Highland Park, Ill. (March 29, 2001) - The final push is on as the start of the Grand Prix of Long Beach is less than two weeks away. It is a very busy time of the year for teams in the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. Many teams have yet to announce their 2001 plans; and the ones that have are diligently fine-tuning their operations for the season opener on April 7th.
LAST MINUTE DRIVER ANNOUNCEMENTS
Unlike drivers and teams in the CART FedEx Championship Series who have usually solidified their season's plans at the beginning of the year, Atlantic teams can often wait until the first race weekend or even into the season, before final plans are in place. Several key announcements are anticipated in the week leading up to Long Beach and during the race event.
A huge announcement is expected during the race weekend at Long Beach regarding a driver entering into the series. Although the deal was put together too late for the team and driver to be ready for the Long Beach race, they will be attending the event to announce their plans for the rest of the season to the press.
Late last week, another new team announced that they would run the 2001 season. Keith Duesenberg, with the Duesenberg Brothers Racing team, will join the battle for the 2001 Championship. Keith is the great- grandson of Henry Duesenberg, who was the older brother of Fred and August Duesenberg. Fred and August founded Duesenberg Motor Company and Duesenberg Brothers Racing. The team competed in the United States Formula 3 Championship last season and brings the Western Union sponsorship with them to the Atlantic series. "We are very delighted to be joining the Toyota Atlantic series," said Duesenberg. "The Toyota Atlantic Championship has a splendid history and we are proud to bring our Western Union Speed Team to its venues." No driver has been announced by the team yet; but is expected soon due to the fact that the team will be competing in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Prior to Long Beach, Pierre Phillips of Phillips Motorsports is also expected to name their driver. After a two-year absence from the series, Phillips Motorsports is returning with Gary Stigan as the crew chief for the team. Another question mark is who will be piloting Cobb Racing's second car at Long Beach. Second year driver, T.J. Bell will pilot the #55 entry with Craig Lawrence promoted to crew chief, but no announcement has been made on who will occupy the seat of the #97 car.
Lynx Racing, already loaded up with one of the pre-season favorites in David Rutledge from Vancouver, Canada, added another young driver from Vancouver to complete the team. Michael Valiante will run six races in the #95 Lynx Racing Swift starting at Long Beach. His other events will include Laguna Seca and the four events that will be run on Canadian soil. The 21-year old driver moves up to the Atlantic Series after running in the Barber Dodge Championship last year.
Finally, Cemal Yelkin will return to the 2001 Championship with a family operated team, Everclear Motorsports. Yelkin ran eight races last season with Meehan Motorsports. Along with Yelkin's return, Stephan Roy will be back running with P-1 Racing, teaming up with Tony Ave and Jonathan Macri.
LEARNING CURVE NOT ONLY ON THE TRACK
Driving in the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship prepares the drivers for the ultimate goal of racing in the CART FedEx Championship Series. But the learning does not stop when the driver leaves the car. Driving in a series with the history and prestige of the Atlantic Championship brings added attention to the drivers from media and fans alike. The drivers will learn how to handle their newfound worldwide notoriety, which will enable them to effectively prepare for what lies ahead. Many of the drivers racing at Long Beach will get a crash course on off-track responsibility during the week leading up to the race.
A full two days before the cars hit the track practicing for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Atlantic drivers will start the whirlwind tour with a media luncheon on Wednesday, April 4th. Martin Basso, Rocky Moran Jr., Hawk Mazzotta and Zac Mazzotta will take part in a regularly scheduled event at the Boeing C-17 Final Assembly Facility.
Later in the day, T.J. Bell, Grant Ryley, Michael Valiante, and Joey Hand will make a visit to a local school, Edison Elementary, to visit with under-privileged children in the area. Even after the sun drops, the activity continues with a black tie Gala at the Long Beach Convention Center. Drivers attending this event are David Rutledge, Hoover Orsi, along with Basso and Moran Jr.
DSTP Motorsports, Joey Hand, who will be piloting the car that won the championship last season, is already getting a taste of the added attention. "The responsibilities have significantly increased already and we have not even run our first race yet" said Hand. "I have had numerous interviews, autograph sessions and that is a big change for sure from where I have been in the past."
Thursday brings another busy day as the Mazzotta brothers, Rutledge, and Orsi model for a fashion show at the Westin Hotel Long Beach. Later on in the day, over ten Atlantic drivers will take part in a Art & Wine Charity Event taking place at the Long Beach Museum of Art.
As race weekend events get underway on Friday, the drivers will keep busy with off-track duties throughout the next three days. A local school's third graders will get an Atlantic Paddock tour on Friday morning with a chance to meet many of the drivers they will see racing on the streets of Long Beach. As the weekend progresses, many of the drivers will also take part in a multitude of scheduled autograph sessions going on in and around the track.
Most all of the teams continue to test leading up to the season opening race at Long Beach with strategy playing a part in who you test with and how you do it. Some teams elect to test by themselves waiting to show their stuff at the first event, but a large group of teams got together for an open invitation test in early March at Firebird International Raceway organized by Chuck West of Worldspeed Motorsports
Along with Worldspeed Motorsports and driver, Grant Ryley, other teams taking part were Lynx Racing (David Rutledge and Michael Valiante), Michael Shank Racing (Martin Basso and Rodolfo Lavin), Hylton Motorsports (Hoover Orsi), P-1 Racing (Tony Ave, Jonathan Macri, and Stephan Roy), Cobb Racing (T.J. Bell), and Condor Motorsports (Rocky Moran Jr. and Frank Dancs).
The two-day test just outside of Phoenix, Arizona got off to a soggy start as rain washed out the morning session the first day. Even though there were sections of the track that were still wet, the teams were able to test in the afternoon and by the time darkness had hit the track, Hoover Orsi had logged the fastest unofficial time of the day at 54.3 seconds.
The second day of testing saw clearer skies but changing weather conditions throughout the day challenged the teams to keep adjusting. By the end of the day, six drivers had cracked into the 53-second range with P-1 Racing's Jonathan Macri leading the way with an unofficial time of 53.71 seconds. Other drivers getting under the 54-second flat barrier were Orsi, Valiante, Moran Jr., Rutledge, and Basso. The successful test concluded with no incidents during the two-day test.
"Yesterday, right from the start, the car was really quick. It had a great setup," quoted Hoover Orsi after the morning session. "This morning we struggled a little with first gear and we didn't have the right tires. We were a whole second off, so we put on a new set and the car was back to what it was yesterday. I think we're going to be in good shape for Long Beach." Macri was pretty please with the test as well. "This test session has been really good," said Macri. "At first, I tried to familiarize myself with the car and the track. Bill Fickling and I are working really well together and we got the right setup down which really boosted my confidence. Actually, I think I surprised myself a little as well."
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is one of the world's richest open-wheel development series and is a key rung on CART's "ladder system". It is also noted for its long history of graduating its stars into CART competition. Among the drivers who have graduated from the Atlantic Series are CART Champ Car stars Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Barron, Memo Gidley, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, former Champ Car stars Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan, as well as 1997 FIA Formula One Champion Jacques Villeneuve.
For more information on the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, visit
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