Upon hearing last week that the Cooper Tires presents the Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, one of the most successful developmental racing series in North America since the 1970s, would not race in 2010, it reminded of a column I had written for PRN last September.
Officially, the cancellation is being attributed to a weakened global economy, and while I think that’s part of the problem, other events have conspired to work against the series.
That said, here’s part of what I wrote back then:
“The reduced car count isn’t the only thing Atlantic officials have to be concerned with these days. Making the rounds recently is the rumour that the Indy Racing League might be interested in building its own open-wheel development ladder in 2010, which could result in the Atlantics not having a seat at the proverbial table.”
Well, guess what happened?
The ‘Road to Indy’ program, officially announced in December, includes (in order): USF2000, Star Mazda, Firestone Indy Lights and the IZOD IndyCar Series. The schedules of all four series are more closely aligned in 2010 – a trend that is expected to continue in seasons to come.
Noticeably absent from the Road to Indy is the Atlantic Championship. It’s hard to gauge exactly how much of an impact the absence had on the decision to shut down, but it certainly didn’t help matters, especially for a series that had 10 car grids towards the end of last season.
Another event that had a big impact was the 2008 IRL/Champ Car unification.
Given that Champ Car no longer exists and Indy Lights is closely related to the IZOD IndyCar Series (both use Dallara/Honda/Firestone equipment and run on the same tracks), it isn’t hard to imagine which series would become the preferred route for up-and-coming open-wheelers.
Fair or not, the exclusion from the Road to Indy has helped to reinforce the impression that Atlantic is obsolete.
The shutdown notwithstanding, Atlantic officials have been careful to state that the series isn’t dead, but is instead on ‘hiatus until global conditions improve.’
While sounding optimistic in a statement that Atlantic will be back, both series owner Ben Johnston and engine supplier Mazda did not provide any specifics.
It’s entirely possible the series may be gone for good.
Regardless of its ultimate fate, Atlantic’s prominent place in racing history is assured. The list of famous graduates reads like a who’s-who of legendary open-wheel racers: Keke Rosberg, Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve, Bobby Rahal, Jimmy Vasser, Sam Hornish, Jr. and Danica Patrick to name a few.
The series most recent graduate, Simona De Silvestro, landed a full-time ride with HVM Racing for the upcoming IZOD IndyCar Series season. She won four races and finished third in the 2009 championship.
After three seasons in Atlantic, she has managed to move into Indy cars without a season in Indy Lights- a rare occurrence in recent years.
With the way things are now, she might also be the last.