SECOND HALF OF TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON SET TO BEGIN WITH TORONTO STREET FIGHT INDIANAPOLIS (July 6, 2005) -- The first half of the 2005 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama season has included more than a few surprises.
SECOND HALF OF TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON SET TO BEGIN WITH TORONTO STREET FIGHT
INDIANAPOLIS (July 6, 2005) -- The first half of the 2005 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama season has included more than a few surprises. From the eye-opening start to the year that saw rookie female racer Katherine Legge (#12 PKV Racing) capture a historic win on the streets of Long Beach, to the remarkable rise of series newcomer Charles Zwolsman (#11 Condor Motorsports) and the impressive consistency of second-year Estonian driver Tonis Kasemets (#6 Flexovit Abrasives/MK Ind./TMI/Redline Oil).
Through the first six rounds of competition this season, the Atlantic ride has been a wild one. What remains to be seen is how many more twists and turns the drivers and teams that comprise North America's top open-wheel development series have in store for the second half of '05. The picture will begin to develop this weekend with Round 7 of the Atlantic championship -- the Molson Indy Toronto Toyota Atlantic race (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED Channel - Saturday, July 16 at 2 p.m. ET) on the 1.755-mile temporary street circuit at Exhibition Place.
With three of the next four rounds run on downtown street courses, the quest for the Atlantic championship could literally come down to a street fight, beginning with this weekend's action in Toronto. The second half of the season gets underway with the 15th Atlantic race in Toronto. On-track Molson Indy action is on tap from Friday-Sunday, July 8-10 and Sunday's race is scheduled for 35 laps or 50 minutes.
Who will conquer the streets of the popular Canadian venue this weekend? History proves that it will either be an American or a native Canadian racer as all of the previous Atlantic events have been won by a driver with one of those two nationalities. Canadians have won seven times in Atlantic races in Toronto while Americans have also taken the checkered flag on seven occasions.
One driver hoping to break that string of North American dominance is Zwolsman, the series point leader. Coming off back-to-back victories at Cleveland two weeks ago, the Dutch rookie leads the series with three wins this season and currently carries a 169-162 lead over the determined Kasemets in the championship standings. He proved that he can mix it up with the best series street racers in the opening event of '05 when he roared from the back of the starting grid to finish third in Long Beach. The Condor Motorsports first-year phenom will look to validate that effort with another strong performance in his first experience racing in Toronto.
Kasemets is looking to bounce back strong this weekend after he witnessed Zwolsman wrestle away the points lead in Cleveland. Driving for Dan Cobb/Racing/Team Tonis, Kasemets has been very reliable this season, finishing in the top four in each of the last five races. His worst result in that impressive stretch, however -- a fourth-place finish in the second of two Cleveland events -- enabled Zwolsman to reclaim the championship lead. Kasemets is anxious to get back on track this weekend and show that he has plenty of street fight left in him.
In addition to winning half of the Atlantic events in Toronto history, Canadians have also finished on the podium in all 14 previous races at Exhibition Place. A serious threat to keep both of those streaks alive in '05 is St. Bruno, Quebec native Antoine Bessette (#3 Unik Auto Design). Currently third in the series title hunt, just 32 points behind Zwolsman, Bessette has also been very consistent this season for Polestar Racing Group. He has experience racing up front in Toronto, finishing fourth in other formulas in both 2003 and 2004, and he proved to be one of the fastest drivers in the field at Long Beach in his last street-circuit start, finishing second for one of his two podiums this season.
Germany's Andreas Wirth (#8 Wurges Windows and Doors) is starting to find his groove at the perfect time in the Atlantic season. The 20-year-old rookie has carded four straight podium results and improved to fourth in the season standings, 38 points in back of Zwolsman, with his recent run. Wirth is one of eight drivers in this weekend's Atlantic field who will be racing on the tight Toronto circuit for the first time. He's hoping for a good introduction.
One year ago, Legge, the British racing sensation, made her North American debut at Toronto. She ran well, earning a sixth-place finish in the North American Formula Renault series. She hopes that experience will benefit her as she tries to return to the podium this weekend after a tough weekend at Cleveland. With four top-five results this season and her impressive win at Long Beach, Legge returns to Toronto ranked fifth in the points, 45 markers behind the leader.
