Hunter-Reay captures first Toyota Atlantic win at Mazda Raceway; Sperafico wins initial Pro Series Race; Patrick joins Competitive Ladder System. INDIANAPOLIS (June 12, 2002) - It was a weekend of maiden victories at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca...
Hunter-Reay captures first Toyota Atlantic win at Mazda Raceway; Sperafico wins initial Pro Series Race; Patrick joins Competitive Ladder System.
INDIANAPOLIS (June 12, 2002) - It was a weekend of maiden victories at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as Ryan Hunter-Reay captured his first CART Toyota Atlantic Championship checkered flag and Rafael Sperafico brought home the Barber Dodge Pro Series race win. In addition to the on track activity, FedEx Championship Series team owner Bobby Rahal announced he had signed driver Danica Patrick to a long term contract and that she will enter the CART Driver Development Ladder System.
RHR CAPTURES MONTEREY WIN
After not being able to parlay strong qualifying efforts into similar race results through the first three rounds of the 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, Ryan Hunter Reay of Boca Raton, Florida beat Rocky Moran Jr. to the line by 8.062 seconds to claim his first Atlantic race title last weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
For Hunter-Reay, a graduate of the Barber Dodge Pro Series and former Barber CART Scholarship winner, the victory was overdue despite it only being his fourth Atlantic race.
"The race was great," said a relieved Hunter-Reay, who was on his way to victory at Milwaukee before his engine expired. "This win is just fantastic. I know I had to go out there and have a mistake free race and this is what we did today. I knew we could win races and it has been killing me that we hadn't done it. We've had some troubles early but the team believed in me and this is the payoff right here."
Second place Moran had a strong race but just did not have enough for Hunter-Reay.
"This race seemed to last forever," commented Moran Jr., who picked up his first career Atlantic victory at Laguna Seca last year. "While we had a very strong car, we could not catch Ryan. He had a little too much for us. However, this was a great finish for the Sigma Autosport team and certainly moves us along in the championship hunt."
Third place was up for contention late in the race as Roger Yasukawa, Jonathon Macri and Luis Diaz battled. With just two laps to go, Macri tried to out brake Diaz as the two approached the Corkscrew turn but he ran out of racing room and made contact with Diaz. Diaz would get back underway and finish in 15th place, but Macri was forced to retire from the race and finished in 20th place. Avoiding the melee behind him, Yasukawa came home in 3rd place.
"My congratulations go out to Ryan on a well deserved and overdue first victory," said Yasukawa, who achieved his first Atlantic win one week earlier at Milwaukee. "We had to work hard today but Hylton Motorsports gave me terrific car and helped put me in this position."
Ryan Dalziel continued his strong rookie showing by finishing fourth, with Long Beach winner Michael Valiante coming home in 5th place. Alex Gurney finished in 6th, with Rodolfo Lavin right behind in 7th place. 2000 Toyota Atlantic Champion Buddy Rice marked his return to the series - subbing for Joey Hand - by finishing in 8th place. Sepp Koster came back strong from a qualifying accident at Milwaukee to finish in 9th place. 2001 Barber Dodge Pro Series Champion Nicolas Rondet had his best finish of the year so far with a 10th place.
Showing the strength of the CART Ladder System, the Atlantic podium of Hunter-Reay, Moran Jr., and Yasukawa was entirely Barber Dodge Pro Series graduates. In addition, each of the four races this year have been won by Pro Series graduates - Jon Fogarty, Michael Valiante, Yasukawa and Hunter-Reay.
The points championship took on a different look as Fogarty, who had held the lead since his win at Monterrey, Mexico, had his engine expire on Lap 24 and he scored no points. Valiante took over the points lead, with Fogarty falling to second. Yasukawa, Moran Jr. and Gurney round out the remainder of the top five in the season championship.
SPERAFICO DOMINATES PRO SERIES WEEKEND
During a weekend that honored the entire 2002 Barber CART Scholarship team, scholarship recipient Rafael Sperafico captured his first career Barber Dodge Pro Series pole position on Saturday and parlayed the top starting position into a dominating maiden victory, leading Memo Rojas and AJ Allmendinger to the line by just over 1.5 seconds.
