as he can trying to get a part-time CART ride. Now you are in Atlantic, you are still there, are you already in your mind got the wheels in motion once you're ready to graduate out of Atlantics to get some kind of a seat in CART because it has got to be very tough for David to try and land a ride in CART when you're not active in a series somewhere?
Michael Vaiante: I think motor racing right now, it is being in the right place at the right time. There was some turmoil there last year with CART where didn't know the direction they were going to take. I think it was difficult for David to find a seat with the teams -- with a few teams that actually fell to the series. I think what CART has done now is heading in a great direction. I think there will be some opportunities opening up in the near future and not only for myself but for David. I'm pursuing many, many teams, but like I said, it is a lot about being in the right place at the right time and having the budget to do it.
Merrill Cain: Playing upon Eric's question for a second, he mentioned he won't be competing in Vancouver but you will be there participating in the CART Mentor Program. You were announced to participate in that earlier this year. That means you will be working with a Champ Car team for the entire weekend. You kind of learn what life is like at the next level of competition, participating in team debriefings and meetings and working with the team on pit lane. That's got to be exciting for you. I know it is a drawback not to be able to race but this has to be something you would look forward to working with that team?
Michael Vaiante: Yes, exactly right. CART is doing a great job of promoting the Ladder System and I think this is a perfect example. We actually had some Barber Dodge drivers participate in the program in Chicago. It's a great idea for me to not only understand how CART works and how the drivers work with their engineers and basically the whole program, it is also great for drivers, in the Barber Dodge Series and lower to understand how Atlantic works. So I think it is a great opportunity and I hope to see many more things happen like that.
Merrill Cain: That is the Mentor Program that will be taking place in Vancouver July 26th through 28th, the CART Fed-Ex Championship Series up there for the Molson Indy.
Q: Michael, coming up, you've got the race in Canada (Trois Rivieres) coming in the first part of August. Tell me about that.
Michael Vaiante: It is a great event for Atlantic series because they treat us very, very well there, not to say that CART doesn't. But I think Atlantic has a lot of history there and that's what I think -- the fans really look back on with those participating there in past events. I always look forward to it because of the history it has with Canadian drivers and I think it is a prestigious race to win. And the track itself is extremely challenging, few bumpy sections as well as high speed sections so really have to make sure have not only the motor running well but the chassis working well over the bumps and the higher speed sections.
Q: What about running with the sports cars that weekend? I believe they are there.
Michael Vaiante: I think it is a great opportunity, different type of car and I enjoy watching them and think would a good time.
Q: Would you like to ride in one?
Michael Vaiante: Honestly, I enjoy driving any type of professional racing cars. If the opportunity was there, I definitely would take -- try driving one.
Merrill Cain: I would like to ask you a little bit about Cleveland, the place you're heading to next. You competed there with the Barber Dodge Pro Series a couple years ago and I think you finished in the top ten. How do you feel about racing in Cleveland and what are you looking forward to at the Burke Lakefront Airport?
Michael Vaiante: I'm looking forward to it. It is a great track and it is a great place for fans to watch it because you can see the whole track from the grandstands. It's definitely a challenging track because it's so wide and hard to see the apex when you're coming into the corners at such a high speed. Like I was saying before, with limited test days, it is really forcing us to utilize the practice sessions and qualifying sessions properly and I mean, I think that's what you can see a little bit of inconsistent results especially us because we have a new engine dealer and we are still developing not only the car and the motor as well constantly trying things and I think you'll really see us come on towards the last three or four races.
Merrill Cain: I wanted ask you about being in the points lead. You have a 14-point lead over Jon Fogarty. Do you feel more like a marked man heading into Cleveland? You have a couple wins under your belt. Do you feel like you need to protect the lead a little bit?
Michael Vaiante: With the Championship being so competitive this year I think it is not only going to come down to race wins but just being consistent. And I don't think by any means we can relax now. I think we definitely have to keep the pressure up and try to maintain our points lead or even gap the fields when we leave Cleveland.
Merrill Cain: We wish you the best of luck this weekend. We appreciate you joining us on the CART teleconference today. Again the next Atlantic Championship event is this weekend in Cleveland. Michael, wish you the best of luck and see you in a couple days.
Michael Vaiante: Take care.
Merrill Cain: We would like to thank you for participating in today's call. The next CART FedEx Championship Series event will take place this weekend on the lake with the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank at the Burke Lakefront Airport. The race can be seen Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time on the CBS Television Network. Thanks to all who participated in today's call and have a very pleasant afternoon.