TONIS KASEMETS KEEPS CHAMPIONSHIP HOPES ALIVE WITH WIRE-TO-WIRE ATLANTIC VICTORY AT ROAD AMERICA ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin (August 21, 2005) - It wasn't exactly an easy Sunday drive for Tonis Kasemets ( ...
TONIS KASEMETS KEEPS CHAMPIONSHIP HOPES ALIVE WITH WIRE-TO-WIRE ATLANTIC VICTORY AT ROAD AMERICA
ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin (August 21, 2005) - It wasn't exactly an easy Sunday drive for Tonis Kasemets (#6 Flexovit Abrasives/MK Ind./TMI/Redline Oil) at Road America, but the second-year racer in the Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama completed his weekend domination at the classic road circuit, leading all 17 laps en route to his third victory of the season.
Kasemets, who hails from Estonia but now lives just a couple hours away from Road America in Mundelein, Illinois, had to fight off a strong challenge from series rookie standout Katherine Legge (#12 PKV Racing) in the early stages of the race, before settling in for an impressive victory in the BOSPoker.com Toyota Atlantic Grand Prix of Road America (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED Channel - Saturday, August 27 at 2 p.m. ET).
The result was the best possible scenario that Kasemets could've hoped for at his home course, where he's won several events in SCCA competition and finished fifth for his best Atlantic placement in his rookie season of 2004. Combined with a sixth-place finish by series leader Charles Zwolsman (#11 Condor Motorsports), Kasemets' win vaulted him from third to second in the series standings as he prevented Zwolsman from wrapping up the Atlantic championship. In the battle for the '05 crown, Zwolsman will carry a 26-point lead, 287-261, into next weekend's season finale in Montreal. Kasemets is the only driver with a shot to catch Zwolsman in the title chase as all other competitors were eliminated from contention with Sunday's results.
Legge has become known for her aggressive starts in her first Atlantic season and she didn't waste any time making her presence felt at the green flag of Sunday's race. The three-time series winner jumped from her third-place starting spot past Kasemets for the lead in Turn 1. Kasemets, who was dominant all weekend long as he easily led both rounds of qualifying while securing his third series pole, was not about to back down. After suffering through bad finishes in the last three races while running at the front of the pack, the 31-year-old racer made sure that this one wasn't going to slip away. He battled Legge wheel-to-wheel throughout the first lap, capturing the lead for good at the start/finish line. From there, Kasemets kept a comfortable lead and wound up beating Legge to the checkered flag by 2.548 seconds.
The finish was Legge's fifth podium of her rookie season and third top-three result in the last four races. She also moved from fifth to third in the series point standings as she tries to produce a strong conclusion to her first Atlantic season.
It appeared that Daniel Di Leo (#54 Armsup Motorsports) of Canada would claim third place in his first Atlantic race of his career as he crossed the finish line behind Kasemets and Zwolsman, but after the event was completed, officials levied a 30-second penalty on Di Leo for avoidable contact during a late-race incident with Antoine Bessette (#3 Unik Auto Design) in Turn 1 that led to Bessette's early retirement. Di Leo, who qualified third, dropped to eighth in the finishing order as a result of penalty and Mexican racer David Martinez (#7 Roshfrans/US RaceTronics) moved up to third place for his fourth podium of his rookie season.
Sunday got off to a painful start for one of the top series' rookies. Germany's Andreas Wirth (#8 Wurges Windows and Doors) was injured in a morning practice session and was unable to compete in the event. According to Dr. Chris Pinderski, Director of Medical Affairs for both Atlantics and Champ Car, Wirth suffered minor end plate fractures of his T6 and T8 thoracic vertebrae when his car made contact with Zwolsman's machine at the end of the practice. Wirth, ranked second in the points entering the race, was slated to start second today but medical personnel could not clear him compete due to the injuries. He will be re-evaluated on Monday by series Chief Orthopedic Consultant Dr. Terry Trammell to determine if he can race next week in Montreal.
Bobby Wilson (#5 Ocala Gran Prix/BW Race Schools) of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, seeing his first Atlantic action this weekend, was also involved in the practice accident. Both Wilson and Zwolsman were uninjured in the crash, but the damage to Wilson's car could not be repaired in time for the start of today's race.
Al Unser III (#10 BOSPoker.net/PKV Racing) of Brooks Associates Racing came from a seventh-place starting position to finish fourth. The result equaled the second-year driver's career-best Atlantic finish. California rookie Kyle Kelley (#24 UP Racing.com) earned a bonus point for improving the most positions in the race. Kelley took the green flag in 11th place and came home fifth for his second top-five finish in seven series starts.
Zwolsman's sixth-place effort was his worst result since Round 7 in Toronto when he failed to finish the race due to mechanical problems. The Dutch ace can still wrap up the series title in his impressive rookie season with a solid performance next week in Montreal.
After earning his first series pole and finishing second in just his second Atlantic race last week in Denver, 17-year-old Alan Sciuto (#27 Dean's R/C Products/Sparco) finished seventh. Making his first series start, Chris Menninga (#55 Armsup Motorsports) came home ninth while Chris Souliotis (#56 Speedway Motors) rounded out the top 10 finishers. Daryl Leiski (#63 Speedway Motors), who was 11th overall, earned his first Yokohama Tire C2 Cup victory as the top finisher in the C2 class.
Today's race was completed in an Atlantic track record time of 35:12.283.
The Atlantics wrap up the 2005 season next weekend at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve road circuit with the Molson Indy Montreal.
Quotes from the top three finishers in today's race follow:
TONIS KASEMETS (#6 Flexovit Abrasives/MK Ind./TMI/Redline Oil) - Dan Cobb Racing/Team Tonis: "First of all, I wish Andreas well. I got the news about him when I was in the pits. I tried not to let it distract me, just tried to focus on my job. I know he'll be back. (On the start) We had decided that no matter what happened on Lap 1, we'd forget about it. I didn't plan on having Katherine pass me though. I made adjustments to the car, waited for the fuel load to go down, and when I started running better, and I got in front of her. (on the championship) I thought about Charles only once during the race. For me, it was tunnel vision all weekend. I was concentrating all weekend on what I had to do. All Charles has to do is drive around like a taxi cab in Montreal and he'll win the championship."
KATHERINE LEGGE (#12 PKV Racing) - Polestar Racing Group: "I wish Andreas well also. I hope he'll be back with us in Montreal. (On the start) Well, I made it through Turn 1, and that's good. I saw the gap and went for it, but I couldn't keep Tonis behind me very long. When he passed me, he just went away. I couldn't beat him. He made no mistakes. When I was following him, I learned where to brake the car, where to turn, I was able to follow everything he was doing when I was in his draft. The rest of the time, he was in a world all his own. I love this track, with the trees and all. It's a proper circuit. I hope we come back here next year."
DAVID MARTINEZ (#7 Roshfrans) - US RaceTronics: "It was a good weekend. This is a very complicated race track. I was in the middle of the pack at the start and we weren't very fast on the straightaways. Then we started to find some speed. I think (third) is a very good result. I'm very happy and we think we have a pretty good setup for a fast track as we go to Montreal next week. We're going to push really hard and go for the win."