BUTTONWILLOW, Calif., Nov. 24, 1998 - KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Champion Lee Bentham received his final reward on Tuesday for winning the 1998 series championship with his day-long ride in the Toyota-powered No. 25 MCI WorldCom/Arciero-Wells ...
BUTTONWILLOW, Calif., Nov. 24, 1998 - KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Champion Lee Bentham received his final reward on Tuesday for winning the 1998 series championship with his day-long ride in the Toyota-powered No. 25 MCI WorldCom/Arciero-Wells Champ Car here at Buttonwillow. Toyota and Arciero-Wells has provided this opportunity for the past three years to the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Drivers' Champion.
Bentham, who won this year's Atlantic championship by winning two races, earning three poles and five podium finishes, said he's been looking forward to this opportunity ever since claiming the title in September.
"It's certainly an important step in any driver's career when you get a WorldCom/Arciero-Wells," said Bentham. "It's quite an honor to get a dedicated day of driving a Champ Car. Basically, we improved every time we went out, and I think I did pretty well. Any seat time is crucial, and the opportunity to drive a Champ Car is quite crucial, because it is my future. It gives CART team owners a decent idea of how good I could be in a Champ Car. Certainly everything I've learned in the Atlantics and Indy Lights has prepared me to make that jump and compete in the FedEx Championship Series."
Bentham, who finished second in the Atlantic Championship in 1996, competed in the PPG Dayton Indy Lights in 1997, then won the KOOL /Toyota Atlantic Championship in 1998 driving for Player's-Forsythe, reached speeds of nearly 185 miles an hour in his second session in a Champ Car. A few weeks earlier, Bentham took a brief spin in one of the Player's-Forsythe Champ Cars, but this experience gave him 75 laps in one of the world's fastest open-wheel cars.
"It was our pleasure to be involved in the process of rewarding the KOOL /Toyota Atlantic champion with a spin in a modern day Champ Car. Lee did a tremendous job in representing Toyota and the Atlantic series," said Richard Buck, director of Indy car operations for Arciero-Wells.
Les Unger, national motorsports manager for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., has been a part of this "reward" process for the past three seasons and said Bentham's championship season made him more than worthy of this rare opportunity.
"We've always said the KOOL /Toyota Atlantic Championship is the premier training ground series for CART and Formula One and what better way to back that up than to provide the current Atlantic champion, Lee Bentham, a reward drive in a Toyota-powered Champ Car," Unger said. "Lee was a great champion this year. He handled the pressure well late in the season when it seemed like there was always someone pushing him. Hopefully, something will materialize for Lee with a Champ Car ride."