Diaz wins in flag to flag victory, becomes fifth different winner in five Atlantic races. PORTLAND, Ore. (June 15, 2002) -- The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship continued one of its most competitive starts to the season in its history on ...
Diaz wins in flag to flag victory, becomes fifth different winner in five Atlantic races.
PORTLAND, Ore. (June 15, 2002) -- The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship continued one of its most competitive starts to the season in its history on Saturday at the Portland International Raceway. Luis Diaz (Dorricott Racing/Telmex Swift 014.a) grabbed the lead going into the tight first turn and never relinquished it becoming the fifth winner in five races this season.
The start of the race at Portland was a major concern to all the teams heading into today's 35-lap event after first turn incidents at Long Beach and Laguna Seca wreaked havoc on the starts at those two venues. But, the field of 24 cars roared into the first turn and this time, were able to get out of the corner without any incidents. With the assistance of a caution free race, Diaz moved out to a commanding lead and took the checkered flag 4.690 seconds ahead of Jonathan Macri (P-1 Racing/NTN Bearings/Miller Genuine Draft Battlefield Equipment Rentals Swift 014.a). Earlier in the day, Diaz captured his second career $1000 Toyota "Pole Award" with a time of 1:06.749 seconds (106.195 mph), which was the fourth straight pole at Portland International Raceway for Dorricott Racing dating back to their years competing in the CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship. Diaz' win made it four straight victories here for Dorricott Racing as well.
"I was really worried about Turn one before the race," said Diaz. "All the Atlantic drivers ended up being great through that turn and nobody failed to make it through. After the Festival Corner, I had the best car of my life. I just tried to avoid any mistakes and keep the car on the track. I want to thank my team, my sponsors, the series, and the people of Portland. They are great fans. I want to keep this momentum so I can truly compete for the Atlantic championship. Perhaps I can fight Jon (Fogarty) for the championship."
For Macri, the runner-up finish was his second podium of the season and tied his best showing of his Atlantic career. (Road America 2001). Canada's Macri had hopes of chasing down Diaz for the win, but the Mexican driver was in a class of his own today winning the $1000 WorldCom "Fast Pace" award with a time of 1:07.515 seconds (104.990 mph). Both the pole and the fastest lap established new track records for the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship at Portland.
"We had an excellent start and I was able to get into second place right away," said Macri on his start. "I tried very hard to catch up with Luis (Diaz), but he kept a really fast pace. I thought he might fall off in the middle, but he didn't. I was hoping maybe there would be a yellow flag and it would give me a chance to catch him. But, our car worked good, the engine was excellent. It was an exceptional weekend."
Macri nearly got the yellow flag he was looking for when Grant Ryley (Lynx Racing/Northwest Speedwerx Cupertino Electric Swift 014.a) ran off course on the 24th lap and came to rest on the inside of Turn 3 with a broken suspension. But CART Toyota Atlantic Stewards determined Ryley's car to be out of harm's way and the race stayed under green flag conditions protecting the lead that Diaz had built up.
Macri was aided in his runner-up quest when Jon Fogarty (Dorricott Racing/Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards Swift 014.a) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Hylton Motorsports/Medlock Ames Winery Autobytel U.S. Print Swift 014.a) put on the best battle of the race in the closing laps. Hunter-Reay looked to be on his way to his third straight podium finish when he used lapped traffic to pass Fogarty on the front straight with two laps remaining.. But Fogarty was able to use the same tactic on the final lap using traffic to regain third place heading into Turn 1. Fogarty held off Hunter-Reay for his third podium of the season while Rocky Moran Jr. (Sigma Autosport Swift 014.a) completed the top five.
"The reason why I had to pass Hunter-Reay on the last lap is because he got past me on the lap prior going into the Festival Corner," said Fogarty on the battle with Hunter-Reay. "We both had a little trouble with 'backmarkers' at bad spots. I had to go around the outside of a car in Turn six. That allowed him to get up on me. Then another car hung me up in Turn 10. Hunter-Reay had a great run going into the Festival Corners. I gave him enough room and he slid underneath me. Fortunately for me, on the next lap, we caught more slow traffic. I was able to make the same move on him and hold him off on the lap that counted most. It was a matter of fortune or misfortune depending on whose side you favor. Both passes were clean. It was good racing and it was good to race with Ryan. He must have had a good race because I think he started ninth. Next thing I see is his car in my mirrors. My engineer, Burke Harrison, was reading the intervals between me and Ryan throughout the race. He slowly caught me especially when I got stuck in traffic. It ended up going my way this time."
The third place finish was crucial to Fogarty because it allowed him to regain the points lead he had lost the week before at Laguna Seca to Michael Valiante (Lynx Racing Swift 014.a). Valiante battled Roger Yasukawa (Hylton Motorsports/Autobacs U.S. Print Swift 014.a) for much of the race, but was not able to get past him and wound up eighth. Fogarty now holds a two point lead over Valiante in the Championship, 61 to 59, heading into the week off.
With five races in the books, the Championship points are the tightest in recent memory. Twelve points separate the top six and 23 points separate the top 10.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is on hiatus next weekend before returning to action the following three weeks at Chicago, Toronto, and Cleveland.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is one of the world's premier open-wheel development series and the top rung on CART's "ladder system", as well as having $100,000 race purses and a one million dollar points fund. 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, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani as well as former series champions Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan and Jacques Villeneuve.