Hunter-Reay Runs Up Front in Monterrey Irvine, CA - Despite a first-lap incident while making his Atlantic debut, Hunter-Reay recorded top-five results in every practice session and qualified sixth, proving that he will be among the top...
Hunter-Reay Runs Up Front in Monterrey
Irvine, CA - Despite a first-lap incident while making his Atlantic debut, Hunter-Reay recorded top-five results in every practice session and qualified sixth, proving that he will be among the top contenders for the 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship.
Round one of the 2002 Atlantic series started Thursday with a 1:45 minute test session. The field was divided into four groups of five cars and each group had two 12-minute sessions. Hunter-Reay completed 14 laps on the two mile circuit and was the fastest Rookie, setting the third quickest time of the session, "This track has an excellent layout, it has a very smooth, wide surface but it is unimaginably slick. Due to the tremendous lack of overall grip on the track, the feel of the car was very misleading the first few laps. The crew made a few adjustments after our first outing and 30 minutes later when we went back out, I could definitely feel an improvement from the changes. I am pleased with our results today, it was just a test, but then again, it is the first time we have been out here as a group mixing it up together, everyone wants to be fast from the start and it feels good to prove that we are."
The defending Atlantic championship team returned to the track Friday confident they had prepared a car strong enough to keep Hunter-Reay in the top-five and they had. Hunter-Reay completed 16 laps Friday morning, running in the top three throughout the session. The young American returned to the pits several times throughout the session, developing changes to his set-up and optimizing his #1 Swift to the ever-changing racetrack surface. Once again, Hunter-Reay finished the session in the top-five, recording the fourth fastest time with a 89.177 second lap at the speed of 84.937 Mph. He was pleased with the practice, "The track felt much better today, it changes a lot as the grip increases and I imagine it will be much different again this afternoon after the Champ Cars spend some more time on it in qualifying. This is a very good result for us this morning because we have been experimenting a lot with the car. Every time I came in, we made fairly drastic changes, yet we remained right up there, so I think we have a pretty good idea of the direction we need to go for qualifying."
The 2002 Atlantic field returned to the grid late Friday afternoon for a 30-minute provisional qualifying session. The #1 us print/Medlock Aimes Winery/Toyota/Swift led the 23-car field out of the pits and onto the track for what would be the first of a 15 lap qualifying effort. Hunter-Reay completed six laps, setting his best lap time of 89.695 on the sixth lap, just before entering the pits, where he remained for seven minutes. The team made two adjustments to the car and added four fresh tires. Hunter-Reay returned to the track with 15 minutes remaining in the session, and set his best time of 88.822 seconds at 85.276 Mph, good for the fifth fastest time of the session and missing the top-three by just .02 sec. The recent CART Barber Dodge Graduate commented on his first Atlantic qualifying experience, "This is not the result we had hoped for, I think the track changed a bit more than we had expected. We missed it on the timing when I went out for my final run and ran into some bad luck there. First, I had two cars spin right in front of me, and then I was held up in traffic, so that was unfortunate."
Saturday brought another qualifying session and finally, the first race of the season. The final round of qualifying began at 9:00 am under partly cloudy skies and cooler track temperatures. Hunter-Reay took to the track at the fall of the green flag and immediately set the fastest time of the field, where he remained on the top of the time sheets for the next five laps. The Hylton crew called their driver in after seven laps when they made a shock change and sent him back out with 19 minutes remaining, in fourth position. He completed five additional laps while remaining in fourth position and returned to the pit for fresh rubber. With just over nine minutes remaining, Hunter-Reay returned to the track for his final qualifying assault. Completing an additional seven laps, the Hylton Motorsports team finished the session in sixth position with a best time of 87.772 seconds. Three of the five drivers that qualified ahead of Hunter-Reay, including pole sitter Luis Diaz, are Indy Lights graduates whom raced here last year. Fastest of the "true" Rookie's, Hunter-Reay was disappointed with what was a very impressive fete to most, "It is a shame I didn't qualify better, we made an improvement to the car from yesterday. I struggled with the traffic; it was an issue under breaking in the critical corners. I had a couple of fast, clean laps in the beginning, but a lot of traffic toward the end of the session, so that definitely hurt us. My guy's are doing a great job, they have given me a very good car for the race."
The dark, heavy skies let loose on Fundidora Park around 1:30 pm, reeking havoc with the day's scheduled track activities, including the 3:00 CART Toyota Atlantic race. Nearly two hours of heavy rain washed away the three days of rubber accumulation, leaving the track full of puddles and just as slick as it was when the Atlantic cars appeared on the track for the first time on Thursday. After a delay of nearly an hour, the Atlantic field cautiously followed the pace car out of the pits and made their rolling start just three laps later. Hunter-Reay made a strong start, passing Derek Higgins and on the move to the front when he ran out of room in a "bottleneck" at turn 7. Hunter-Reay ran up the back of Hand, causing damage to the right front of the car and terminating his race on the first lap. A disappointing start to a fantastic inaugural Atlantic weekend, Hunter-Reay commented on the contact, "I had a strong start and my car was really good. I was heading toward the inside and basically ran out of room. It was extremely difficult to see with the rain, puddles and all of the spray but surprisingly, it wasn't quite as slick as I thought it would be. This is a huge disappointment, this was my type of race, I love to race in the rain. We will set our focus towards Long Beach, the team did a great job this weekend, I feel like I learned a lot, now I look forward to applying it to the next one."
Hylton Motorsports announced an addition to their driver line-up this weekend. Roger Yasukawa will drive the #9 us print/Toyota/Swift for the remainder of the 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic series. Like his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, Yasukawa is a graduate of the CART Barber Dodge Pro Series; he finished fourth in the 2001 championship.
For more information on Hylton Motorsports, please visit www.ryanracing.com, www.hyltonmotorsports.com, or www.rogerspeed.com. For more information on the CART Toyota Atlantic Series, please visit www.toyotaatlantic.com.
Round two of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is just over one month away at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 14, 2002. The race will be shown on Speed Channel the same day, April 14th at 2:30 pm EST.