The CART Toyota Atlantic series is the triple-A baseball of open-wheel auto racing and there will be a pair of young 'phenoms' - each with an axe to grind... but gently - in this weekend's support race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Lynx Racing driver Michael Valiante made his Atlantic series debut at this event in 2001. Driving for one of the most unique and successful teams in the series, he qualified sixth and finished fourth. Not a bad result for a rookie, but he had to watch his more-experienced Lynx team-mate, David Rutledge, win the race from the pole.

Rutledge has since graduated from the Lynx driver development programme, and is working on moving up to the CART FedEx series. Valiante, 22, is now the full-time Lynx driver and is looking to give Lynx two wins in a row through the streets of Long Beach.

"The Lynx team gave me a great car last year, a podium car if the truth be told, but I got separated from the lead pack on the re-start after a yellow flag and couldn't move up," Valiante admits.

"I've driven six races with the Lynx team now, including a street race in Vancouver where I finished second, so I'm feeling comfortable and confident and ready to win. I do feel I have some unfinished business at Long Beach, but you have to be careful because at a track like this, the key is to get your braking done early, carry as much speed as possible through the turns and just graze the wall on the exit. You have to drive really gently, and it's tricky, but that's the key to winning."

Valiante's new team-mate, 28-year old Grant Ryley, encountered every racer's worst nightmare at this event last year. He, too, made his Atlantic debut in that event, albeit driving for another team, and qualified an excellent fifth. On the first lap, however, his gearbox failed. He limped back to the pits, waited while the crew opened the box to make repairs, only to have it fail again on the first lap.

"I had tears of joy running down my face as I sat on the grid waiting to start the race, and then tears of despair as I sat in the pits and listened to the field taking the green flag," says Ryley.

"I definitely have an axe to grind with Long Beach, and now that I'm with Lynx, I know I'll not only get to race, but race in a car capable of winning. And I'd really like thank Swift Engineering for doing such a heroic job fixing the car I damaged in Mexico, and for working with us to have the back-up ready for Long Beach just in case. With Lynx and Swift and Comptech engines in my corner, I feel like I've got a good shot at the podium."