Palm Springs, Calif. (June 26, 2000) -- World Speed Motorsports drivers Pete Mercier and Akihiro Asai have set the stage for a solid run during round six of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship series in Cleveland, Ohio, June 30 -- July 2,...
Palm Springs, Calif. (June 26, 2000) -- World Speed Motorsports drivers Pete Mercier and Akihiro Asai have set the stage for a solid run during round six of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship series in Cleveland, Ohio, June 30 -- July 2, part of the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland presented by Firstar CART FedEx Championship weekend.
Coming off of two very diverse race weekends, the first an oval track in Milwaukee, followed by the billiard-smooth road course in Montreal, the World Speed rookie duo of Mercier and Asai have a positive outlook coming to the Burke Lakefront Airport's rough, fast and wide temporary race circuit. "The team and I have looked at my last few performances and decided that something needed to change. I think I've put a lot of pressure on myself and that has caused me to make some silly mistakes," said Mercier.
Mercier, driver of the #14 World Speed -- Northwest SpeedWerx/Walker Racing Swift 008.a, discovered the unforgiving nature of oval racing a month ago in Milwaukee after he spun into the turn four wall while battling for position. Then in Montreal, Mercier made contact with an outside retaining wall, which resulted in 25th overall. He is hoping to turn his luck around with a solid run this weekend in Cleveland.
"I'm going into Cleveland with a new attitude. I'm excited to get back in the car and have some fun. The team still has faith in me, which is really important. They work hard for me, so I want to give them some good results.
They deserve it," said a positive Mercier. Asai, a native of Tokyo, Japan, and the newest addition to the World Speed Toyota Atlantic team, driving the #15 World Speed -- Pro Staff/Walker Racing Swift 008.a, looks forward to the challenge of the temporary road course in Cleveland, "I've never run at this track before, but I've heard it's very flat," said Asai. The 2.106 -- mile road course is home to the Burke Lakefront Airport, located near downtown Cleveland, so the course is flat due to the nature of the airport's runways.
"We've been testing quite a bit and it's going really well. I think it will help me prepare for the flat, superwide track. We will also have more practice time on this track than we did in Montreal," said Asai, who will be competing in just his third Atlantic race this weekend. He ran his first Atlantic race just a month ago in Milwaukee, where he finished 15th, then followed up just two weeks ago to finish 11th in Montreal.
Both World Speed rookies, Mercier and Asai have joined the World Speed Motorsports team under the Walker Racing affiliation in which World Speed team owner Chuck West along with Derrick Walker, owner of Walker Racing's
CART FedEx Championship and Indy Racing League teams, and Northwest SpeedWerx's Rick Waddell look for aspiring young drivers with a future in open-wheel racing. West, Walker and Waddell share the desire to provide young talent with the opportunity to advance their professional racing careers by grooming them towards the next level of competition.
Mercier, of Las Vegas, Nevada, worked his way into the driver's seat following several years as a professional race car mechanic and engineer. His background includes crew chief responsibilities for the Russell Racing School, engineering a Star Formula Mazda team and car preparation for 1995 Toyota Atlantic Championship winner Richie Hearn. Behind the wheel, Mercier has been a winning driver in shifter karts, Skip Barber Formula Dodge and the Russell Racing and Formula Mazda series. He has served as a driving coach for Star Formula Mazda competitors and currently instructs at the Derek Daly Academy at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Mercier joins the 2000 Atlantic Championship as part of the Northwest SpeedWerx driver development program. This program was developed by Waddell, of Seattle, Washington, to identify aspiring young drivers and assist them with the resources and promotional guidance to move their careers forward through participation in a multi-year driver development program. Focusing on CART's ladder system, including the Toyota Atlantic Championship, the goal of Northwest SpeedWerx is to train the next generation of drivers for competition in the CART FedEx Championship.
Asai began his career racing go-karts at age 15, when he raced in the Japanese National Kart Championship, winning at Sugo. After a few years in karts, Asai traveled to the states to attend a five-day course at the Skip Barber Formula Dodge racing school, where he became hooked on formula cars. "My first real formula car experience was at Skip Barber. It was a great feeling, the car felt so solid," said Asai.
It was at that time that he began racing professionally. In 1994, Asai participated in the ESSO/Formula Toyota Championship where he earned top honors as the highest-ranking rookie (eighth). From there Asai competed in the Japanese Formula 3 and Formula 4 Championships, scoring the victory from the pole while making his Formula 4 racing debut. Asai continued to break records and earn victories, winning two and claiming six of 12 wins and six pole positions in the Eastern Formula 4. He was also the first driver, in the Formula 4 to win on the Motegi road course, after the track opened in 1998.
Last year, Asai completed a full season in Australia with the Formula Holden Australian series, where he finished fifth in the championship. His most memorable moment in Australia was at the Adelaide Street Course where he finished fourth after starting 18th on the grid while setting the fastest lap.
World Speed Motorsports is considered one of America's most dynamic racing organizations, featuring entries in CART's Toyota Atlantic Championship, as well as the Star Mazda Pro Series. Founded in 1991 by Chuck West, World Speed initially focused on the Formula Mazda series where West finished third overall and won the Rookie-of-the-Year title in his first season as an owner/driver. 1992 resulted in the series championship by virtue of West's five wins, ten podiums and three track records.
Since then, World Speed has captured six Formula Mazda championship and five pro series Rookie-of-the-Year titles under West's guidance and Doyle's engineering expertise, featuring such drivers as Ben Massey, Pete Wise, Mike Conte, Mike Miller, Jeff Bucknum and Grant Ryley.
Last year in Atlantic, World Speed campaigned French-born Brazilian Nicolas Rondet, who averaged a top five running position at every race and captured a podium finish in Trois-Rivieres.
This weekend's CART Toyota Atlantic activities begin Friday, June 30, with Atlantic practice at 1:40 p.m., followed by the first qualifying session at 5:25 p.m. Saturday, July 1 commences with Atlantic practice at 9:00 a.m. followed by the second qualifying session at 1:00 p.m. Race day, Sunday, July 2, begins with a 15 -- minute warm-up session at 8:30 a.m., two hours before the start of the Atlantic race at 10:30 a.m. (All times are Eastern.)
The Cleveland race will be televised on CTV Sportsnet Monday, July 10 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on and RDS, Saturday July 15 at 8:30 a.m. Eastern. Saturday, June 24 at 2:30 p.m. Eastern.
Round seven of the 12-race CART Toyota Atlantic Championship season takes place in Toronto, Ontario, July 16, part of the Molson Indy.