Team Rahal has completed the signing of 18-year old Chris Festa as the second driver on its 2004 Toyota Atlantic Championship programme, as it commits to a two-car line-up from the opening round in Long Beach.

Festa will join 2003 rookie Danica Patrick to comprise Team Rahal's first two-car full-season entry since joining the Atlantic series last season.

Atlanta-native Festa has extensive karting experience, having run over 250 events - and collected 60 victories. Since 2001, he has run as a factory driver for Paul Tracy Karting - the same operation that launched the career of 2003 Toyota Atlantic rookie of the year and overall champion AJ. Allmendinger. Festa and Allmendinger were both involved in the inaugural season of the Stars of Tomorrow competition, fostered by new team boss Bobby Rahal, in 2000. Festa further diversified his driving experience by competing in the 2003 Fran-Am 2000 Winter Series and by running the US Formula Ford Zetec Championship for PR1 Motorsports, the 2003 championship-winning team.

"The opportunity to drive for Bobby Rahal in the Toyota Atlantic Championship will lay the foundation for the rest of my career," Festa claimed, "To join a front-running team with the experience and talent of Team Rahal is a dream come true for a young driver."

The second Rahal entry will be sponsored by Mestek Inc and CareCentric, the latter having partnered Festa in his Formula 2000 programme last season. Patrick's car will continue to be backed by the Argent Mortgage Company, which has recently expanded its involvement with Team Rahal to include its IRL programme in addition to Formula Atlantic.

"We spent the majority of the 2003 season as a single car team, but we saw the competitive advantage of being a two car team," Rahal said, "To add a second car is important, but you need to add a quality driver, and I think we have done both with the addition of Chris. The quality personnel that we have in place with our Atlantic programme - and the opportunity to work with a driver of Danica's calibre - makes this an ideal situation for a young driver like Chris."

CART Toyota Atlantic Championship president Vicki O'Connor was thrilled by news of the signing.

"I've watched Chris' career for a number of years, and I know that he is ready to step into Toyota Atlantic," she said, "I'm pleased that Bobby and Team Rahal are giving Chris an opportunity to team with Danica next year, and I expect them to be a formidable team throughout the 2004 season."

Rahal's debut Toyota Atlantic programme began as a single car effort for Patrick, but a second car driven by 2002 series champion Jon Fogarty was added for the final two races. Patrick finished sixth in the championship and scored a pair of podium results, including a second place finish in the season finale at Miami, while Fogarty claimed a pair of top-four results in his two races.

 

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