This Side of the Atlantic News and notes from around the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship Highland Park, Ill. (December 11, 2001) -- In less than three months, the 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will begin its 29th year of competition...
This Side of the Atlantic
News and notes from around the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship
Highland Park, Ill. (December 11, 2001) -- In less than three months, the 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will begin its 29th year of competition in Monterrey, Mexico in what should be a landmark year for the tradition rich series. New teams, venues, cars, and as always, a bumper crop of new drivers looking to reach the upper echelons of motorsports, will comprise what could be the Atlantic's most memorable season in it's history.
-EARLY AND SWIFT CHRISTMAS-
This past fall in Vancouver, teams got their first look at the brand new Swift 014.a which will become the spec chassis for the Atlantic Championship beginning in 2002. Like a six-year old waiting for his or her first bicycle on Christmas morning, teams have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of their new cars. Their wishes came true this past week as crates of new race cars were opened up in Atlantic shops across North America. Fourteen of the new Atlantic cars made it to their owner's hands this past week; with another 14 due to arrive in the weeks ahead.
The 2001 Rookie of the Year and one of the favorites for the 2002 Championship, Joey Hand, got his first look at the new Swift 014.a as two new cars were unpacked at the DSTP Motorsports shop in Chesterland, Ohio.
"The cars look great," said DSTP's Hand, who captured two wins, one pole, two fastest race laps and six podiums in his rookie 2001 Atlantic season. "I only wish the season was starting next month instead of in three months. I'm getting anxious and just want to get back to racing. The series has definitely stepped up for next year. I think it's going to be a tough season, with a lot of solid competition. We also have some new tracks that will add to the mix for all of us. But, we have a good test program lined up, so we're really hoping to be able to pick up right where we left off."
"The new car is a nice step forward from Swift," said Michael Shank Racing owner, Michael Shank. "The body work is much nicer and will make working on the engine and rear shocks a lot easier. And the chassis appears to be a lot stronger, especially in the gearbox area. Overall, it should be a better, safer, and quicker car, although we won't know about the speed for sure until we start testing with it in a couple of weeks. If nothing else, it will make for an interesting year with everyone starting from square one on their set-ups."
Michael Shank Racing's lead engineer and former CART Championship winning crew chief for Bobby Rahal, Dale Wise, was impressed with what he saw in the new chassis.
"I got a chance to look at the new Swift chassis at Vancouver and it's definitely a lot more refined than the car we have now," said Wise. "The body work is better, the tub is stiffer, access to the engine and steering rack is easier, and the cockpit is more like what you see on the current champ cars in terms of protecting the driver. As far as setting up the new car compared to the old car, we really won't know until we go testing with our first one sometime in December. The suspension is the same, but we'll probably have to make some adjustments to account for the stiffer tub. The car also looks like it will have less aerodynamic drag, so that will make a difference in the set-up as well. Overall, it looks like the new Swift will be a very good car for the series."
Even though the new Swift 014.a has made strides in safety, the effort did not stop there. As was done for the CART FedEx Championship Series for the 2002 season, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship mandated the use of the Hubbard Downing HANS Device during all on-track activities. In past seasons, the device was only required on ovals, but in an increased effort on driver safety, the device has been mandated at all locations where the Atlantic Championship races.
Existing Atlantic teams have been faced with many options of what to do with the current Swift 008.a, which began service in the Atlantic Championship in 1998. Some have found a good market for the older cars in club racing which the SCCA approved the use of last year. However, don't be surprised if you don't see a good amount of them on track next season as well. The Swift 008.a with some minor modifications can be raced next season, but will not be eligible to earn Championship points. This provides an excellent opportunity for new drivers and club racers to enter a number of CART Toyota Atlantic Championship races to find out what the series is all about. Another option for Atlantic teams is upgrading the Swift 008.a. The upgrade allows the Swift 008.a to be eligible for Championship points and is less expensive than buying the new car, although the older upgraded car will still be at a slight disadvantage to its new sibling. All versions of the Swifts will be able to compete for the $100,000 event purse at each of the 12 races during the 2002 season with the upgraded Swift 008.a and the new Swift 014.a eligible for the one million dollar end-of- season points fund.
