The Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama begins its 32nd season of competition in 2005. The 12-race championship is considered the top open-wheel driver development series in North America, racing in not only the United States, but Canada and Mexico as well. The series is owned and sanctioned by the Champ Car World Series LLC, located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Champ Car also owns and operates the Trans-Am Series and the Champ Car World Series. The Toyota Atlantic Championship is under the direction of Managing Director Vicki O'Connor. The cars that compete in the series are single-seat, open-wheel Champ Car-style vehicles manufactured by Swift Engineering. All engines run in the series are 1.6-liter, four-cylinder, non-turbocharged, 16-valve, fuel-injected, dual overhead-cam, Toyota 4A-GE engines. The cars are capable of producing 240 horsepower at 9,500 rpm and can run at speeds in excess of 165 mph. All Atlantic cars run on purpose-built, Yokohama ADVAN racing slicks, manufactured by the Yokohama Tire Corporation. Events are contested on ovals, permanent road courses and temporary street circuits and the series has produced such established open-wheel stars as: Paul Tracy, Jimmy Vasser, Michael Andretti, Danny Sullivan, Bobby Rahal, Jacques Villeneuve, Al Unser Jr., Buddy Rice, Patrick Carpentier, Ryan Hunter-Reay and A.J. Allmendinger.
The History of Atlantic
The battle for the 2004 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama title literally was a fight to the finish. American Jon Fogarty edged Scotland's Ryan Dalziel for his second Atlantic crown in three years but Dalziel forced his rival's hand until the end of the season finale with determined female racer Danica Patrick also applying pressure while pursuing the series title.
The season-long showdown was one of the closest and most exciting championship chases in Atlantic history. That's quite an achievement considering that the series has been producing worldwide open-wheel racing stars for more than 31 years, with no sign of slowing down.
From racing legends like Gilles Villeneuve , Keke Rosberg , Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan -who began making their names in Atlantic in the 1970s-to Michael Andretti , Jacques Villeneuve , and Jimmy Vasser in the '80s and '90s, no other driver development series in North America can boast of more race and championship winners than the Toyota Atlantic Championship.
Sprouting from the roots of Formula B, Atlantic began in 1974 with the advent of the four-valve-per-cylinder, 1600cc four-cylinder Cosworth BDA engine. With sponsorship support from Canadian tobacco giant, Player's, sanctioning from the Canadian Automobile Sport Clubs (CASC), and Canadian national television coverage on CTV's weekly Wide World of Sports, Atlantic held its first event on the weekend of May 26, 1974 at the Westwood circuit in Port Coquitlam , British Columbia .
Oregonian Allen Lader claimed the first-ever race victory in the Player's Challenge Series as it was known in those days. Toronto 's Bill Brack won the first two series championships, facing down stiff competition from American Tom Klausler and Sweden 's Bertil Roos , among many other talented competitors.
However, the series cemented its place in open-wheel racing in 1976, when French Canadian Gilles Villeneuve established himself as a future star in a dominating season. Villeneuve won five races and six pole positions in the CASC-sanctioned Player's Challenge Series in Canada , and won an additional four races and three poles in the six-race IMSA Formula Atlantic Championship on his way to both series championships.
Looking back, Villeneuve's accomplishments were absolutely extraordinary, considering that he routinely beat future major league competitors such as Price Cobb , Rahal, Howdy Holmes , Tom Gloy , and Elliot Forbes-Robinson , and topped established Formula 1 stars James Hunt , Alan Jones , Patrick Depailler , and Vittorio Brambilla , to win the non-points event at Trois-Rivieres in Villeneuve's native Quebec .
When Villeneuve parlayed his Atlantic dominance into a Formula 1 ride with McLaren following yet another Atlantic championship in 1977, the die was cast and Atlantic was the place to be for aspiring race drivers. Holmes claimed the 1978 title over Finland 's Rosberg, with Cobb, Jeff Wood , Rahal, Sullivan, and Kevin Cogan also in the mix.
In 1979, Gloy became the series' fourth champion, topping Cogan, Wood, Holmes, and Bob Earl .
Out of this era, Villeneuve went on to become a legend in Formula 1, winning six grands prix after joining Ferarri in 1978 and establishing himself as a fan favorite before his untimely death in a crash during qualifying at Zolder in 1982. Rosberg also went on to greatness in F1, as he claimed five grand prix victories and the '82 world championship in a career that spanned nine seasons.
In North America , Rahal became a 24-time race winner and one of only two three-time Champ Car champions. Sullivan won 17 Champ Car races of his own, including the famous "spin and win" at the 1985 Indianapolis 500, and claimed the 1988 Champ Car title.
Cogan also made a name for himself in Champ Cars in the mid-1980s, culminating in a victory at Phoenix in 1986 and a near miss in the 1986 Indy 500 that was won by Rahal. Holmes and Wood would also go on to see significant seat time in Champ Cars, while Cobb, Forbes-Robinson, Gloy and Earl would become certified sports car racing heroes.
