Toyota Atlantic Championship Drivers Lead Way in Second Day of Champ Car Sebring Test SEBRING, Fla. (November 30, 2004) -- With an impressive amount of open-wheel talent in its driver development system, the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car...
Toyota Atlantic Championship Drivers Lead Way in Second Day of Champ Car Sebring Test
SEBRING, Fla. (November 30, 2004) -- With an impressive amount of open-wheel talent in its driver development system, the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford has focused its efforts this offseason in opening doors and providing young racers the opportunity to move up through the Champ Car ranks.
Several drivers from both the Formula BMW USA Championship, the entry level in the Champ Car system, and the top developmental category -- the Toyota Atlantic Championship -- took to the track over the last two days eager to show their readiness to ascend to the next level of racing.
Making the most of this opportunity Tuesday were two of the top recent performers in the Toyota Atlantic series as they demonstrated their skills during a full day of Champ Car testing at Sebring International Raceway.
Both Michael Valiante and Andrew Ranger were anxious to log some miles behind the wheel of a 750 HP Champ Car and once both drivers settled in they proceeded to improve their times and push their talents to the limit on a warm, sunny day in Central Florida.
Valiante entered Tuesday's test at the 1.67-mile Sebring road circuit with the greatest amount of seat time in a Champ Car. After competing in the Atlantic series from 2001-03, the 25-year-old Canadian earned a ride with Walker Racing at this season's Champ Car finale, finishing 14th at Mexico City. The 2002 Toyota Atlantic series runner-up ran 110 laps in the #11 yokeTV.com Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone today and he posted the fastest unofficial time during the two-day test session with a top lap of 51.88 seconds.
"I thought the day went very well and I think we actually could've been quicker," said Valiante, who drove a Lola chassis for the first time during the test. "We had a few braking issues but we still ran pretty well. I want to thank Dale (Coyne) for inviting me to come down and test and I'm just glad that some of the Champ Car team owners are seeing some potential in me and are willing to give some of the developmental series drivers a chance."
Ranger, the 2004 Toyota Atlantic Rookie of the Year, was very impressive in his maiden voyage in a Champ Car. The 18-year-old Quebec, Canada native ran a total of 123 laps and he showed good speed from the outset before recording an unofficial top time of 52.07 seconds in the #7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Forsythe Championship Racing.
"I was pretty surprised by how quickly we were able to go fast," said Ranger, who earned six podium finishes for Sierra Sierra Enterprises in the Atlantic series this season. "It's not easy to get in a Champ Car for the first time and drive fast but I was pushing really hard. I learned a lot and I feel that I did my job pretty well. I know I'm ready to move up to Champ Car, but now we'll see if some teams think I'm ready."
The Forsythe team also tested former F3000 and German Touring Car driver Jarek Janis and the 21-year-old native of the Czech Republic also impressed the team after logging 107 laps with an unofficial top mark of 52.25 seconds while driving the #1 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone. Janis also has one Champ Car race under his belt as he finished 18th for Dale Coyne Racing earlier this season in Australia.
For the second consecutive day, Australian Marcus Marshall auditioned for the Dale Coyne team. On a track that saw conditions improve throughout the course of the afternoon, the former British and Australian F3000 competitor ran 90 laps and owned an unofficial best time of 52.45 seconds.
James Hichcliffe, the 17-year-old Canadian who won the Formula BMW USA Rookie title this season, also returned Tuesday for his second day of testing. Anxious to continue to rise up the Champ Car driver development path, Hinchcliffe tested the #4 PaySystems Toyota Atlantic car for Polestar Racing Group. After compiling 86 laps in the 240 HP Atlantic car on Monday, Hinchcliffe logged 128 laps thoughout today's test session and he left Sebring knowing exactly where he hopes to be in 2005.
"I really didn't know what to expect and I wasn't sure if I was ready to handle the car," said Hinchcliffe. "We did run a lot of miles over the two days but the more miles you run the more things you get a chance to work on. It was a lot of fun and I now have a whole new desire to run in the Toyota Atlantic Series next season."
"James did a really good job," said Polestar team owner Jim Griffith. "There's no question that he's ready for Toyota Atlantics and I hope we can continue to see him rise through the (Champ Car development) system."
In all, the two-day test session at Sebring provided six of the top up-and-coming racers in the Champ Car system the opportunity to shine at the next level as four Toyota Atlantic drivers earned Champ Car tests and two Formula BMW USA competitors also tested for teams within in the Champ Car system.