-NEW FACES, NEW PLACES-
A few of the new teams entering into Atlantic competition this season have not only bought the new Swift 014.a, but have picked up some of the old Swift 008.a cars to familiarize themselves with the Swift chassis during this off-season.
One of these teams is former Dayton Indy Lights powerhouse, Dorricott Racing. Dorricott Racing will enter into its first Atlantic Championship season fresh off of winning the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship with American driver Townsend Bell, as well as sweeping the top three positions in the 1999 Championship with Oriol Servia, Casey Mears, and Philipp Peter. Another former Lights team, Indy Regency Racing will join Dorricott in the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship in 2002.
Both teams have acquired Swift 008.a chassis and have been busy getting themselves up to speed with the intricacies of the car and in Dorricott Racing's case, have their new Swift 014.a cars and are getting those prepared as well. The Dorricott team is returning with Jon Fogarty from last year and has been busy testing drivers to fill their two remaining seats. Dorricott's aggressive off season program shows that they do not intend to come into the Atlantic Championship in 2002 just to learn about the series, but to follow up their 2001 Lights Championship with a 2002 Atlantic Championship. Indy Regency Racing plans on a full testing schedule in January with their Swift 008.a cars with plans to buy two new Swifts 014.a as things develop.
The timing could not be better for a new team to join into the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. With the debut of the new car this season, everyone, in theory, is back to square one. The Atlantic Championship will make their first visits this year to: Monterrey, Mexico; Portland, Oregon; and Denver, Colorado. This schedule is welcome news to new teams in the series and particularly, former Lights teams as they make their transition into the Atlantic Championship. The Dayton Indy Lights Championship competed in Monterey and Portland last year. In fact, the first seven races on the schedule are venues that the former Lights teams have competed on at least once in the past two years.
Other teams joining the 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship include: Performance Development & Racing, Crossover Motorsports/Walter Fletscher Racing, Racing Dynamics, and Scuadra Fortia. Performance Development & Racing moves up to the Atlantic Championship with driver Carl Russo from the US F2000 Championship. Russo and the team have been busy testing in a Swift 008.a and have already received their new Swift 014.a cars which they expect to start testing in January. Scuadra Fortia, based in Mexico City, Mexico, has announced that Mexican driver, Eduardo Figueroa will drive one of their two entries in 2002. Scuadra Fortia owner, Allen Berg, won the drivers and team championship in the ILP/Formula de las Americas Series in Mexico last year as a driver. Berg, however, will join the Atlantic Championship as an owner only. Crossover currently plans to run five to seven races in the Swift 008.a with Scott Lampkin behind the wheel, with the possibility of driving a full schedule if other funding is secured. More teams are expected to make their announcements in the upcoming weeks on their intentions to run in the 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship.
-US F2000 CHAMPIONS TEST-
Jason LaPoint, the reigning US F2000 Champ, earned the right to an Atlantic sponsored test which is offered every year to the series Champion. This year's test will take place on December 19th at Roebling Road Raceway in Savannah, Georgia. Michael Shank Racing will put LaPoint in one of their new Toyota powered Swift 014.a for the test, which will not only give LaPoint more valuable seat time, but give Michael Shank Racing's first track time with the new car.
In most cases, the test is the US F2000 Champion's first experience in an Atlantic race car, but this is not the case for LaPoint. The Oregon native drove three races during the 2001 Atlantic Championship with the Lynx Racing team. LaPoint put up instant results qualifying third in his Atlantic debut at Road America and went on to finish seventh in the race. LaPoint followed that performance up with a fifth place finish on the streets of Houston.