Picking up where his brother left off a few years earlier, the 1980 and '81 seasons belonged to Jacques Villeneuve . In 1980, Jacques won a series-high four races and three pole positions to beat Gloy to the Atlantic title by 10 points in the closest title fight in series history to that point. Close behind Gloy was Steve Saleen , followed by Cobb and Wood. The following year, Villeneuve claimed another four victories and his second consecutive series title, this time over Mexican Rogelio Rodriguez , and Whitney Ganz , while drivers such as Geoff Brabham , Chris Kneifel , and Willy T. Ribbs also tried their hand at Atlantic in 1981.
The 1982 crown went to Dave McMillan , from New Zealand , who became the first driver from overseas to win an Atlantic championship. Among the drivers McMillan beat to the crown was Mexican Josele Garza and Brazil 's Roberto Moreno , and Al Unser Jr .
In 1983, Michael Andretti burst onto the Atlantic scene and promptly became the series youngest champion (a record that still stands today). Andretti won three races and a series high five pole positions to outdistance Moreno , who led the series in victories with four. The 1983 season was the first and only sanctioned by FIA, and the series faced possible extinction.
However, a group of Atlantic enthusiasts- Jon Norman , Tim Fortner , and Rick and Gudrun Shea -kept the dream alive and formed the West Coast Atlantic Racing (WCAR) series for 1984. Dan Marvin claimed the inaugural WCAR championship ahead of Chris Bender , and John Della Penna .
The following year, Vicki O'Connor , whose husband, Bill, was a stout Atlantic competitor in the early days of the series, took a page from the WCAR book and formed East Coast Atlantic Racing (ECAR) for the 1985 season. Wood went on to win the '85 WCAR title over Marvin, while Michael Angus beat Steve Shelton , James Opperman , and Michael Greenfield to the ECAR title in the first year of bi-coastal championships.
Ted Prappas claimed the 1986 WCAR title over Roberto Quintanilla , while Scott Goodyear topped Calvin Fish for series honors in ECAR. After narrowly missing the ECAR crown in '86, Fish won the 1987 title on the strength of three wins to beat Shelton, and a little known Canadian named Paul Tracy made a few ECAR starts in '87 as well. Out west, Johnny O'Connell bested Dean Hall , Parker Johnstone , Jon Beekhuis , Prappas, and Jeff Krosnoff , while Vasser claimed his first Atlantic race victory in WCAR competition in 1987.
After finishing second one year earlier, Hall used five victories and six pole positions as his springboard to the 1988 WCAR title over Mitch Thieman and Hiro Matsushita . Shelton , meanwhile, finally claimed an Atlantic title of his own after finishing second twice and third once in his previous three seasons. Shelton topped the likes of Jocko Cunningham , Scott Harrington , Colin Trueman , and Robbie Buhl to take the 1988 ECAR crown.
Following the 1988 season, Toyota Motor Sales, USA signed on to become the series' title sponsor and official engine supplier, while Yokohama Tire Corporation became the series' official rubber in what was a defining moment for Atlantic. Matsushita won the Pacific Division of the first Toyota Atlantic Championship in 1989, topping Joe Sposato and Mark Dismore , while Cunningham improved his position from the previous year by one place to take the Atlantic Division title ahead of Trueman and Claude Bourbonnais .
Like the '70s, Atlantic saw its share of graduates from the 1980s make names for themselves in the big leagues as well. Andretti was the most successful, as he went on to become the winningest driver in the Champ Car World Series and the 1991 Champ Car champion. Unser Jr., Vasser, and Tracy would also go on to become multi-time Champ Car race winners and series champions.
Moreno , Andretti's chief competitor in '83, also parlayed his Atlantic success into a fruitful career in Formula 1 and Champ Car racing, the latter in which the Brazilian enjoyed two career victories. Goodyear used Atlantic as his springboard to a successful career in Champ Car and the Indy Racing League, while Jacques Villeneuve also earned a Champ Car victory and became a snowmobile racing legend.
Dismore, who raced Atlantic into the '90s, became the series winningest driver and later enjoyed success in the Indy Racing League, as did Buhl. Garza, Greenfield , Prappas, Hall, Johnstone, Beekhuis, Krosnoff, Matsushita, Harrington, and Bourbonnais all made it to Champ Cars, while Saleen, Brabham, and Kneifel also had significant Champ Car seat time.
Saleen went on to become something of a "hot rod" magnate, while Brabham starred as a sports car racer in the late 1980s and Kneifel won a Rolex 24 at Daytona title in 2001 prior to becoming a race official in Champ Car. Likewise, O'Connell also raced open-wheel cars in the IRL before moving on to become a successful sports car racer in his own right. Ribbs was another driver who eventually found his way to Champ Cars, but he also was successful in sports cars and even tried his hand at NASCAR. And Della Penna transitioned into the team ownership ranks, winning an Atlantic title with driver Richie Hearn in the '90s before taking his whole program to the Indy Racing League, and later, the Champ Car World Series.
