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.