Highland Park, Ill. (September 25, 2001) -- After a long summer of heated racing, capped off with a wild weekend in Vancouver, BC, The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is in the midst of a month-long break before winding up the season in October...
Highland Park, Ill. (September 25, 2001) -- After a long summer of heated racing, capped off with a wild weekend in Vancouver, BC, The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is in the midst of a month-long break before winding up the season in October with back to back races in Houston and Monterey, California. However, even though the schedule has lightened up and the 2001 Champion decided, the teams are busy gearing up for the final two races, and for the 2002 season.
-ORSI CLINCHES CHAMPIONSHIP IN WILD RACE ON VANCOUVER'S STREETS-
After the dust had settled from a controversial race in Vancouver, Hoover Orsi (Hylton Motorsports/U.S. Print Swift) narrowly captured his first CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. However, nobody could have predicted the script on that race morning. Atlantic stewards subtracted all race points from Orsi after he and fellow championship contender, David Rutledge (Lynx Racing Swift) made contact; that not only damaged Rutledge's front wing, but his hopes of staying alive in the Championship. Rutledge fell to ninth in the Vancouver race while Orsi continued on to collect his ninth podium finish of the season.
Despite losing the 14 points for his third place finish, Orsi clinched the Championship anyway holding a 44-point lead over Rutledge heading into the final two races of the season. Rutledge could tie Orsi in points by winning both the pole, race, and most laps led at the races in Houston and Laguna Seca, while Orsi would have to finish outside the top twelve and not score any points. Even in the event of a tie in points, Orsi holds the tie-breaker edge over Rutledge with his three second place finishes.
The Championship is the first for team owner, Keith Hylton, who began the 2001 Championship run in the middle of the 2000 campaign. "When I first started the team a few years ago, I remembered looking up the grid and thinking how far I was from the front and would I ever get there," said Hylton. "Trois-Rivieres was a pivotal point for me emotionally this year. Last year, we sat stranded on the grid pumping oil all over the ground and missed the start of the race. At that time, I promptly grabbed my brief case, said not a word to anyone and headed to the airport. Just about everyone knows what happened the next day. After that day, I was determined that I would not let Hoover down again. Some higher being had entrusted his career with me and I was not going to blow it."
Hylton continued on the 2001 team that brought the Championship home. "I can't say enough about the guys on my team. Richard (Raeder) for sticking it out with me through the lean times. Kyle (Brannon) for doing what he does best and getting better all the time. David (Empringham) for giving us the value of his experience. Larry (Edscorn) for just being the very best mechanic that I have ever seen. Eric (Crowder) for his attention to detail, and directions to all the fun locations on the circuit. Lisa (DeSantis) for being the prettiest babysitter Hoover ever had. Vinnie (Baud) and Robert (Smith) for just getting us there. And last, Hoover. If ever there was a natural talent, it would be him. He has so many great qualities and not just as a driver. As I have said before, we are all the better for knowing him. This will be a season that I will carry with me always."
There has been no time off for Hylton during this month break. "I had to go back to work before I got fired," joked Hylton. "It's been a very trying time in Silicon Valley this year and quite frankly, I am trying some of the things I learned from the race team on my business at U.S. Print. That is kind of a new twist on Racing. Now Hoover, on the other hand, just called from Nepal, where he visited the base camp at Mount Everest. There is something terribly wrong with this picture," said a laughing Keith Hylton.
Orsi is the first Brazilian Champion in the 28 year history of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship and seems destined to join a bumper crop of talented Brazilian drivers in the CART FedEx Championship Series. Orsi was happy to get the Championship put away before the break, and now will concentrate on adding wins to his championship stats.
"Winning the championship with two races to go was a big thing for us," said Orsi. "Everybody was really happy and feeling good. All the hard work paid off. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to celebrate because I left just after the race and went to Nepal and Tibet. Then, I went to the UK to watch the CART race, but we will celebrate when the season is over. Most likely, the whole team is going on a trip together. That is gonna be sweet."
Orsi continued on making a strong finish to close out the 2001 season. "We are going to try as hard as possible to win the final two races. Up until this point, this year has been about perfect. In 10 races, we have finished on the podium nine times, so we are looking to improve on that and make our records even better."
-TEARING INTO THE SWIFT 014.a-
The spanking new Swift 014.a, which will be the new chassis for the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship for the next three years, showed up in the paddock in Vancouver. Owners, engineers, and mechanics wasted no time getting their hands and noses dirty inspecting the new car. As many as 20 people at any one time crowded above, in, and under the car trying to get a peak at what they will need to work on for the following three seasons.
