It’s Good To Be Back: This weekend marks the first time that the Atlantic series will compete at Finning International Speedway in Edmonton. It’s not the first time that the series has raced in the city, however. In fact, Edmonton was on the calendar in the very first Atlantic series season of 1974. The Atlantics competed at Edmonton International Speedway five times, from 1974-77 and again in 1981. Bertil Roos won the pole at the first event in 1974, back when Atlantics was known as the Player’s Challenge Series. The first Edmonton race was won by Bill Brack, who went on to win the first series championship that year. Legendary Canadian racer Gilles Villeneuve won in Atlantics in Edmonton in 1976 and ’77.
Charles Still In Charge: Despite suffering his worst result of the season – a DNF due to an engine failure while leading the race in Toronto last weekend, rookie Atlantic standout Charles Zwolsman continues to lead the Atlantic standings. But the rest of the field is gaining on him. Tonis Kasemets (#6 Flexovit Abrasives/MK Ind./TMI/Red Line Oil), who also had mechanical issues last weekend, is just seven points behind Zwolsman. After capturing his first series victory in Toronto, Canadian rookie Antoine Bessette (#3 Unik Auto Design) has dramatically closed the gap. Bessette now trails the leader by just 23 points in the tight Atlantic title chase.
Talent Up Front: A quick look at the Atlantic statistics demonstrates just how deep and talented the series field is this season, especially when it comes to those drivers running at the front of the pack. Through seven of 12 rounds, a total of six drivers have led a race this season and four drivers have won pole positions. By comparison, in 2004 only four drivers led a race and only three drivers won poles over the course of the entire season.
Bessette Breakout: It took Antoine Bessette just seven starts to earn his first Toyota Atlantic win and last Sunday’s victory probably couldn’t have been more satisfying for the St. Bruno, Quebec native. He made a daring pass for the lead with two laps left in the race and outlasted David Martinez to the checkered flag in front of the raucous Canadian crowd at Toronto’s Exhibition Place. The result was Bessette’s third podium of the year and second in a row. The rookie Polestar Star Racing Group driver has now led 37 laps this season, pacing the majority of the season opener at Long Beach before finishing second to Katherine Legge, and also leading Round 6 in Cleveland for several laps before coming home second.
Wirth Mentioning: Rookie Andreas Wirth (#8 Wurges Windows and Doors) of Brooks Associates Racing is quietly putting together an outstanding season and he’s been red hot lately. The 20-year-old German racer has posted five consecutive podium finishes, including three straight third-place results. Wirth is the first Atlantic rookie since Alex Barron in 1997 to record five consecutive podiums. Barron went on to win the title that season. The last driver to finish on the podium in five straight events was Ryan Dalziel, who did it in his second season in 2003 when he finished as series runner-up to AJ Allmendinger. Hoover Orsi, the 2001 Atlantic champion, earned eight straight podiums to end that ’01 campaign. Wirth, the 2004 Formula BMW USA champion, has also been impressive in qualifying, finishing among the top five qualifiers in all seven events this season.
We’re Going Streaking: In additional to Wirth, several other drivers will be carrying impressive streaks into this weekend’s action in Edmonton. Series leader Charles Zwolsman has qualified among the top three in six consecutive races and he’s also led a lap in three straight events. Tonis Kasemets has qualified among the top five in each of the last six races. Antoine Bessette has been among the top five qualifiers in every event this season and he’s looking for his third straight podium this weekend.
The C Stands For Close: While the fight for the overall Atlantic championship remains tight, the battle for the 2005 Yokohama Tire C2 Cup is almost as close. Justin Sofio carries a 10-point advantage, 177-167, over rival Dan Cobb in the C2 category standings entering Round 8 this weekend.
Sign of the Times: All Toyota Atlantic Championship drivers will be available to sign autographs for fans on Saturday afternoon, July 16. From 1:30-2 p.m. local time the Atlantic series will host a fan appreciation activity featuring an all-driver autograph on Adrenaline Alley at Finning International Speedway.