MONTEREY, Calif. (February 8, 2002) -- The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship drivers, teams, and staff from the series took part in Thursday's media day at the CART "Sneak Preview" from the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. Although they would not...
MONTEREY, Calif. (February 8, 2002) -- The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship drivers, teams, and staff from the series took part in Thursday's media day at the CART "Sneak Preview" from the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. Although they would not take part in the on-track activities in the days to follow, past champions, future Championship hopefuls, and a sampling of eager Atlantic rookies gave the media had a chance to see what the 2002 Atlantic season would have in store.
The Thursday morning press conference opened up with statements from series President and CEO, Vicki O'Connor and Les Unger, National Motorsports Manager for Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc.
"We're very excited right now," said O'Connor. "Our 2002 season kicks off at Monterrey, Mexico on March 9th with 6 new teams and 14 rookies facing off against 9 Atlantic veterans. All will be vying for top honors and a share of the $100,000 purses and a $1,000,000 points fund. Also new this season is the Swift 014.a chassis that has, thus far, proven to be very fast in off-season testing. Adding to our excitement is our new television package which will be announced shortly. I can't wait to get started because this season promises to be very competitive, and one of the most exciting seasons ever in Atlantic history"
Starting their 14th year of being involved in the Atlantic Championship, Unger was equally optimistic on what the upcoming season held for all. "2002 looks like it's going to be the best season ever given the fact that CART now has "one" support series. We've got a new Swift chassis coming out, new places we'll be going to like Portland, Denver and Monterrey, Mexico where we've never been before, increased prize money, increased year-end points fund that's being posted by CART, and lots of young rookie drivers. We're just really pleased with the Series' success and we'll be taking it even higher than we have in the last 14 years. We're looking forward to a great season."
The All-Star team took center stage next beginning with 2001 CART Toyota Atlantic Champion, Hoover Orsi from Brazil and 2001 Championship runner-up, Canada's David Rutledge. Both drivers are nearing deals that will further their racing career. Rutledge stated that he has managed 2/3rds of the funding he needs to land him in the CART FedEx Championship, hopefully for this season. Orsi was then asked what advice he would have to the 2002 rookie class. Orsi responded, "You just have got to get out there and finish in the points. Try to finish on the podium, not necessarily wins, but get those points and you could win the Championship." This was great advice from the 2001 Champion who earned 11 podiums in 12 races last season.
The tone then changed from the past to the present and the third and final All-Star spoke. The 2001 Rookie of the Year winner, Joey Hand, will be one of the top favorites to win the 2002 Championship. Hand will be returning for his second season driving for the 2000 Championship team of DSTP Motorsports. Despite being cast in the roll of favorite, the California native feels no pressure to win the Championship this year and was ready to get out on the track and do his job.
Lynx Racing is bringing back two top caliber drivers as well. Canada's Michael Valiante who ran five races with Lynx last season returns teamed with American driver, Grant Ryley, who has moved over from his 2001 team, Worldspeed Motorsports. The duo could be one of the biggest threats to Hand in the Championship and it looks like the fun is just beginning between which one of the two teammates will have that honor. When Valiante was asked about what it will be like having a fellow Atlantic veteran on the team like Grant Ryley, the charismatic Ryley cut in and said, "He's scared", followed by a roar of laughter from the audience. Ryley's path to one of the top Atlantic seats is a story in itself and he talked briefly about how it should benefit him in the future. "I have been through the rough times. From selling perfume door to door so I could afford to race, to the bad luck from last year, has only built character and that can only help me in my quest to win."
Canada's Jonathan Macri joined the Lynx pair on stage and echoed Ryley's thoughts on the past year's experience helping him in the upcoming season. Macri finished fifth in the 2001 Championship and runner-up to Hand in the Rookie of the Year battle. Macri hopes the experience of some costly mistakes last year will transfer into a strong Championship run in 2002.
Some of the rookies showing up at Monterrey included Alex Figge, who will take over the Worldspeed Motorsports seat vacated by Ryley. Figge has family ties to Atlantic competition as his father raced against Bill O'Connor, husband of Atlantic President and CEO, Vicki O'Connor. Like all the rookies joining the Atlantic Championship this year, Figge is ready to get racing and added that he loves the way the new Swift is driving. Other rookies included Marc DeVellis who will be driving for the new family run team, Sierra Sierra Racing based in Nevada, and Crossover Motorsports' Scott Lampkin, who will be fulfilling a life long dream driving in the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will kick off its 2002 season in early March at the Tecata/Telmex Grand Prix of Monterrey at Fondidora Park in Monterrey, Mexico. The season then heads to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in April before beginning a furious ten-race stretch taking place over the summer that will conclude on the streets of Denver on the first weekend of September.
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", which features a one million dollar year-end points fund and $100,000 races purses. 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, Alex Barron, Memo Gidley, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani as well as former series champions Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan and Jacques Villeneuve.