This year's Atlantic Championship will offer a $1m prize to the overall champion as part of revamped $3m total purse following a change of ownership, it has been revealed.

Last year, the championship offered $1.6m in prize money, with $300,000 going to eventual series champion Markus Niemela. Having nearly double the amount of prize money available in 2009 is anticipated to be a major incentive to help Atlantic teams recruit drivers in a tough market.

The $1m champion's prize is the most lucrative in a North American open-wheel driver development series, while the eventual runner-up will receive $500,000, with the remaining $1.5 million to be paid out in per-event race purses.

"This is a significant prize package that should attract top drivers from all over the world to the Atlantic Championship this season," new series president Ben Johnston claimed, "The $1m champion's prize is not a scholarship, it is $1m in cold hard cash that the champion may use in whatever way he or she sees fit. Likewise, the $500,000 prize for the driver who finishes second in the championship far exceeds what most other driver development series pay out to their champions, while the $1.5 million in per-race purses makes every race an opportunity for the drivers to win big money."

Johnston's assertion that the champion's prize may be used how the driver sees fit is a veiled criticism of the reward in place before he took control of the series, when Champ Car insisted that the multi-million dollar prize it offered had to be used to graduate to the CCWS, even though it frequently fell short of securing the champion a seat. The 2007 champion, Rafael Matos, eschewed the money to join AGR/AFS in the Firestone Indy Lights series after being unable to complete a deal in Champ Car.

"I was one of the few ready to go before the prize money was announced, but to hear that the champion will get a million dollars and second place $500,000 is a huge bonus," Newman Wachs driver John Edwards admitted, "It is pretty rare and I think will attract even more drivers. Most series don't offer anything to anyone outside of the champion, and I think this is just one more reason why the Atlantic Championship is the top series in junior open-wheel [racing]."

In addition to the $3m prize package, bonus and contingency prizes will continue to be offered, including the $1000 Cooper Tire Pole Award for the fastest qualifier at each race. The competition has been a mainstay in the Atlantic Championship since Cooper joined the series as presenting sponsor and official tyre in 2007, and has provided a valuable top up to funds for several drivers.

"This is an exciting day for the Atlantic Championship," director of motorsports for Cooper Tire, Chris Pantani, commented, "The $1m prize is an extremely attractive award for a premier open-wheel development series, and the reality of it is that a young driver will actually walk away with a check for $1m as a series champion."

The announcement has attracted positive reaction from those involved in the series, with Condor Motorsports' owner Carlos Bobeda echoing the sentiments of the majority of his peers.

"There is no doubt that this announcement is the most exciting news that team owners and drivers alike have received in a long time," he noted, "As team owners, it allows us to offer a driver the best opportunity to enhance their careers, not only by participating in one of the best driver development series in the world, but also by guaranteeing them a future in years to come.

"It's been known that, in the past, awards of this calibre had many strings attached. This time it is clear - if you win the 2009 Atlantic Championship, you can use the money to go anywhere you see fit to continue your racing career. I've seen many drivers become champions one year and sit on the sidelines the next due to lack of sponsorship or funding to continue, but the Atlantic Championship is now offering them a chance to make their best racing move of they careers."

Presenting sponsor Mazda was also delighted to see the series take a pro-active stance in helping its champions move on to higher things.

"The Atlantic Championship is the highest rung of the Mazdaspeed Motorsports open-wheel ladder, and Mazda works hard to help talented drivers move from karts to Skip Barber to Star Mazda to Atlantic," senior vice-president Robert Davis, the man responsible for Mazda's North American motorsports operations, reflected, "It's great to see that the Atlantic series is making sure they can move upward as well. Mazda has already committed to offering the 2009 Atlantic champion a test drive with both our ALMS LMP2 and Grand-Am GT Mazda powered teams, who appreciate the deep talent pool such that they can promote from within the family."

The twelve-race 2009 Atlantic Championship gets underway on Friday 20 March at Sebring International Raceway, where it provides support for the annual 12 Hours sportscar race, and will run no fewer than seven weekends alongside the American Le Mans Series, while headlining events at Trois-Rivieres, New Jersey Motorsports Park and Autobahn Country Club. It also runs alongside both the American Le Mans Series and Indy Racing League at Mid-Ohio over the weekend of 8 August.

"The Atlantic community has been involved in constructive dialogue in the past few weeks, and I am very satisfied to see those conversations and feedback stating to take shape," US RaceTronics boss Shane Seneviratne concluded, "These are tough times for any industry and I am very encouraged to see the Atlantic series show strength with a $3m prize fund.

"I am grateful to Ben Johnston for his commitment to the series and its teams, and am very enthusiastic to support him and his wonderful staff in building a strong series. Our team looks forward to the 2009 season and will be making driver announcements shortly."

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