Michael Shank Racing's lead engineer and former CART Championship winning crew chief for Bobby Rahal, Dale Wise, was impressed with what he saw in the new chassis.
"I got a chance to look at the new Swift chassis at Vancouver and it's definitely a lot more refined than the car we have now," said Wise. "The body work is better, the tub is stiffer, access to the engine and steering rack is easier, and the cockpit is more like what you see on the current champ cars in terms of protecting the driver. As far as setting up the new car compared to the old car, we really won't know until we go testing with our first one sometime in December. The suspension is the same, but we'll probably have to make some adjustments to account for the stiffer tub. The car also looks like it will have less aerodynamic drag, so that will make a difference in the set-up as well. Overall, it looks like the new Swift will be a very good car for the series."
-ATLANTIC GRADUATES TURN UP THE HEAT-
The 2001 season has seen an emergence of former CART Toyota Atlantic Championship drivers finding success in the upper tiers of open wheeled racing, most notably, Patrick Carpentier in the CART Fedex Championship and Sam Hornish Jr. in the Indy Racing League.
Carpentier, who won the 1996 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship while driving for Peggy Haas and Jacky Doty's Lynx Racing, has had a breakout season in the CART FedEx Championship Series this year. Before earning the prestigious seat in the FedEx Championship Series driving for Player's/Forsythe Racing, Carpentier set many records in the Atlantic Championship during his remarkable 1996 Championship season; including tying Gilles Villenueve's most wins in a season record at nine. Carpentier also earned a series record 239 points during that brilliant season along with eight consecutive poles, another Atlantic record.
"When I think back to my days in the Atlantic series I remember a lot of good times," said Carpentier. "Not only was it a lot of fun, but it was such a great stepping stone for my career advancement. I was at the stage where I had showed some potential on the race track but like a lot of Canadian drivers, I was having a tough time securing sponsorship so I could develop that talent. The Player's Driver Development program was just what I needed because I was able to learn so many different facets of motor racing. I made progress every year, and then in 1996, I had that dream season in the Atlantic series when I won nine of the 12 races. That positioned me for a move up to the CART series the following year, but getting a good training in the fundamentals in Atlantic was so important to my progress. It was a big factor in my making it into the CART series."
Carpentier only posted two top-10 finishes during the first nine races of the 2001 CART FedEx Championship this year, but rallied to score four podium finishes in the following six races, including his first career win at the Harrah's 500 Presented by Toyota at Michigan International Raceway. Three of the four podiums came on ovals; tracks that some think Atlantic drivers are at a disadvantage on.
Following the ninth race of this season in Toronto, Carpentier was mired in 21st place in the championship with 15 points. Carpentier's performance in the following six races has shot him up to seventh in the championship with 83 points heading into this past weekend's race at the Rockingham Motor Speedway. Carpentier is only three points out of the top five.
Carpentier's Player's/Forsythe Racing teammate, Alex Tagliani, has also parlayed his Atlantic experience into success this year in the FedEx Championship. In his four years in Atlantic competition, Tagliani posted six wins along with eight poles and finished in the top five in Championship points in 1997, 1998, and 1999.
"I was fortunate to have been a part of the first team that Player's had in the Atlantic series back in 1997," said Tagliani. "That was my second season in Atlantic and I remember what a thrill it was winning the race in Trois-Rivières before a home crowd. The three years I spent with Team Player's in Atlantic prepared me well for the CART series. We had the opportunity to race on a lot of the tracks that are also the venue for CART events, so that was a fantastic training ground for what came later in CART. When Player's had a ride available in the CART series, the fact that I had been in their development program and on their Atlantic team for three years, helped in getting me invited for a tryout and from that I was able to earn the ride in CART. I spent four years in all in the Atlantic series and I considered each year a learning process. I'm proud that I was able to advance each year. We were in the hunt for the championship right to the end in each of the last three seasons, so my time in Atlantic was time well spent."
Like Carpentier, Tagliani got off to a slow start in the 2001 CART FedEx Championship with a best finish of 12th in the first seven races. The following seven races found Tagliani in the top-10 every time, including an emotional second place finish in Toronto behind 1983 Atlantic Champion, Michael Andretti, who is currently in third place in a close Championship battle. Tagliani also won the pole three weeks ago in Vancouver as part of a Player's/Forsythe Racing sweep of the front row, and looked to be on his way to his first career win in the race before dropping out with mechanical problems.