Owner, Michael Shank, plans to run two or three cars in 2002 and has been testing many drivers for the open seats. There is also hope of returning Mexico's Rodolfo Lavin back for a second season with MSR. Lavin finished seventh in 2001 Atlantic Championship points with one podium and continued to improve as he learned the Atlantic car during the second half of the season.
-WORLDSPEED'S NEW DRIVER FOR 2002-
Chuck West, owner of Worldspeed Motorsports, recently announced his driver for upcoming 2002 season. Boulder, Colorado's Alex Figge, will re-unite with West after competing with the team in the 2000 Star Mazda Championship where he won three races. "We're all thrilled to have Alex back with us," said West, whose team has been an Atlantic regular since 1994. "He came to us through our Mazda program and his style certainly fits that of what it takes to succeed in Atlantic. He has huge natural talent and is a definite racer; the key now is to get him as much time in the car as possible." Last year's driver, Grant Ryley, has moved over to run his second Atlantic season with Lynx Racing. Ryley and Worldspeed Motorsports won the pole at Milwaukee and also collected two podium finishes.
DSTP Motorsports will enter the 2002 season as one of the favorites to win the Championship. Buddy Rice piloted the DSTP car to the 2000 Championship, and the DSTP team followed it up last season with a third place effort with Rookie of the Year, Joey Hand. The team will return intact looking to continue the momentum from the end of the 2001 season that included two wins and four podiums. The only real change to the team has been the promotion of Richard Jones to car chief. DSTP has already sent their new Swift 014.a cars to the paint shop to stroke on those familiar purple and yellow colors with plans for testing on the west coast in January and February.
BBGP Racing owners, John Brooks and Rick Barrett, hope to run two cars during the 2002 season. In mid- October, the team tested the first driver ever from Puerto Rico to pilot a Toyota Atlantic car. Victor Gonzalez Jr., with sponsorship help from Puerto Rico Tourism Company and Toyota P.R., did a two day test at Buttonwillow Raceway in California. The car was then transported to Gonzalez's home country in November for exhibition and to showcase the great marketing potential of the series.
Things have been quiet for the 2001 Championship Team, Hylton Motorsports. Owner, Keith Hylton and the team have been savoring the Championship won with Brazil's Hoover Orsi, while they wait on the arrival of their new cars from Swift Engineering. Hylton said that they are talking to several drivers, but nothing is ready to be announced at this time. With the team returning much intact, the driver that Hylton appoints to the silver U.S. Print seat, should be an instant contender for this year's Championship.
P-1 Racing will return after a successful 2001 season where their drivers, Jonathan Macri and Tony Ave finished 5th and 6th in the Championship respectively. Although no announcements have been made on what their 2002 lineup will look like, P-1 owner, Bill Fickling said they plan to run three cars again this year and will be testing on December 19th at Buttonwillow raceway.
Lynx Racing got off to an early start on their assault on the 2002 Championship by announcing their driver lineup right at the conclusion of the 2001 season. Vancouver's Michael Valiante and San Jose's Grant Ryley will both be top contenders for the 2002 Championship trophy. Lynx hired Tim Lewis to engineer for Grant Ryley. Lewis engineered the car that brought home Rocky Moran Jr.'s first win at the final race this year at Laguna Seca. Ryley will return for his second season in Atlantic after driving his rookie year with Worldspeed Motorsports. Valiante drove five races with Lynx in 2001; and despite the low number of starts, managed to finish ninth in the final Championship standings. Both drivers have been testing with the team and while Lynx was already familiar with Valiante's talents, they have been pleasantly surprised at what Ryley has been able to accomplish behind the wheel as well. The Lynx team will also come into the 2002 season with some new colors on the cars.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is one of the world's richest open-wheel development series and is a key rung on CART's "ladder system". 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, former Champ Car stars Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan, as well as 1997 FIA Formula One Champion Jacques Villeneuve.
For more information on the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, visit www.toyotaatlantic.com.