Sperafico, one of eight Barber CART Scholarship drivers in the Pro Series and the Formula Dodge National Championship, led every lap but never could fully pull away from Rojas and Allmendinger, despite the latter drivers' constant battle for 2nd place.
"I was pushing hard on every lap and just trying to concentrate and not make a mistake," commented Sperafico, "Memo and AJ fighting for position certainly helped things out. These are the kind of results we need for the championship. I am looking forward to Portland and getting even closer to the point lead."
For Rojas, his second place finish matched his best ever result in Pro Series racing. While happy with the result, he still has his eye on the bigger prize.
"Passing is very tough here, so I put special emphasis on the restarts," commented the 22-year old from Mexico City. "I couldn't make up any time on Rafael, so I just made sure I could hold my position. This is a good result and definitely puts us back in the championship picture."
Allmendinger had a similar viewpoint on the race and the long term goal of winning the season championship.
"I really tried to put the pressure on Memo and see if he would make a mistake," said the 20-year old from Hollister, Calif. "While I wanted to get by and felt I was faster, it wasn't worth causing an accident. The Pro Series Championship is the goal and this is one of those days that I had to think about that."
Christian Szymczak held off a charging Davy Cook for 4th place. Cook had gone off track while in third place and fallen back to 5th place and could never quite get by Szymczak. Leonardo Maia, another Barber CART Scholarship driver, came home in 6th place. Marc Breuers, who finished second at Lime Rock, finished in 7th place, with Josh Beaulieu, Dan Di Leo and Josh Rehm rounding out the top ten.
Allmendinger held his point lead and now leads race winner Sperafico by 23 points, with Breuers just four points behind him. Cook and Rojas round out the top five, tied with 27 points each and 32 points behind Allmendinger.
PATRICK BEGINS THE CLIMB
After much speculation about the future of her driving career, Danica Patrick announced that she will be joining the CART Ladder System later this summer when she drives the final three races of the Barber Dodge Pro Series. From there, Patrick will join the new Team Rahal Atlantic operation and contest the 2003 Toyota Atlantic Championship. The announcement came Sunday prior to the CART FedEx Championship race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with Patrick, Team Rahal principle Bobby Rahal, Toyota Atlantic President Vicki O'Connor, Barber Dodge Pro Series Managing Director Jeremy Dale and Les Unger of Toyota in attendance.
"I have to thank Bobby and his staff for giving me the opportunity to return to the United States and compete in CART," said Patrick. "The CART Ladder System is a great way to get to Champ Cars and I'm anxious to drive in both the Barber Dodge Pro Series this year and the Toyota Atlantic Championship in 2003. I'm very excited for this chance.
"I have been busy testing many cars this winter and spring but I wanted to go racing," continued Patrick. "Now, with Team Rahal, I have the chance to compete again in some of the best open-wheel racing in the country with excellent equipment. It is the opportunity I have been looking for in my career."
Rahal, a former Atlantic driver himself, is enthusiastic about Danica joining the CART Ladder System.
"We are excited about bringing Danica to Team Rahal and the CART Ladder System," commented Rahal. "Now that the CART Ladder is a much clearer path, this is definitely the place for her to go and race.
"Her racing credentials are outstanding with championships in karting and impressive runs in England and Europe. She has the talent to get to Champ Cars and the determination and abilities to race them for many years."
Barber Dodge Pro Series Managing Director Jeremy Dale is equally as excited about Danica starting her CART career with the Pro Series.
"We are thrilled to have Danica make her CART debut in the Barber Dodge Pro Series," said Dale, a former Pro Series competitor himself. "It is even more special since it will come at Bobby Rahal's home track of Mid-Ohio. The Pro Series is an appropriate place for her to hone her skills, both on and off the racetrack, and compete against other future potential Champ Car stars."
Patrick will get right to work with the Pro Series as she will test a Dodge Reynard at Sebring International Raceway on June 25th and 26th. In August, she will compete in the final three BDPS point races at Mid Ohio, Road America and Montreal.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will run its third event in three weeks this weekend at Portland International Raceway, June 14th - 15th.
The Barber Dodge Pro Series also competes at Portland International Raceway on June 14th-16th.
Rounds 7 and 8 of the Formula Dodge National Championship will be contested this weekend, June 12th -15th at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
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.