Sam Hornish Jr. won the 1999 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship Rookie of the Year Award while driving for Michael Shank Racing and like Carpentier, has parlayed his success in Atlantic to the next level. Hornish captured the Indy Racing League Championship three weeks ago in Joliet, Illinois, giving more credence that Atlantic drivers can succeed on ovals. Every event in the Indy Racing League takes place on ovals.
"Atlantic was such a great stepping stone on helping me get to the IRL," said IRL Champion, Sam Hornish Jr. "The 1999 season in Atlantic was a pretty decent year for me. I didn't get to do everything I wanted to in just one season, but I learned so much about concentration and focusing on trying not to overdrive the car. The Atlantic car had more horsepower than anything I had ever driven before and getting to drive that car against guys like Alex (Tagliani), Anthony (Lazzaro), and Kenny (Wilden) helped me progress to where I am now."
Another Atlantic graduate performing well this year is Memo Gidley who posted five Atlantic wins during the 1997 and 1998 season. Gidley got the nod for a seat with Target Chip Ganassi Racing midway through the 2001 season and posted a runner-up finish in just his second race with the team at Cleveland.
-CLOSE TO HOME-
The events that took place on September 11, 2001, are sure to change our lives forever. Never in the 28-year history of the Atlantic Championship, has racing felt more insignificant compared to situations that occurred away from the track. Atlantic rookie and Long Island, New York resident, Guy Cosmo, reflected on the day that will be etched in our memories forever.
"We are all extremely saddened by the horrendous acts of violence and the lives it has affected," said Cosmo. "Fortunately all of my friends and family remained safe, but our hearts go out to all those who have lost their loved ones. As I live on Long Island, you can't see anything of the city. I had flown out of Long Island and past the Trade Center about 20 minutes before the attack, on my way down to the Grand Am Finale at Daytona, Florida, where I was to drive a Riley & Scott SRP car. We were one of the last flights in the air throughout the whole country by the time we landed, and had no idea of what was happening until we all started checking our voicemail on our phones, getting messages from friends and family."
Cosmo has been running a partial season this year competing in four races, twice with Worldspeed Motorsports and two more races with Duesenberg Brothers Racing. Cosmo placed ninth in his first ever Atlantic race in the season opener at Long Beach, California.
Cosmo continues his thoughts on the tragedies. "As suspected, the Grand Am event was cancelled and a friend and I decided to drive home with a rental car back to New York. On the way home we drove through Staten Island, across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and then took the Brooklyn Queens Expressway as it provides an incredible view of the city on our way home. Although I was still very far away from the city, across the East River, you can't imagine the sight of the smoke coming from the remains of the Trade Center and the empty feeling that crawls through your body when you look at the skyline and those Twin Towers aren't there. It's so unbelievable. It looks like an eerie scene out of a movie and to know that what you're seeing is real; it's absolutely sickening."
"I can tell you that now, more than ever, how honored I am to be a New Yorker. I've seen compassion, determination, and support that most everyone would never have expected to see from New Yorkers. We may have a reputation for being really rough around the edges, but if there's one thing we love, it's where we come from. The realization that our city and our people could be harmed in such a horrendous way as seen last Tuesday; the world saw an entire community of people pull together with remarkable strength to handle the situation in an extremely impressive manner."
"I would especially like to commend a team sponsor in our Atlantic Community, Ironclad Performance Wear, sponsor for World Speed Motorsports, who also helped me race twice this year. Ironclad donated nearly 8,000 pairs of gloves to help protect all the workers at Ground Zero."
"As for me, I will continue my efforts to generate support in order to compete in the Atlantic Series, and when I do finally race again, I'll stand proud to be probably the only driver from New York, and represent my city to the best of my abilities."
-NO REST FOR THE WEARY-
You might think that with a month off and the Championship clinched, teams would relax. But that is not the case in the 2001 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. There are competitive teams still searching for that first win of the season along with close points battles in the top five and Rookie of the Year.
David Rutledge, who was in the midst of a two driver battle for the Championship midway through the season with Orsi, must now fight off a hard charge from Martin Basso (Michael Shank Racing/3b Engine Valves Swift) and Joey Hand (DSTP Motorsports/BG Products Swift). Rutledge holds second place in the Championship with two races to go, but Basso only trails by 14 points, with Hand following by 22 points.
