Alex Gurney escapes Toronto with fifth place finish; Jon Fogarty and Luis Diaz suffer disappointing DNF's; CART penalizes two podium finishers in post-race actions, TORONTO, Ontario, Canada (July 7, 2002) - - In a race that will be remembered...
Alex Gurney escapes Toronto with fifth place finish; Jon Fogarty and Luis Diaz suffer disappointing DNF's; CART penalizes two podium finishers in post-race actions,
TORONTO, Ontario, Canada (July 7, 2002) - - In a race that will be remembered more for what happened off the track than on it, a material fact is there was a mid-season shift among the top-10 points leaders in the 2002 Toyota Atlantic Championship, but Dorricott Racing still appears to be the team to beat.
It was a picture perfect afternoon, Saturday, July 6, at the Molson Indy Toronto and conditions for round seven of the 12-race Toyota Atlantic Championship couldn't have been better. Jon Fogarty, of Portola Valley, Calif., started the race up front after winning his second $1000 Toyota Pole Award of the season earlier in the day and entered the race with a two point lead in the Championship over Canadian favorite Michael Valiante. Teammate Alex Gurney, of Newport Beach, Calif., was on the outside pole. Dorricott Racing's Luis Diaz, of Mexico City, was in row two and fourth on the starting grid.
The start of the 35-lap Atlantic sprint around the 1.755-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit was near perfect. Diaz quickly assumed third place to improve in line behind Fogarty and Gurney. All three drivers safely cruised through the narrow 90-degree first corner right hander. It was reminiscent of the "good 'ol days" in Indy Lights when Dorricott drivers dictated a race from the front of the field. But just when it looked like a "sweep" was imminent, the winds of fate and post-race decision dragged Dorricott drivers into an abyss of disappointment.
The race was essentially decided on an early race re-start. Two yellow flags had slowed the early portion of the event. This, however, set the stage for the one of the most controversial incidents in recent Toyota Atlantic history. On the lap six restart, Valiante, who was in third place at the time, charged to the inside of Gurney and Fogarty heading into Turn 1. Valiante ducked low nearly striking the wall before completing the pass of Fogarty and Gurney. Fogarty battled Valiante down the long straight heading into Turn 3. As the pair jockeyed for position, Diaz made tire-to-tire contact with the rear of Fogarty's car sending Diaz airborne into the tire wall. The incident eliminated both of the Dorricott cars from the race.
Valiante, meanwhile, continued unchallenged for the next 29 laps to win the race over fellow countryman, Jonathan Macri, of Gormley, Ontario, by 0.909-seconds. The Canadian sweep of the top two spots may have thrilled a partisan audience, but that audience was unaware that Valiante's race winning maneuver was actually an illegal pass as determined by series officials nearly five hours after the race had ended.
Rule 6.13.2 states, "During the race, any advantage or position gained during an off course excursion (four wheel off of the racing surface) must be relinquished. Any reported shortcut or off course excursion that, in the opinion of the Series Chief Steward, improves a driver's position during the race will result in a black flag penalty or other penalty pursuant to Chapter 10 of the Rule Book."
Valiante entered and exited Turn One on lap six with all four wheels of his car clearly below and outside the defined race track surface. This maneuver immediately improved him two positions over Fogarty and Gurney. Television videotape clearly showed the violation, but corner workers failed to report the violation to CART Atlantic officials.
Dorricott Racing first became aware of the infraction approximately 30 minutes following the race during a post-race review of the race videotape. Other teams also reviewed the videotape. Three teams including Dorricott Racing, Hylton Motorsports, and P-1 Racing then expressed their concern that Valiante's pass was clearly impermissible as defined in the CART Toyota Atlantic Rule Book. The "potential" for that exact situation had been addressed at a pre-race meeting for drivers.
After careful deliberation, CART Toyota Atlantic Championship Stewards, led by Chief Steward, K.C. Van Niman, levied post-race penalties not only on Valiante but also on Rocky Moran Jr.
The Stewards determined that Valiante had shortcutted the course during that move and was assessed a five point penalty according to rule 6.13 of the 2002 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship Rule Book The reduction reduced Valiante's Championship points lead to 14 points over Fogarty.
Moran Jr., who finished third place in the race, was fined 14 Championship points along with the forfeiture of $10,000 in race winnings after his car failed the post race inspection per rule 9.2.2c (Item 6). The point reduction dropped Moran Jr. from third to eighth place in the Championship with 59 points.
Almost lost in the post-race hoopla was the fact that Gurney emerged with a commendable fifth place finish in the Castrol/Behr Swift 014.a. Gurney was able to squirt around the crash scene that caught Fogarty and Diaz and maintained a steady pace to ensure another finish in the points.
After round seven, the Atlantic Championship remains one of the tightest in recent memory. Twenty nine points separate the top seven drivers. Valiante holds a 14 point advantage over second place Fogarty, 89-75.
Gurney continues in the thick of the championship chase and is tied with Roger Yasukawa for fourth place with 67 points. Diaz is close behind in seventh place with 60 points.
Despite not finishing the race, Fogarty maintained his lead for Atlantic Rookie-of-the-Year honors over Roger Yasukawa to eight points, 75-67.
Round eight of the 2002 Toyota Atlantic Championship will be held at the Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland, Sunday, July 14.