SBRS: CSOT: CART Ladder System update 2002-04-18

Valiante scores maiden Toyota Atlantic victory at Long Beach. Speed and Imrie take initial Formula Dodge National Championship wins at Fontana. Fogarty and Frisselle maintain respective point leads. DETROIT (April 18, 2002) - Southern California...

Valiante scores maiden Toyota Atlantic victory at Long Beach.
Speed and Imrie take initial Formula Dodge National Championship wins at Fontana.
Fogarty and Frisselle maintain respective point leads.

DETROIT (April 18, 2002) - Southern California was the focal point of CART Ladder System action last weekend as both the Toyota Atlantic Championship and the Formula Dodge National Championship competed at Long Beach and Fontana, respectively.

In CART Toyota Atlantic action, Canadian Michael Valiante earned his first career Atlantic win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and gave Lynx Racing its second straight victory there. After starting third, Valiante avoided a first lap melee involving polesitter Joey Hand and Ryan Hunter-Reay, then made a daring Turn One pass on the outside of Alex Gurney to take the lead and never looked back as he raced to the checkered flag.

At the start, Hand, Hunter-Reay and Monterrey race winner Jon Fogarty attempted to negotiate Turn One three wide. Never a good idea at Long Beach or any street circuit, Hand and Hunter-Reay paid the price with contact, which sent Hunter-Reay into the tire barrier and Hand down an escape road. Hunter-Reay would finish the race as the last car on the lead lap in 18th place and actually set the fastest race lap of the day while Hand would end his day against the Turn One tire barrier a few laps later.

The early accident would also claim Monterrey runner-up Ryan Dalziel and essentially end the competitive day of Monterrey pole sitter Luis Diaz and Canadian Jonathon Macri. The three cars got together, causing a spectacular and dangerous looking collision that sent Macri in the air and on top of Diaz for a brief moment. The drivers were uninjured but Macri and Diaz would lose a lap for repairs.

Only Gurney and Valiante made it through the road block that resulted from the Turn One collision. Once cleared, the running order was Gurney, Valiante and Fogarty. Gurney would then hold the lead over the first 20 laps of the now shortened 29-lap race.

As the field raced towards a green flag restart on Lap 21, Valiante tucked his Lynx Racing Atlantic car behind Gurney and utilized a strong draft to pull to the outside as the two headed down Shoreline Drive. Carrying quite a bit of speed, Valiante was able to keep control of his car and make the pass stick on the outside through the tight and already proven disastrous Turn One. Over the final eight laps, he was able to stretch out the lead and won by just over 2.5 seconds.

Fogarty would challenge his Dorricott teammate Gurney for second but would fall short of the goal and settled for third. Valianate's Lynx teammate Grant Riley boosted his championship hopes by finishing fourth while Rocky Moran, Jr. rounded out the Top Five.

"I am so happy to get the first win out of the way, and to make it two in a row for Lynx Racing at Long Beach," said Valiante, who took over at Lynx Racing for David Rutledge, winner of the 2001 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. "The team gave me a really good car, but there was a bit of luck involved in that I was able to get through the first lap pile up. When I passed (Alex) for the lead, I got the car a little sideways and had to do some sprint car style driving. Once I gathered it up, I was able to pull out by a couple of seconds at the end. I am looking forward to the rest of the season as we should only get better."

Fogarty maintains his Championship points lead following another podium finish while Valiante vaults up the standings from fifth to second position. By virtue of his consistent finishes in the season's first two races, Moran, Jr. is third in the championship hunt, with Diaz and Gurney fourth and fifth in points, respectively.

Continuing the "first victory" theme of the weekend, American Scott Speed and Canadian Ward Imrie captured Rounds 3 and 4 of the Formula Dodge National Championship at California Speedway in Fontana. Competitors battled it out on the 1.2-mile Infield Stadium Road Course, featuring a layout with tight turns and long straights that is very similar to that of a street course, minus the ever present K-Walls.

Round 3 began with Speed on pole and fellow Californian Robbie Montinola on the outside point. The action began early as Burt Frisselle and Grant Maiman, the winners at last month's Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca double race event, touched wheels and spun off course before even reaching Turn One. Maiman would retire, while Frisselle gained control and rejoined the field via access roads and never lost his eighth place starting position.

With much of the action taking place behind him, Speed took off and put in his bid to leave the field at a distance. Brazilian Jonathon Jorge, a veteran of the Southern Regional Championship but starting his first National Championship race, passed Mexico's Luis Pelayo on Lap Two for second place.

Meanwhile, Scott Poirier began a charge from his sixth place starting position by gaining three spots in the first five laps. After capturing third place, he set his sights on second place Jorge. A four lap battle ensued, with the young Brazilian forcing Poirier to use every inch of the track to get by, which he eventually accomplished on Lap 11. At this point, Speed had managed to stretch his lead to over four seconds, with just over half of the 23-lap race remaining.