"With the championship already settled, the only thing on our minds is to go out and win the final two races of the season," said a determined Rutledge. "We had good races at both Houston and Laguna Seca last year, finishing second at both, and I think we're now equipped to do even better. Despite our disappointment and anger over how things went in Vancouver, I still have to focus on finishing out the season as strongly as possible to try and earn myself a CART test. Once I actually get in a champ car, I don't think I'll have any trouble proving to a team that I could be an asset to their program. I'll do whatever it takes, and however long it takes, to get a ride with a top team. Memo Gidley, also a Lynx driver earlier in his career, is my role model in this, I just hope it doesn't take me as long."
Michael Shank Racing has spent some time testing at Blackhawk trying to get to victory lane in the final two races. "We're trying to squeeze everything we can out the car in order to improve Martin's chances of finishing second in the championship," said owner Michael Shank. He's picked up a lot of ground on David Rutledge over the past several races, so we want to keep that momentum going. We'd also really like to get him, and Rodolfo Lavin (Michael Shank Racing/Corona Swift), into the winner's circle before the year is out."
Hand, who is already signed to return to DSTP Motorsports next year, is looking to nail down the Rookie of the Year title in Houston. "We've had a couple days of testing, and they've gone very well," said Hand. "We hope to apply the gains in testing to the racecar, and finish the season with a bang. We feel as though we have good momentum right now. Yes, the championship is wrapped up, but we can still catch up to second."
With the seat already secured for 2002, Hand should be one of the favorites for next year's Championship. Hand continued, "I am excited that I am able to stay with DSTP next year and make a run at the championship. Next year is going to be a great year for the series, and myself and DSTP are looking forward to it."
P-1 Racing is also staying busy trying to get another win for one of its three drivers. Tony Ave (P-1 Racing/Miller Genuine Draft Swift) won earlier this year at Nazareth. A month off for Ave does not mean he is not racing. As usual, Ave has been busy driving in Trans-Am and some midget races, as well as testing in some other series.
P-1 Racing owner, Bill Fickling said, "We're testing at Buttonwillow on September 24th and 25th before leaving for Houston. As far as the last two races are concerned, I think everyone is looking forward to focusing on something besides the tragedies of the past week. I am personally looking forward to giving Kasey Kahne (P-1 Racing/Ford Racing Technology Swift) a chance to demonstrate his ability at Houston and Laguna Seca." Kahne ran his first time with P-1 Racing in August at Road America, but did not complete a lap in the race after he was sidelined due to an mechanical problem before the green flag ever came out. Kahne had qualified seventh. P-1 Racing's other driver, Jonathan Maci (P-1 Racing/NTN Bearings Swift) remains in the hunt for the Rookie of the Year title trailing Joey Hand by 22 points.
Atlantic team, Worldspeed Motorsports, which also competes in the Formula Mazda Pro Series, will get a rare chance to have both of it's operations at the same track when the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship finishes its season up at Laguna Seca. Grant Ryley (Worldspeed Motorsports/Northwest Speedwerx Swift) stands 10th in points with 48. Ryley has had an up and down season with highlights being the pole and runner-up finish at Milwaukee and a podium showing at Toronto.
After securing the 2001 Championship in Vancouver, Hylton Motorsports will field a second car for the final two races of the season at Houston and Laguna Seca. Stephan C. Roy (Hylton Motorsports/Playstation 2 Momo Swift) will team up with this year's champion, Hoover Orsi. Roy has run the majority of this season's races with P-1 Racing with a best finish of third in Chicago. Roy drove one race with Duesenberg Brothers Racing at Road America.
Guy Cosmo will be back in the Duesenberg Brothers entry at Houston. It will be Cosmo's fifth start of the year with his season best finish of ninth coming at the season opening race at Long Beach, California.
Jason LaPoint (Lynx Racing Swift) will run the final two races in second car prepared by Lynx Racing. LaPoint partnered up with David Rutledge in the August event at Road America and had immediate success qualifying third in his first Atlantic race. LaPoint went on to finish seventh in the race.
Margraf Racing Inc. started the season at Long Beach, California with rookie drivers, Hawk and Zac Mazzotta. Sponsorship problems sidelined the operations shortly after the event keeping the cars off the track until now. Owner, Bill Margraf, will be back on track at the season finale at Laguna Seca with rookie drivers, DeWayne Cassel (Margraf Racing/Tyco ADT Swift) and Scott Jenkins (Margraf Racing Swift). Cassel, 40, will make his Atlantic debut as the first African-American driver in the Atlantic Championship. Jenkins, 19, has been running a full season in the Star Mazda Championship.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is one of the world's richest open-wheel development series and is a key rung on CART's "ladder system". It is also 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, Alex Barron, Memo Gidley, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, former Champ Car stars Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan, as well as 1997 FIA Formula One Champion Jacques Villeneuve.