The sunshine returned to California after a wet start to the Toyota Atlantic Championship, and it shone down on Scotland's Ryan Dalziel as he piloted the #28 ProWorks Sierra Sierra Enterprises entry to a dominant victory on the streets of Long Beach.
The 22-year old started from pole and proved that he merited his title favourite status by leading every lap of 31 around the tough street course. To make things even better for the Sierra Sierra team, Dalziel was trailed home by team-mate Andrew Ranger, the young duo delivering Sierra Sierra's first ever 1-2 finish.
The Scot immediately stamped his authority on a race that was littered with no fewer than four full-course yellows. As the green flag fell, he put pedal to metal and sprinted to turn one ahead of 2002 champion Jon Fogarty. From there, Dalziel focused on pulling away from the ensuing pack, all eager to gun for glory in the opening round.
With five laps down, Dalziel's advantage over Fogarty was pushing three seconds, and that margin increased to five seconds with a third of the race completed.
The first full-course yellow came on lap 14, with Ranger now shadowing his team-mate thanks to the demise of Fogarty. At the green flag, Dalziel again sprinted away, only to have his latest charge cut short with the second full-course yellow on the same lap.
The following re-start, on lap 21, was similarly short-lived as again another incident forced the safety car out, and once more Dalziel would have to defend his lead from Ranger. This he duly did on lap 25 but, incredibly, a fourth full-course caution almost immediately meant the Scot would have to watch his mirrors yet again.
Dalziel's maturity behind the wheel was showcased beautifully on lap 28 as the pack was finally unleashed to an incident-free three-lap dash to the flag. The lengthy delays eventually meant that the race distance would be settled by time rather than laps completed, with the chequered flag waved after 50 minutes and a total of 31 laps, one short of the 32 originally scheduled.
Dalziel punched the air with delight as he crossed the line, comfortably ahead of Ranger in second to take his third career Atlantic victory and his best ever finish at Long Beach.
Dalziel's pole, fastest race lap and dominant victory place him firmly at the top of the championship points table – a position he fully intends to maintain throughout 2004 having finished runner-up last year!