One of North America’s most famous racing series, the Formula Atlantic Championship, has had to cancel is 2010 season because it doesn’t have any drivers.
The series that gave the world Gilles Villeneuve, Bobby Rahal, Keke Rosberg, Howdy Holmes and Bertil Roose, to name a few, has been forced to go on “hiatus” because of what it calls a serious shortage of funded drivers.
In a statement, Atlantic series owner Ben Johnston said that, “the Atlantic Championship has and always will be committed to providing the best driver development series available to the world’s next generation of top-tier driving talent. Unfortunately, however, this experience cannot be upheld through 2010.
“Series officials will continue working throughout the year to develop new ideas for the future that will add value to drivers and also lower costs associated with competing in a world-class racing series like the Atlantic Championship.”
Atlantic officials had tried a number of ways to attract young up-and-comers, the most recent – and important – being the capping of the cost of a season at just under $500,000.
Even that wasn’t enough.
The writing was really on the wall last year when frequently fewer than 10 cars were entered in races and one of them was often driven by an owner in order to fill out the field.
Even then, the calibre of drivers was to-notch because Atlantic competition was an excellent environment to prepare young drivers to continue on up the ladder, be it to sports cars (the American Le Mans Series), European formula cars (Formula One or one of its ladder series) or Indy cars.
In fact, Simona De Silvestro, a 21-year-old Swiss driver who finished third in last year’s championship, signed a contract earlier this week to drive in the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series.
But now it’s over – for the moment.
Ironically, less than two years ago, the Atlantic Championship, which was operated for years by Vicky O’Connor, named its 35th Anniversary All-Star team going back to its beginnings in the mid-1970s when the first two titles – in ’74 and ’75 – were won by Toronto driver Bill Brack.
Of the hundreds of drivers who competed in that fabulous series over the years, 10 were singled out for being the best of the best. And Brack was front and centre in there with (in alphabetical order) A.J. Allmendinger, Claude Bourbonnais, Patrick Carpentier, Mark Dismore, David Empringham, Jon Fogarty, Jimmy Vasser, Gilles Villeneuve and his brother, Jacques Villeneuve.
Six of the 10 were Canadians – Bourbonnais, Carpentier, Empringham, Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve and Brack. Not bad, eh?
Fifteen other drivers received honourable mention. They were (again in alphabetical order) Michael Andretti, Alex Barron, Price Cobb, Tom Gloy, Scott Goodyear, Richie Hearn, Howdy Holmes, Anthony Lazzaro, Dan Marvin, Roberto Moreno, Hoover Orsi, Bobby Rahal, Buddy Rice, Keke Rosberg and Jacques Villeneuve, the son.
All-time lists can sometimes be misleading. Series’ have ups and downs and the quality of fields in one year can be remarkably higher or lower than in another.
Brack, for instance, was in really tough company in the ’70s. But go back a few years – to 2005, say – when there were frequently only eight or nine cars on track and only four drivers contested every race in the championship. The entry list wasn’t exactly made up of household names.
The Champ Car World Series took control during the war it had with the IRL and got the entry list up to nearly 30 for a couple of years but when the split ended and there was peace in our time the Atlantics started to drift again and despite the best efforts of Johnston and others it’s hit the end of the road.
Temporarily, it’s hoped.
With the Formula-BMW Americas Series gone, it left Atlantics and Indy Lights to carry on in 2010. Indy Lights is in no great shape, either, with only 14 drivers taking part in a pre-season test in Alabama last week.
But 14 is better than one or two, which was the case with the Atlantics.
Michael Andretti always said that 2010 would be the crunch year for auto racing. He’s been proved right in the minor leagues. In the majors, Formula One is in a bit of a mess but NASCAR and IndyCar look healthy, to date.
Whether they continue to be in good shape as the season unfolds will bear watching.