ANTOINE BESSETTE EARNS FIRST TOYOTA ATLANTIC WIN IN FRONT OF HOME CROWD IN TORONTO TORONTO, Ontario, Canada (July 10, 2005) -- Canadian rookie Antoine Bessette ( ...
ANTOINE BESSETTE EARNS FIRST TOYOTA ATLANTIC WIN IN FRONT OF HOME CROWD IN TORONTO
TORONTO, Ontario, Canada (July 10, 2005) -- Canadian rookie Antoine Bessette (#3 Unik Auto Design) didn't care where he earned his first victory in the Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama, but all things considered, he's pretty happy that his first series visit to Victory Circle happened to be in front of a supportive and capacity crowd Sunday at the Molson Indy Toronto.
Bessette, a 23-year-old native of St. Bruno, Quebec, took advantage of an opportunity late in the 35-lap race and seized the lead just two laps from the checkered flag. He was able to hold off Mexican David Martinez (#7 Roshfrans/US RaceTronics) for his third podium finish and his first Atlantic victory in his seventh start, capturing Round 7 of 12 in the '05 Atlantic championship (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED Channel - Saturday, July 16 at 2 p.m. ET) by just 1.281 seconds over Martinez.
The 15th Atlantic race at the 1.755-mile Exhibition Place street circuit got off to a clean start as polesitter Charles Zwolsman (#11 Condor Motorsports) led the field to the green flag Sunday morning. Martinez, coming off a career-best second-place qualifying effort Saturday, tried desperately to get past Zwolsman on the opening lap but the Dutch driver and series point leader turned Martinez away each time.
After the start, Zwolsman had a pretty easy time running at the front of the pack for the first 23 laps on the streets of Toronto. The 26-year-old Condor Motorsports pilot began losing power at that point in the race. Martinez was able to pass the polewinner for the lead on Lap 23 and Zwolsman began to drop back in the field with engine problems. The rookie had to pull onto pit lane just a couple of laps later and his day was over with mechanical problems. The result marked the first time this season that Zwolsman failed to complete a race.
Bessette began to set his sights on Martinez with Zwolsman out of the way. With just a few laps remaining in the race, Martinez began to fight some oversteer on his car. Meanwhile, Tonis Kasemets (#6 Flexovit Abrasives/MK ind./TMI/Redline Oil) was forced to the pits to make repairs on his machine and he left pit lane and entered the race track just ahead of the leaders. As Martinez approached Kasemets on Lap 33 he had to slow slightly and that gave Bessette the break he was looking for as he took command in Turn 2. Bessette held off Martinez over the final two laps and captured the win in 42:58.149 with an average speed of 85.771 mph.
The victory also enabled Bessette to gain some ground in the tight series standings. Zwolsman was able to retain the lead in the title hunt, despite the DNF, as he has 186 points after seven rounds. Kasemets is still second overall, just seven points behind Zwolsman, while Bessette has closed the gap considerably in the rundown trailing the leader by just 17 markers in third place.
Starting from fourth position on Sunday, Germany's Andreas Wirth (#8 Wurges Windows and Doors) ran another strong race as he came home in third place. The finish was the 20-year-old rookie's fifth straight podium this season as he also continues to be a factor in the series championship chase.
Second-year series driver Al Unser III (#10 BOSPoker.net/PKV Racing) equaled his best series finish. He took the green flag in seventh position but showed good patience and worked his way forward, finishing fourth for his fifth straight top-seven finish this season.
In addition to Bessette's dramatic victory, another series Canadian racer had a career day in Toronto. Owner/driver Eric Jensen (#2 Konica Minolta/Epson Canada) of Montreal, Quebec produced the best result of his nine-year Atlantic career Sunday and he also earned a bonus point for most improved positions in the race as he came from a ninth-place start to finish fifth at the checkered flag.
After running as high as fourth from her sixth-place starting position, Katherine Legge (#12 PKV Racing) wound up finishing sixth. Legge was penalized for blocking on Kasemets midway through the race, but she managed her sixth top-10 finish of the year, even with the drive-through penalty assessed for the infraction.
California native Justin Sofio (#15 RLM Investments) grabbed his fourth Yokohama Tire C2 Cup victory of the season as he paced all five C2 competitors this weekend, while finishing seventh overall. Kasemets suffered his worst result since Round 1 in Long Beach as he came in eighth place. Canadian Daryl Leiske (#63 Speedway Motors) was second in C2 and ninth overall for his best series finish, while Bob Siska (#18 RJS Motorsports) completed the top 10.
The Atlantic machines swing back into action next weekend at the Champ Car Grand Prix of Edmonton. Follow all of the action live from Finning International Speedway in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on www.toyotaatlantic.com.
ATLANTIC RACE NOTES
With today's win by Bessette, a Canadian has now finished on the podium in all 15 Atlantic events in Toronto.
Either a Canadian or an American has won all 15 Toronto Atlantic races. Bessette's victory gives Canadians eight wins at the venue, while Americans have seven victories at Exhibition Place.
Charles Zwolsman earned a bonus point for posting the fastest lap in today's race. Zwolsman turned a time of 1:07.835 on his 16th lap. Daryl Leiske had the fastest C2 lap of 1:11.063 on his 28th lap of the race.
Following are the quotes from the top three finishers in today's race:
ANTOINE BESSETTE (#3 Unik Auto Design -- Polestar Racing): (On the pass for the lead)
"I knew that Tonis got back on track just in front of us and I was hoping that he could slow Martinez down because I was faster in the straight away and I knew I could have a shot. (On the start) I was just hoping that nobody was going to touch me. Everything went very clean and then it was time to go racing. The team did a great job this weekend and I am happy I won in front of the Canadian crowd. (On the championship) I am closing on Zwolsman and Kasemets. I was not really lucky recently and I did not finish a few races, but the luck has turned."
DAVID MARTINEZ (#7 Roshfrans -- US Race Tronics):
"Since the middle of the race I got some oversteerring. So Bessette got me at the end because the car was hard to handle. The fact that Kasemets was in front of me didn't help because he took some air from me and it disrupted the balance of my car. But I am still really happy with the result. The team is back to where it belongs and we hope we are going to stay there. I believe that we are going to win races this season. (On the Molson Indy Grand Prix of Toronto) I really like street courses. This is a really nice track and also a really nice crowd."
ANDREAS WIRTH (#8 Wurges Windows & Doors -- Brooks Associates Racing):
"I had a great race. Five podiums in the row, it is really good. I want to thank my team for their hard work. They did a really good job in the last races. (On his race) I struggled a little bit at the beginning and then I made a mistake at the restart. I chose the outside line and it turned out it was not the right one. At the end I was very strong and the car was very fast so I wish the race was a little big longer. (On his weekend) I like the track. It is really tricky. I think I could have finished better than third but I am still happy. It is good for the championship."