Lynx Racing driver Michael Valiante will drive his last race in the 'minor league' Toyota Atlantic support race at the Grand Prix Americas next weekend, before moving up to the 'major league' CART Champ Car series in 2004.

After two years as the red hot 'phenom' in the junior series, Valiante's education is nearly complete. Final exams take the form of the 55-lap CART Toyota Atlantic race a week on Sunday [28 September], but Valiante is such an apt pupil that he already knows what team he's going to pitch for when he graduates - Walker Racing.

After a year of watching the Canadian's talent develop, both on- and off-track, CART team owner - and noted talent spotter - Derrick Walker has signed him to drive for the team in 2004, calling the 23-year old 'one of the best young talents I've seen'.

But, before that happens, there's a pair of big shoes waiting for him to fill in Miami. Although this will be Valiante's first time at the Bayfront street circuit, back in 1995 - the last time that Atlantics, or any open-wheel car for that matter, raced through the streets of Miami - the race was won, from the pole, by Lynx Racing graduate Patrick Carpentier, who will be returning to Miami next weekend as a CART veteran with the Player's/Forsythe team.

Valiante's statistics are equally impressive. Over two-and-a-half seasons and 28 races in Toyota Atlantic, he has won five times, finished in the top-three eleven times, scored ten top-five finishes and completed every lap of every race he has started. So far in 2003, he has won twice and finished in the top-five seven times. He is currently third in the championship, with the opportunity to move up to second at Miami, the Atlantic series season finale.

"I'm looking forward to Miami because, from a driver's point of view, the feel of a popular street race with its huge crowds and all the energy in the air, is a great environment to go racing in," the Vancouver native explained, "The fact that the Atlantic championship has already been decided, and that I already have a Champ Car ride lined up for next year, takes a lot of pressure off, gives us a lot of freedom in our tactics and strategy and makes this weekend all about one thing only - ending the season on the highest possible note with a victory."

 

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