Toronto could also provide the opportunity for David Martinez (#7 Roshfrans/Aviacsa/RocaAcero/Multigama/Martiga) of Mexico to get back to the Atlantic podium. After finishing third in his season debut at his home race in Monterrey, Mexico earlier this year, Martinez has had three top-eight finishes. He believes his experience at Exhibition Place will help him break into the top three again this weekend for US RaceTronics. In 2003, Martinez won the provisional pole and led three times during the Barber Dodge Pro Series race at Toronto before winding up in third place.
Al Unser III (#10 BOSPoker.net/PKV Racing) also competed in the '03 Barber Dodge race. He lasted only 12 laps before mechanical problems ended his day, but the second-year Atlantic driver is aiming much higher on this visit to Toronto, where his father Al Unser Jr. won twice in Champ Cars (1988 and 1990). Unser is coming off a career-best fourth place at Cleveland and has recorded four top-seven finishes since rejoining the Atlantic series full time in June with Brooks Associates Racing.
Coming off a career-best finish of sixth in Cleveland, Tom Nastasi (#23 USG Sheetrock/DeWalt Tools/Ramset Tools) returns to action for Blackforest Motorsports this weekend while Canadian racer Chris Souliotis (#56 Speedway Motors) of British Columbia will make his first Atlantic start in Toronto after making his open-wheel debut there last year in the Formula Renault race. Ben Johnston (#96 Win Fuel/TrimSpa/Media Brokers International) will see his first series action at the Molson Indy and his first race since competing at Monterrey in Round 2.
Justin Sofio (#15 RLM Investments) will lead the C2 class field into Toronto. The former series mechanic has three C2 wins in five starts this season and he owns a one-point lead in the Yokohama Tire C2 Cup standings entering this weekend. Dan Cobb (#9 Camelot Construction), fresh off his first C2 win at Cleveland, is right on Sofio's heels as he prepares for his Toronto debut.
The expected-capacity Canadian crowd will certainly be rooting for Ontario native Tim Hauraney (#31 Enerlog Systems Inc./Spanky's Harley Davidson). Hauraney will be making his third series C2 start and first in an Atlantic car at Toronto after finishing ninth last season in the race's Formula Renault event. Daryl Leiske (#63 Speedway Motors), another rookie driver who hails from Canada, will make his fifth series start this weekend while seasoned Atlantic racer Bob Siska will be competing at Exhibition Place for the fourth time in his series career.
Each one of the impressive Atlantic machines that will test the limits on the Toronto streets are Swift chassis powered by 240-horsepower Toyota 4A-GE engines capable of speeds in excess of 165 mph. All entries will compete on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks.
WHAT: The Molson Indy Toronto Toyota Atlantic Race
WHERE: Exhibition Place, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
WHEN: Friday-Sunday, July 8-10
TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local): FRIDAY, JULY 8 -- 11:45-12:15 p.m.., Practice; 3:15-3:45 p.m., First-Round Qualifying. SATURDAY, JULY 9 -- 8:30-9 a.m., Practice; 12:30-1 p.m., Final Qualifying. SUNDAY, JULY 10 -- 8-8:30 a.m., Warm-up; 10-11 a.m., Atlantic Race.
U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: SATURDAY, JULY 16 -- SPEED Channel, Molson Indy Toronto Atlantic Race, 2 p.m. ET (Tape-Delay).
TRACK LAYOUT: 11-turn, 1.755-mile temporary street course
RACE LENGTH: 35 laps (61.425 miles) or 50 minutes
TRACK RECORDS: Qualifying (one lap) -- 2003, AJ Allmendinger, 1:04.920 (97.320 mph). Race -- (one lap) 2003, AJ Allmendinger, 1:05.829 mph (95.976 mph); (35 laps) 2003, AJ Allmendinger, 40:43.450 (90.499 mph).
RACE ROUND: 7 of 12 in the 2005 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama.
NEXT EVENT: July 15-17, Champ Car Grand Prix of Edmonton -- Edmonton, Alberta, Canada