Poirier was not deterred and began to noticeably cut into Speed's lead. With just under three laps to go, Poirier had remarkably managed to tuck his nose cone under Speed's gearbox and was in position to take the win. But Speed would not falter even despite some light contact by Poirier and would take the win by just six-tenths of a second.

"I had a really good start and began to pull away," said Speed. "After that, I settled in and thought it would go very well. Once Poirier passed the other guys, he started to catch me pretty quickly. I realized it was only a matter of time until he was on me. With a few laps to go, I let up just a bit to try to cool down my tires as much as I could so I would apply them hard on the final two laps. It worked out well in the end."

Behind the two leaders, another battle ensued. Colin Fleming had been directly behind third place Jorge for the final twelve laps and had used just about every inch of the road course and even some of the grass trying to get by. Jorge's driving tactics caught the attention of FDNC officials, who displayed the furled black flag four times for aggressive driving and blocking. Despite the actions, Fleming kept his calm and brought his car home in fourth instead of trying a risky move around Jorge. At the conclusion of the race, officials penalized Jorge two positions back to fifth, allowing Fleming to move up to third and Frisselle, who had recovered from his first lap incident, to gain the fourth spot.

Round 4 would be just as compelling as Round 3, as Ward Imrie set the pace in qualifying, once again followed by Robbie Montinola. As the green flag waved, Imrie held his point position for the first six laps. Montinolla, who fell back steadily in Round 3 due to brake problems, corrected his poor start of the day before to capture the lead on Lap 7 and held the point until his Supertrap (muffler) came off on Lap 11. Since FDNC rules dictate that a driver must pit and make repairs when this occurs due to the gained horsepower advantage, Montinolla dropped off the pace into pit lane and unfortunately, out of contention.

From there, Imrie and second place Scott Poirier would break away to build a large lead. Jonathon Jorge, who had qualified in a disappointing 16th position, charged through the field and gaining thirteen positions, now found himself on the rear wing of Poirier with just eight laps remaining. Concentrating intently on passing Poirier, Jorge misjudged his entry speed into Turn One, lost control and crashed out of the event and a possible podium finish.

With the field now bunched up following the caution period for Jorge, points leader Burt Frisselle found himself back in contention in third place. Imrie, Poirier and Frisselle would now settle it amongst themselves.

For the second day in a row, Poirier would lose his nose cone as he battled for the lead. However, unlike the day before, this would cost him a position as Frisselle was able to take advantage of Poirier's aerodynamic problem and successfully passed him with just two laps remaining.

Frisselle would make a last lap effort to catch Imrie, but the season long points battle and current lead in that chase made him think twice about any dive-bomb moves. He would take his second place finish behind Imrie as the checkered flag fell with Poirier coming home in third. Al Unser made a valiant dash from 10th to fourth, while Aurello Lopez of Mexico gained his first top five of the season.

"I just about drove a perfect race," said Imrie, a 19-year-old from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. "I made one mistake and that's when I got passed by Robbie. He had a mechanical failure which allowed us to get back in front. From there, I just had to hang on until the end with both Burt and Scott putting a lot of pressure on me."

"This gives me a tremendous amount of confidence heading into the next rounds at Putnam Park," continued Imrie. "My comfort level in these cars is really on the rise."

UP NEXT

The Toyota Atlantic Championship will take another one month break as it prepares for its next action May 31-June 2 during the Miller Lite 250 at the historic Milwaukee Mile. After attacking the road course at Monterrey and the temporary street course at Long Beach, Atlantic competitors will once again be met with a different racetrack at Milwaukee, a short oval or bullring.

The Barber Dodge Pro Series will return to action May 24-27 in the Memorial Day Classic at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut. AJ Allmendinger will be looking to make it two wins in a row after capturing the season opener at Sebring in March.

Rounds 5 and 6 of the Formula Dodge National Championship will be contested May 10-12 at the Putnam Park Motorsports Complex, about 25 miles west of Indianapolis. Scott Speed, Al Unser and Scott Poirier are among the drivers looking to close the ground between themselves and points leader Burt Frisselle.

Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (NYSE: MPH) owns, operates and markets the CART FedEx Championship Series. Former series champions Michael Andretti and Jimmy Vasser are among the stars who will battle for the 2002 FedEx Championship Series title on ovals, temporary street circuits and permanent road courses. CART also owns and operates its top development series, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. CART also sanctions the Barber Dodge Pro Series as part of a marketing partnership with Skip Barber, LLC. For more information about the CART Ladder System, log onto www.cart.com and click on the links to the Toyota Atlantic Championship, Barber Dodge Pro Series, Formula Dodge National Championship and Stars of Tomorrow.

--CART--

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About this article
Series Atlantic , Barber Pro , Kart , Other open wheel
Drivers Ryan Dalziel , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Jon Fogarty , Ward Imrie , Michael Valiante , David Rutledge , Joey Hand , Luis Diaz , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Scott Speed , Burt Frisselle , Scott Poirier , Colin Fleming , Skip Barber , Luis Pelayo , Rocky Moran , Al Unser , Robbie Montinola