Toronto: Round seven preview

INDIANAPOLIS (July 7, 2004) -- The first six races on the 2004 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama season schedule have brought some dominant performances. They've also seen some of the top, young open-wheel stars in North America...

INDIANAPOLIS (July 7, 2004) -- The first six races on the 2004 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama season schedule have brought some dominant performances. They've also seen some of the top, young open-wheel stars in North America struggle with their results at times.

No one has seized control of the championship pursuit over the first half of the season, which makes the second half all the more exciting as the battle prepares to hit the streets. Just 28 points separate the top seven drivers in the Toyota Atlantic Championship and with three out of the next four races to begin the season's second half on temporary street circuits, the title could literally come down to a good old fashioned street fight.

The battle will be joined this weekend with the Atlantic cars annual visit to Toronto at the Molson Indy. Sunday's Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic Championship of Toronto Presented by Yokohama (tape-delayed on SPEED Channel, Saturday, July 17 -- 11 a.m. ET) is Round 7 of 12 in this season's championship showdown.

The man on point in the championship chase remains Jon Fogarty (#96 Pacific Coast Motorsports). The 2002 series champion saw his streak of three consecutive race wins come to an end last weekend in Cleveland. After being spun while running second on the final lap, he managed a fourth-place finish to retain the points lead but he saw his cushion shrink to just three points, 149-146, over last year's series runner-up Ryan Dalziel (#28 ProWorks).

Both Fogarty and Dalziel have led Atlantic events in Toronto in the past, so this weekend could certainly offer a tangle between these two top contenders. Fogarty earned his second career pole position at the 1.755-mile street course at Exhibition Place in 2002, but his race lasted only five laps before he collided with his teammate at the time, Luis Diaz, and he was forced to the sidelines. Dalziel, who led every session and every lap in a dominant win in Cleveland last weekend, started fourth in Toronto last year but grabbed the lead on the opening lap with some daring moves. He led nine laps before surrendering the point and eventually finishing fifth.

But while the two drivers at the top of the season standings have tasted success at the Molson Indy, a slew of other racers have also proven that they could just as easily be standing in Victory Lane on Sunday.

Danica Patrick (#24 Argent Mortgage Company) has yet to grab her first series win, but she continues to score valuable points and is regularly producing podium finishes. Even on a weekend like the one she experienced in Cleveland where nothing seemed to be working right for the Rahal-Letterman Racing driver, she put herself in a position to take advantage of any opportunity and she pounced when it presented itself. Patrick made the most of the Turn 1 incident that gathered up Fogarty on the final lap and she took the checkered flag in third place for her fifth career podium and third in her last five races. She sits third in the championship, just 10 points off the lead, entering Toronto.

After producing top-five results in three of the last four races, rookie Jonathan Bomarito (#8 Dixien/Omnisource) has emerged as the leader among a talented freshman class of Atlantic drivers. He was fifth in Cleveland and the result enabled him to grab the lead in the 2004 BG Products Rookie of the Year race. He's compiled 124 points on the season and trails Fogarty by only 22 points in fourth place overall.

Another driver who struggled most of the weekend in Cleveland but persevered and reaped the rewards for his patience is Bryan Sellers (#19 Lynx Racing). After starting a season-worst 10th, he worked his way up and also took advantage of the last-lap fracas to grab second place last weekend for his best-ever Atlantic result. Sitting fifth in the standings, just 25 points off the lead, Sellers looks to be ready to make a run in the second half of the season.

Last week, Ronnie Bremer (#4 PaySystems) moved from Brooks Associates Racing to Polestar Racing Group. The rookie performed well with no seat time for his new team, qualifying third and finishing sixth in Cleveland. He returns to the track with Polestar this weekend and he'll be looking to improve his sixth-place championship standing.

One of the most dangerous drivers in the title hunt and a sure crowd favorite this weekend is currently seventh in the season rundown. Quebec native Andrew Ranger (#27 Tide/Charmin/Mr. Clean/Snugabye) won in Toronto last year in the Fran-Am series and the rookie has been brilliant at times this year in Atlantics with three podiums in six events. The 17-year-old is looking to rebound on a course he's familiar with after a 12th-place effort last week that saw him spin in Turn 1 after starting second. With Canadians winning the Toronto Atlantic event seven times in 13 tries, Ranger has to like his odds of grabbing his first series win this weekend.

Alex Figge (#69 Pacific Coast Motorsports) finished eighth in Toronto last year and he's also proven that he can run up front this year. He was running third last week before making contact with his teammate Fogarty in the first turn and he certainly wants to get back on track in Toronto.

Rookies Chris Festa (#25 SpacePak/CareCentric) and Josh Hunt (#15 Wright/Patton/Shakespeare/Atkinson Gore Group) will be racing Atlantic machines in Toronto for the first time, while veteran Alex Garcia (#9 Dixien/Omnisource) will be making his third Molson Indy Toronto start.

The Canadian crowd will also have the opportunity to root for two more of their own, in addition to Ranger, this weekend. Eric Jensen (#2 Penn Capital/Konica Minolta) makes his home in Ontario and he'll be in action on the Toronto streets along with Montreal native Philip Fayer (#3 PaySystems).

Each of the machines that will battle wheel-to-wheel this weekend are Swift chassis powered by 240-horsepower Toyota 4A-GE engines capable of speeds in excess of 165 mph. All cars will ride on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks.

The weekend schedule at Exhibition Place calls for the Atlantic cars to hit the track for the first time on Friday morning with practice from 9:15-9:45 a.m. ET. First-round qualifying is set for 1:15-1:45 p.m. Friday. The Toyota engines will fire for a 45-minute practice/final qualifying session from 12:30-1:15 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Atlantic warm-up is scheduled for 8:30-8:45 a.m. Sunday morning and Round 7 of the series -- the Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic Championship of Toronto Presented by Yokohama -- will take the green flag at 10:30 a.m. The race is scheduled for 35 laps (61.425 miles) or 50 minutes.

SPEED Channel will provide tape-delayed television coverage of the Toronto Atlantic race at 11 a.m. ET on Saturday, July 17. The race will also air to U.S. service men and women in 77 countries around the world through the American Forces Radio & Television Service. For additional information, visit the series' official web site,

-www.toyotaatlantic.com.

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Series Atlantic
Drivers Ryan Dalziel , Jon Fogarty , Alex Garcia , Alex Figge , Eric Jensen , Jonathan Bomarito , Ronnie Bremer , Bryan Sellers , Andrew Ranger , Philip Fayer , Chris Festa , Josh Hunt , Danica Patrick