In its final year as a "split championship," Dismore dominated the Pacific Division of Toyota Atlantic in 1990 to the tune of eight victories and the series championship, while Brian Till bested Bourbonnais and Freddy Rhemrev to claim the Atlantic Division crown.
In the first year as a unified series, Jovy Marcelo of the Philippines beat Vasser to the '91 title by a scant four points, while Chris Smith beat Steve Cameron to the title by just five points to take the crown in 1992.
The Atlantic competition reached a fever pitch in 1993, as Canadians David Empringham , Bourbonnais , and Jacques Villeneuve -Gilles' son and Jacques' nephew-fought tooth and nail throughout the season before Empringham wrapped up the title. Empringham would take his second straight Atlantic title in 1994, topping Hearn and Greg Ray , before Hearn returned the favor in 1995 and beat Empringham in the championship.
In 1996, Quebecois Patrick Carpentier tied Gilles Villeneuve's record for victories in a single season with nine on his way to a dominant championship for Lynx Racing over fellow Canadian Lee Bentham . The following year, Lynx was back atop the points table with rookie driver Alex Barron beating teammate Memo Gidley and Canadian Alex Tagliani for the '97 Toyota Atlantic title.
Bentham ended the Lynx run of dominance in 1998 as the series transitioned from the well-developed Ralt to the new Swift chassis, beating Andrew Bordin , Gidley, Anthony Lazzaro , and Tagliani. And Lazzaro closed out the '90s with four wins and five poles on his way to the 1999 championship over Kenny Wilden , Bordin, Tagliani, Buddy Rice , Bentham and Sam Hornish Jr .
The 1990s produced Atlantic's second Formula 1 world champion, as Villeneuve parlayed his 1995 Indianapolis 500 victory and Champ Car World Series title into an F1 ride with Williams and he went on to win the F1 crown in 1997.
Carpentier became a multiple-time Champ Car race winner, while Marcelo, Barron, Gidley and Tagliani also went on to race Champ Cars. Ray went on to win the 1999 IRL championship, while Hornish became the winningest driver in IRL history and the series only two-time champion to date.
The 2000 Toyota Atlantic Championship featured another dominating performance, as Rice won five times en route to the championship in the first year of Atlantic competition for DSTP Motorsports. Rice bested Daniel Wheldon , Bordin, Martin Basso , and Rocky Moran Jr. to claim the title.
In 2001, Brazilian Hoover Orsi brought a championship to Hylton Motorsports ahead of Lynx Racing pilot David Rutledge and rookie Joey Hand , while Jon Fogarty claimed the 2002 crown for Dorricott Racing in their first year of Atlantic competition after moving over from Indy Lights. Fogarty claimed his title ahead of Michael Valiante , Alex Gurney , Luis Diaz , Moran, Ryan Hunter-Reay , Dalziel, and Rodolfo Lavin .
First-year driver and American open-wheel rising star A.J. Allmendinger re-wrote several Atlantic records in a dominating championship performance in 2003. Allmendinger tied Gilles Villeneuve's record for most poles in a single season (9), while establishing a new record for victories in a season by a rookie driver with seven on his way to the championship over Dalziel.
Last season saw Fogarty record six wins and six poles en route to his second championship but he still had to hold off the hard-charging Dalziel, who earned four victories and five poles to finish as series runner-up for the second consecutive year. Patrick was third in the title hunt followed by talented rookies Andrew Ranger and Ronnie Bremer. Promising American driver Bryan Sellers finished sixth in the final series standings for Lynx Racing.
Toyota Atlantic graduates from the 2000s have already made their presence felt at the top levels of open-wheel racing. Hunter-Reay became the first American rookie driver since 1982 to win a Champ Car race in his first year when he took the top prize at Surfers Paradise, Australia, and he added to his resume in 2004 by claiming his second Champ Car win-this time at the Milwaukee Mile. Lavin joined him in the Champ Car ranks in 2003 while Valiante had a strong showing in his Champ Car debut at Mexico City last season. Meanwhile, Rice and Wheldon are two of the biggest stars on IRL's IndyCar circuit. Wheldon finished second in the IRL championship in 2004 while Rice was third in the title chase after capturing the checkered flag at the Indianapolis 500 last May.
Allmendinger is poised to become the next great American Champ Car star as he earned series Rookie of the Year honors in 2004 with a pair of podium performances and a sixth-place finish in the Champ Car World Series with his RuSPORT team.
In 2005, there are a host of competitors looking to establish their names in the Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama on their way to stardom. If the past 30 plus years are any indication, there's little doubt that will happen.