It wasn't exactly an easy Sunday drive for Tonis Kasemets at Road America, but the second-year racer in the Toyota Atlantic Championship completed his weekend domination at the classic road circuit, leading all 17 laps en route to his third victory of the season.

Kasemets, who hails from Estonia but now lives just a couple hours away from Road America in Mundelein, Illinois, had to fight off a strong challenge from series rookie standout Katherine Legge in the early stages of the race, before settling in for an impressive victory in the BOSPoker.com Toyota Atlantic Grand Prix of Road America.

The result was the best possible scenario that Kasemets could've hoped for at his home course, where he's won several events in SCCA competition and finished fifth for his best Atlantic placement in his rookie season of 2004. Combined with a sixth place finish by series leader Charles Zwolsman, Kasemets' win vaulted him from third to second in the series standings as he prevented Zwolsman from wrapping up the Atlantic championship.

In the battle for the '05 crown, Zwolsman will carry a 26-point lead, 287-261, into next weekend's season finale in Montreal. Kasemets is the only driver with a shot to catch Zwolsman in the title chase as all other competitors were eliminated from contention with Sunday's results.

Legge has become known for her aggressive starts in her first Atlantic season and she didn't waste any time making her presence felt at the green flag of Sunday's race. The three-time series winner jumped from her third-place starting spot past Kasemets for the lead in turn one.

Kasemets, who was dominant all weekend long as he easily led both rounds of qualifying while securing his third series pole, was not about to back down. After suffering through bad finishes in the last three races while running at the front of the pack, the 31-year-old racer made sure that this one wasn't going to slip away. He battled Legge wheel-to-wheel throughout the first lap, capturing the lead for good at the start/finish line. From there, Kasemets kept a comfortable lead and wound up beating Legge to the chequered flag by 2.548 seconds.

The finish was Legge's fifth podium of her rookie season and third top-three result in the last four races. She also moved from fifth to third in the series point standings as she tries to produce a strong conclusion to her first Atlantic season.

It appeared that Daniel Di Leo of Canada would claim third place in his first Atlantic race of his career as he crossed the finish line behind Kasemets and Zwolsman, but after the event was completed, officials levied a 30-second penalty on Di Leo for avoidable contact during a late-race incident with Antoine Bessette in turn one that led to Bessette's early retirement. Di Leo, who qualified third, dropped to eighth in the finishing order as a result of penalty and Mexican racer David Martinez moved up to third place for his fourth podium of his rookie season.

Sunday got off to a painful start for one of the top series' rookies. Germany's Andreas Wirth was injured in a morning practice session and was unable to compete in the event. According to Dr. Chris Pinderski, Director of Medical Affairs for both Atlantics and Champ Car, Wirth suffered minor end plate fractures of his T6 and T8 thoracic vertebrae when his car made contact with Zwolsman's machine at the end of the practice.

Wirth, ranked second in the points entering the race, was slated to start second but medical personnel could not clear him compete due to the injuries. He will be re-evaluated on Monday by series Chief Orthopaedic Consultant Dr. Terry Trammell to determine if he can race next week in Montreal.

Bobby Wilson of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, seeing his first Atlantic action this weekend, was also involved in the practice accident. Both Wilson and Zwolsman were uninjured in the crash, but the damage to Wilson's car could not be repaired in time for the start of the race.

Al Unser III of Brooks Associates Racing came from a seventh-place starting position to finish fourth. The result equalled the second-year driver's career-best Atlantic finish. California rookie Kyle Kelley earned a bonus point for improving the most positions in the race. Kelley took the green flag in 11th place and came home fifth for his second top-five finish in seven series starts.

Zwolsman's sixth-place effort was his worst result since Round 7 in Toronto when he failed to finish the race due to mechanical problems. The Dutch ace can still wrap up the series title in his impressive rookie season with a solid performance next week in Montreal.

After earning his first series pole and finishing second in just his second Atlantic race last week in Denver, 17-year-old Alan Sciuto finished seventh. Making his first series start, Chris Menninga came home ninth while Chris Souliotis rounded out the top 10 finishers.

Daryl Leiski, who was 11th overall, earned his first Yokohama Tyre C2 Cup victory as the top finisher in the C2 class.

The Atlantics wrap up the 2005 season next weekend at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve road circuit with the Molson Indy Montreal.

 

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