Round 11 of the 12-event CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will be held on the 2.747-mile permanent road course at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, as Saturday's feature event at the Molson Indy Montreal in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Saturday's race...
Round 11 of the 12-event CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will be held on the 2.747-mile permanent road course at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, as Saturday's feature event at the Molson Indy Montreal in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Saturday's race will mark the 21st time since 1978 the Atlantic series has competed in Montreal.
The CART-sanctioned Toyota Atlantic Championship is the top rung on CART's "Ladder System", and is noted for its long history of graduating its stars into CART competition. Among the drivers who have graduated from the Atlantic series are CART Champ car stars Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser, Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani, former Champ Car stars Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan, as well as 1997 FIA Formula One Champion, Jacques Villeneuve.
Atlantic Schedule at Montreal:
Friday, August 23:
Practice 11:45 a.m. -- 12:20 p.m.
Qualifying 4:00 p.m. -- 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, August 24:
Qualifying 9:00 a.m. -- 9:40 a.m.
RACE 3:30 p.m. -- 4:45 p.m. (27 laps/74.16 miles)
"Home Turf" -- Canadian Drivers go for Eighth Straight Win in Montreal - The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship has been racing in Montreal since 1978 where outside of Jacques Villeneuve, American drivers had won most of the races up until the mid 90's. But starting with Patrick Carpentier's win in 1995, Canadian drivers have owned this event winning it seven times straight. Burnaby, BC, Canada's Michael Valiante (Lynx Racing Swift 014.a) will lead a Canadian contingent looking for the eighth straight win in Montreal.
There is a good possibility that the streak could continue on as Valiante will enter this weekend with the Championship points lead and one of the favorites to take the checkered flag. Valiante's team, Lynx Racing, has been dominant at the 2.747-mile Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve the past two years taking poles and wins with Canadian driver, David Rutledge. Valiante was runner-up here last year to Rutledge running a very close second in his first race at the track.
For whatever reason, Atlantic races in Canada have been a pole-winner's paradise. Of the three Canadian races on the 2002 schedule, nobody has won from a position other than the pole since Alex Tagliani won in Toronto in 1998 after fellow Canadian driver, Lee Bentham had earned the first starting spot. The Montreal event has an even longer history of pole winners taking the checkered flag. In 1995, Patrick Carpentier won the pole, but it was David Empringham that won the race. Even since then, the person that has started the race from the first position, has went on to win the race. Much like Trois-Rivieres where the race has been won from the pole for nine straight races, qualifying up front at Montreal will be pivotal to the chances of winning Saturday afternoon's 3:30 p.m. EST race.
Valiante's three wins at Long Beach, Toronto, and Trois-Rivieres along with his eight top-five finishes have allowed him to carry a 14-point lead over Jon Fogarty (Dorricott Racing/Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Swift 014.a) into the final two races of the season. A win by Valiante this weekend, coupled with a poor finish this on Saturday by Fogarty, could secure the Championship for the Canadian driver. A poor finish by Fogarty is not likely though. Fogarty, who is competing in his first Atlantic Championship season, has posted eight top-five finishes as well and it is highly likely that the Championship won't be decided until next week's season ending event in Denver.
Excluding the three bonus points that are up for grabs this weekend, Fogarty must finish fourth or higher to guarantee himself a shot at the Championship at Denver. Of course, all of this changes depending on who wins the two points for pole and provisional pole along with bonus point for leading the most laps on race day.
Fogarty's teammates, Alex Gurney (Dorricott Racing/Behr Castrol Swift 014.a) and Luis Diaz (Dorricott Racing/Telmex Swift 014.a), kept their Championship hopes alive last week at Road America with their podium finishes. Diaz won the event while Gurney finished third behind Fogarty for a Dorricott sweep. Although they did their part to stay in contention for the Championship, Valiante's fourth place finish behind the Dorricott drivers cut into the gains they could have made. The pair will need similar results this weekend along with Valiante placing deeper in the field to have a shot at the Championship heading into the Denver event. Gurney stands 30 points behind Valiante and must cut the lead into the teens to stand a chance of stealing the Championship. Diaz, who is 32 points back, faces the same task.
A contact incident at Road America severely hampered the Championship hopes of Ryan Hunter-Reay (Hylton Motorsports/Andor Capital Mangement/Medlock Ames Winery Swift 014.a). Hunter-Reay, who got the season off to a slow start but stormed back into contention with wins at Laguna Seca, Chicago, and Cleveland, has returned to the same luck that he began the 2002 Championship with. Heading into the Road America event, Hunter-Reay was right with Fogarty in the pursuit of Valiante, but a contact incident with Waldemar Coronas (Scuadra Fortia/Aviacsa/Roycs/ Maizoro/Millenio Swift 014.a) knocked the Florida driver out of the event and he now stands 34 points back in the Championship. Like Gurney and Diaz, Hunter-Reay will need podium finishes along with some help to have a shot at the 2002 trophy.
