Monterrey: Season opener race notes

Valiante takes fourth CART Toyota Atlantic Championship race victory in Monterrey; Patrick makes history with podium finish. MONTERREY, Mexico (March 23, 2003) - 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship runner-up, Michael Valiante ( ...

Valiante takes fourth CART Toyota Atlantic Championship race victory in Monterrey; Patrick makes history with podium finish.

MONTERREY, Mexico (March 23, 2003) - 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship runner-up, Michael Valiante (#19 Lynx Racing Toyota/Swift), took his first step toward improving his position in the final point standings in 2003 by claiming victory in the season-opening Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix in Fundidora Park on Sunday.

Valiante took the lead from outside polesitter Joey Hand (#27 BG Products/DSTP Motorsports Toyota/Swift) on Lap 6, and held off a late charge from Canadian Jonathan Macri (#84 NTN Toyota/Swift) to take the fourth victory on his CART Toyota Atlantic Championship career, crossing the stripe 0.448 seconds ahead of Macri. Finishing third was Team Rahal rookie Danica Patrick (#24 Argent Mortgage Company Toyota/Swift), and it is believed that Patrick became the first female driver to finish on the podium in the 30-year history of the series.

After a yellow start due to contact between Kyle Krisiloff (#13 U.S. Grand Prix F1 Toyota/Swift) and Romain Dumas (#88 Jorge Arana/Aviacsa/Millenio Toyota/Swift) that left Krisiloff with an irreparably damaged left rear suspension, the green flag dropped on the season on Lap 3. Going into Turn 1, polesitter Luis Diaz (#33 Telmex/Dorricott Racing Toyota/Swift) suffered a punctured left rear tire due to contact from behind from third place starter A.J. Allmendinger (#4 RuSPORT Toyota/Swift). The contact effectively ruined any chance of a podium finish for both drivers, and allowed Hand to claim a substantial lead on the first green flag lap.

At the end of that lap, however, Hand's day took a dramatic turn for the worse, as his car was encountering a mechanical problem. Valiante used Hand's misfortune to his advantage and claimed the lead going into Turn 7 on Lap 6. Valiante would never relinquish the lead for the remainder of the race, but Macri managed to reduce the deficit to Valiante from over five seconds on Lap 7 to 0.448 seconds at race's end.

While Valiante disappeared off into the sunset after claiming the lead, Hand quickly fell into the clutches of third place running Macri, and Patrick, who was running fourth. Both drivers barged past on Lap 8, and shortly thereafter, Hand slid off course at Turn 7 allowing nearly the entire field to get past. Hand's day came to an end on the ensuing lap, as his mechanical problem proved to be terminal.

Through the middle stages of the race, Macri threw down fast laps in his efforts to track down Valiante, but was also receiving intense pressure from Patrick. Within the final 10 laps, however, Patrick's car developed understeer, and Macri was able to chase Valiante unfettered.

In the end, Macri came up just short, and went on to take his fourth career second place finish in Toyota Atlantic competition, and his first runner-up result since he finished second at Toronto in 2002. Patrick's third place debut made her the second woman to finish on the podium in a CART-sanctioned race, behind Sara Senske who finished second in the Barber Dodge Pro Series event at Chicago Motor Speedway in 2001.

Taking a fourth place result in the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix was second-year competitor Ryan Dalziel (#28 Discovery Lake/Daily Record Newspaper Toyota/Swift). It was the Scot's third straight top-four finishing position dating to a third place run at Montreal last season, and was his fourth consecutive top-10 finish dating to a ninth place showing at Road America in 2002.

Finishing fifth was rookie Aaron Justus (#3 RuSPORT Toyota/Swift), who claimed his career best result in CART Toyota Atlantic Championship competition, and was his third top-eight finish in four career Toyota Atlantic starts. Rounding out the top 10 were American Alex Figge (#69 Pacific Coast Motorsports/Patrick Racing Toyota/Swift) in sixth; Marc DeVellis (#67 Pro-Works Toyota/Swift) in seventh; Allmendinger in eighth; Romain Dumas (#88 Jorge Arana/Aviacsa/Millenio Toyota/Swift) in ninth; and Diaz, who wound up 10th. Except for the yellow start, the entire 32-lap race distance was run without a full-course caution flag.

After two weekends off, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship resumes in Southern California for the prestigious Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the weekend of April 11-13.

Quotes from the day's top three finishers follow below:

* MICHAEL VALIANTE: "At the warm-up we saw that the track was pretty slick, and I knew the race would be similar. I tried to get a good run (at the start), actually, we all, pretty much the first three rows going into the first corner, we all basically went around the outside and tiptoed through Turn 1. For the race, all weekend we worked through a few issues, in the first session, through no one's fault, really, we had a couple mechanical failures. In the race, we weren't too sure how we were going to be. We just tried to put some aero in the car and try to get the same top speed that everybody else had. Everything went really well. We got the win, and we've just got to keep that up."

* JONATHAN MACRI: "I was able to make a couple car lengths on Danica, but I was hoping for a little more on Michael. I was turning some real fast laps in there, just to close the gap. I was within a couple car lengths there, but it didn't seem to work out for me. I had a bit of understeer, but if there were a couple more laps in this thing we might have had a chance. Overall, it was a really good race. We've been working hard all weekend, and overall, it's just an awesome finish for us."

* DANICA PATRICK: "The race very exciting. I didn't have a good enough car to get by Jonathan (Macri), and I started to understeer halfway through the race and I ran out of adjustments. So we just kind of had to chip away, and I just had to keep pushing with the problems. In the end, the car was great. I think it was a reflection on how a lot of people have been working as a team at Team Rahal. We're just excited. It's good."

NOTES:

* Today's sixth place performance by Alex Figge tied his career-best Toyota Atlantic result, established in 2002 at Milwaukee.

* Seventh-place finisher Marc DeVellis posted his best result since finishing third in his CART Toyota Atlantic Championship debut at Trois-Rivieres in 2002.

* Alex Garcia established a CART Toyota Atlantic Championship career-best result with an 11th place run today. His previous best result was 12th last year at Trois-Rivieres.

* In his 21st CART Toyota Atlantic Championship start, owner/driver Eric Jensen scored a career-best finish and scored the first championship points of his Toyota Atlantic career. Jensen's previous best finish was 15th in his Toyota Atlantic debut at Long Beach in 1999.

-cart/atlantic-

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Ryan Dalziel , Michael Valiante , Joey Hand , Jonathan Macri , Kyle Krisiloff , Luis Diaz , A.J. Allmendinger , Alex Garcia , Alex Figge , Eric Jensen , Aaron Justus , Romain Dumas