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Unser to run Toyota Atlantics with P-1 Racing
 
April 6, 2004

One of the most famous names in auto racing has joined the Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama, as fourth-generation driver Al Unser and P-1 Racing today announced they have joined forces for 2004.

The 21-year-old from Albuquerque, N.M. who goes by the nickname of "Just Al," enters Toyota Atlantic after scoring four top-10 finishes en route to 12th place in the 2003 Barber Dodge Pro Series championship. He also finished seventh in the 2002 Formula Dodge National Championship and earned Rookie of the Year honors in the 2002 Skip Barber Western Racing Series on the strength of six victories and nine podium finishes.

"I'm really excited about jumping up into Toyota Atlantics," said Unser. "I'm doing it a bit early due to Barber Dodge going away for this year, but I'm very happy to be working with (P-1 Racing co-owner) Bill (Fickling) because he's very experienced and very knowledgable in the field of Atlantics. I haven't gotten to do much testing, but I hope to do more after Long Beach. Coming into Atlantics, I know that I've thrown myself to the wolves in a sense, but I feel like that's the way I learn best. I'll be struggling a little bit in the first couple of races, but I hope to become a contender toward the end of the year."

"Just Al" will make his Toyota Atlantic debut at the same track where his father, two-time Champ Car World Series champion Al Unser, Jr., won a record six times, including a stretch of four consecutive victories from 1988 to 1991. Unser, Jr. made one Atlantic start himself, finishing third in the Atlantic race at the 1982 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach against Fickling among many others.

"I think Toyota Atlantic is the next step in the process of what Al is trying to do," said the elder Unser. "He ran in Barber Dodge last year, and I along with my father feel that the Toyota Atlantic series is the proper next step for 'Little Al' to go in and get more laps and more seat time. We're excited about him running his first race at Long Beach. He hasn't had a lot of test time, but we're hoping Al is competitive and has a good, clean race. We're not concerned about where he finishes. It's more important for him to be consistent and if he can run with the leaders, that would be icing on the cake."

Under the ownership of Fickling and baseball Hall of Famer and current Arizona Diamondbacks bench coach Robin Yount, P-1 Racing is one of the most experienced teams in Toyota Atlantic competition. The team won Toyota Atlantic titles in 1990 and '91 and has earned 19 victories and 11 pole positions in the series. Fickling has been an owner/driver in formula and sports car racing since 1972.

"Obviously, we're getting a really late start, having only two test days under our belt, but our goal is to have steady progress throughout the weekend in Long Beach," Fickling said. "We're really excited to work with Al. He's a great kid, and he was pretty quick in his first test with us at Buttonwillow last month. For us, it's great to have the Unser name associated with our team."

For her part, Shelley Unser, who manages Al's career through her 200+ Marketing & Management company, is equally pleased for her son to be associated with P-1 Racing and Fickling in the Toyota Atlantic Championship. She admits that the biggest challenge at this point is to find sponsorship dollars.

"I have a lot of comfort with Toyota Atlantic, because the series has always been known for helping young drivers advance their careers," Shelley said. "It's not like so many other series, it's more of a family atmosphere. A lot of people have said that if you spend a couple of years in Atlantics, you can learn so much that you can go anywhere from there. I'm really pleased that Al will be working with Bill, because he has worked with a lot of talented drivers over the years and he knows what needs to be done. We're working extremely hard to find sponsors - which has been difficult for everybody - but we're hopeful that everything will come together soon and we can focus all of our attention on the race track."

The addition of Unser has expanded the entry list to 20 cars for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, making it the deepest Toyota Atlantic field since the 2002 season finale in Denver.

"We're very excited to welcome 'Just Al' to the series," said Toyota Atlantic managing director, Vicki O'Connor. "He's just a delightful person to be around, in addition to being a talented young racer. We're well aware of the recognition that the Unser name will bring to Toyota Atlantic, and we look forward to a long and productive relationship with Al and his entire family. Likewise, we're extremely pleased that we will have our largest field in some time at Long Beach, and I expect that it will be a great event and a tremendous season."

The 2004 season gets underway on Sunday, April 18, with SPEED Channel carrying tape-delayed coverage beginning at 12:00 Noon ET on April 25.

Toyota Atlantic is North America's premier open-wheel development series, and the series is noted for its long history of graduating its stars into Champ Car competition. Among the drivers who have graduated from Atlantic are Champ Car competitors Jimmy Vasser, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rodolfo Lavin, and 2003 Toyota Atlantic champion A.J. Allmendinger, as well as Champ Car champions Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Michael Andretti, Jacques Villeneuve, and Paul Tracy.

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