Rocky Moran Jr. (Sigma Autosports/Sunoco/BG Products Swift 014.a) suffered the same fate as Hunter-Reay at Road America after contact with Diaz while leading the race spoiled his chances on bringing home Sigma Autosport's first career Atlantic victory. Moran Jr. had charged from his sixth place starting spot and looked like the man to beat before the scrap with Diaz. Instead of winning the race and staying in the hunt for the Championship, Moran Jr. was eliminated from contention and now must focus on staying in the top five.
After Valiante, Jonathan Macri (P-1 Racing/NTN Bearings/Miller Genuine Draft/Battlefield Equipment Rentals Swift 014.a) is Canada's best hope of keeping the Canuck win streak alive. Even though Macri has been eliminated from the Championship hunt, the Gormley, Ontario driver is still looking for his first career win and has been close several times this season. Along with his runner-up finishes in Portland and Toronto this year, Macri was very strong in Montreal last year. However, his 11th place finish was not indicative of his performance. Macri nearly came out of last year's Montreal race with a podium, but slid off track on the final lap while fighting with Martin Basso for third place.
Another Canadian driver to watch for will be Marc DeVellis (Sierra Sierra Enterprises/Proworks Swift 014.a), who hails from Burnaby, BC, the same hometown as Valiante. DeVellis started his Atlantic career in fine fashion with a podium finish at Trois-Rivieres. Not only was it his first Atlantic start as a driver, it was the first for the team out of Minden, Nevada.
At the halfway point of the season, Roger Yasukawa was only seven points out of the Championship lead and looked to be a strong contender. A month later, the former Hylton Motorsports driver is out of a ride and languished back in eighth place in the Championship. A series of incidents, none of which were his fault, derailed Yasukawa's 2002 Championship hopes. Ryan Dalziel (Hylton Motorsports/Telemetry Swift 014.a) will take over the second Hylton seat for the final two races. After starting the season with a runner-up finish at Monterrey, Mexico while driving for Michael Shank Racing, Dalziel has only fielded one other top-five finish and is hoping the change will pay off for good results over the next two weeks. Dalziel currently holds the tenth spot in the Championship with 58 points, nine ahead of Coronas.
Sepp Koster, who also drove for Michael Shank Racing for the first nine races of the season, did not make the event at Road America while trying to put together financing to finish out the season. That leaves the Shank team with possibly one driver this weekend. Second year driver, Rodolfo Lavin (Michael Shank Racing/Corona/Modelo Swift 014.a) from Mexico, stands ninth in the Championship with 71 points and holds a solid spot in the top-ten in points, 22 ahead of Coronas. With eighth place Yasukawa only two points ahead and not racing this weekend, Lavin should move up and can set his sights on seventh place Macri who is only 10 points ahead.
Joey Hand (DSTP Motorsports/BG Products Swift 014.a) will continue to play spoiler this weekend in Montreal. The 2002 Championship favorite missed six races this season after sustaining injuries in a May testing accident at The Milwaukee Mile. Hand finished fifth last week at Road America showing he is getting back to form. Hand was also one of the only cars that could compete with the Lynx Racing duo of Rutledge and Valiante at Montreal last year. The California driver was closing the gap on the two in the later stages of the race before a gearbox problem dropped him back to a 15th place finish. 2000 CART Toyota Atlantic Champion, Buddy Rice, kept the seat warm while Hand mended.
Coronas and Grant Ryley (Lynx Racing/Northwest Speedwerx/Cupertino Electric Swift 014.a) who stand 11th and 12th in the Championship respectively, will try to make their way into the top-ten in the final two races. Ryley has picked up the pace as the season draws to a close running in the top-three for most of the race in Trois-Rivieres and having a solid run at Road America as well. Coronas is nine points back of the tenth place Dalziel while Ryley is only 15 points back.
Stephan C Roy (BBGP Racing/Playstation 2/betonusa.net Swift 014.a) is still looking for his first top-five finish of the season and hopes he can put the result up in his home province of Quebec. The Trois-Rivieres, Quebec driver has posted a top finish of sixth this year which came earlier this season at Long Beach.
Atlantic Quick Facts:
Jon Fogarty leads the Rookie of the Year Championship over Diaz and Hunter-Reay. (122-104-102) Michael Valiante leads in prize money with $131,000. Valiante is the only driver to complete every lap this season. (395) Valiante and Hunter-Reay are tied with the most wins this season. (3) Fogarty and Hunter-Reay are tied with the most poles this season. (3) Hunter-Reay has led the most laps. (160) Hunter-Reay and Valiante are tied with three $1,000 WorldCom Fast Pace Awards.