LONG BEACH, Calif., (April 7, 2001) - David Rutledge (Lynx Racing Swift) regained the lead on the 13th lap of Round 1 of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and held on to win the series opener by 4.383 seconds.
Vancouver's Rutledge, who won from the pole last year at the Montreal Grand Prix, taking his first career win, repeated the accomplishment for the second time on the 1.968-mile street circuit. Rutledge lost the lead on the opening lap to rookie, Joey Hand (DSTP Motorsports/BG Products Swift), and fell to third place behind Hoover Orsi (Hylton Motorsports/U.S. Print Swift). Orsi later passed Hand on the sixth lap of the race only to relinquish the lead to a patient Rutledge, on lap 13.
Orsi, from Campo Grande, Brazil, was able to keep the heat on Rutledge for the rest of the race as he went on to a comfortable second place finish over Sacramento's Joey Hand. Lynx racing placed another driver in the top-5 with Vancouver's Michael Valiante (Lynx Racing/Italian Motors/Newlife Development Swift), who came home in fourth place. Rounding out the top five was Tony Ave (P-1 Racing/Miller Genuine Draft Swift), from Indianapolis, Indiana. Rutledge scored 22 championship points, winning from the pole and leading the most laps.
"We ran the race exactly according to our plan," said the early season point leader. There was a little bit of drama near the end of the race when we bumped wheels with Mazzotta (Zac), but I gathered it back up and when I had the opportunity, I went around him. After that, it was just a case of keeping my head in the race and the team did a really good job of coaching me over the radio. This is a real validation of all the work we did in the off-season and my engineer, Rick Cameron is definitely the man."
Joey Hand led his very first race lap in an Atlantic car, when he passed Rutledge on the outside, in Turn 1. Hand was able to hold onto the lead before giving it up on lap 6. Hand was then passed by Rutledge the following lap, dropping him to third place, where he finished the race comfortably over Valiante.
"We had a great start," said Hand. "The DSTP car got me off the line really well. We slowed up a little bit at the end of the race, but I think a third place finish is great start for the year and that we're going to be major contenders for the championship."
Orsi had a strong race going and had opened up a small lead on Rutledge only to lose it seven laps later to Rutledge. Orsi stayed close to Rutledge but faded back in the final laps after getting caught up in lapped traffic. The runner-up finish was a career best for the second year driver.
"It was a great to finish second on the first race of the season," said the Brazilian driver. "I was able to get the lead on lap 6 and keep it for the first half of the race. But, unfortunately, I had some oversteer in some of the corners, and David (Rutledge) was able to overtake me. After that, I didn't have the speed to try and make a move on David and get back in the lead."
Argentina's, Martin Basso (Michael Shank Racing/3b Engine Valve Swift) struggled to hold on to his fourth place starting position and could not hold off the charge of Valiante and Ave. Basso dropped out the top-5 to finish in sixth.
"I don't know if I'm happy or not," said Basso. "The big thing was we finished and got some points, which we didn't do here last year. The next two races are on ovals and we have a good set-up for them, so we should be okay. The big problem today was the push in the car. I worked the bars but couldn't make it any better. I think the rain in the morning qualifying session really hurt us, because we didn't get a chance to try the changes we had planned."
For the second year in a row, the Atlantic Long Beach race had only one yellow flag period, that came early in both races. Andrew Kirkaldy (BBGP Racing/Portacool Swift) lost traction going into the inside of Turn 1. The car shot to the outside collecting T.J. Bell (Cobb Racing Swift). Both cars were eliminated from the race after making contact with the outside wall in Turn 1.
As part of the sweep, Rutledge won the $1,000 "Toyota Pole Award" after winning the pole with a track record of 1:18.186 seconds (90.636 mph) on Friday. He also picked up the $1,000 WorldCom "Fast Pace" award for recording another record with the fastest race lap at 1:18.465 seconds (90.292 mph).
ESPN2 and ESPN International will broadcast Saturday's Round 1 race from Long Beach on Sunday, April 12, at 2:00 p.m. ET while Atlantic fans in Canada can watch the race on CTV SportsNet on a date to be announced later. ESPN2 will replay the race on Wednesday, April 18, at 1:00 p.m. ET.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship continues with Round 2, Sunday, May 6, at the Nazareth Speedway in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is one of the world's premier open-wheel development series and 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 as well as former series champions Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan and Jacques Villeneuve.
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