MATOS LEADS CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP INTO FOUR-RACE CANADIAN SWING AS SERIES RETURNS TO MONT-TREMBLANT FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 32 YEARS Most of the drivers in this weekend's Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic...
MATOS LEADS CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP INTO FOUR-RACE CANADIAN SWING AS SERIES RETURNS TO MONT-TREMBLANT FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 32 YEARS
Most of the drivers in this weekend's Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda field weren't born the last time the Atlantic series raced at the historic Circuit Mont-Tremblant, but the series is making its return to the venue for the first time in 31 years as part of the Champ Car Mont-Tremblant on Sunday (ESPN360.com, Live, 11:30 a.m. ET).
There were actually two previous Atlantic events at the picturesque road course north of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, both of which were part of the Player's Challenge Series in the early days of the 34-year-old series. The first Atlantic race at Mont-Tremblant in 1975 saw Canadian Bill Brack--who won the first two series championships--start from the pole position and Elliott Forbes-Robinson take the victory. The second and final Atlantic event at Mont-Tremblant prior to this weekend was in 1976, when Canadian racing legend Gilles Villeneuve won the race after starting from the pole position. It was one of four victories in six races for Villeneuve on his way to the Player's Challenge Series title.
Fast-forwarding to 2007, Brazilian driver Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) picked up his fourth victory in six starts last weekend in the Grand Prix of Cleveland and holds a commanding, 30-point lead over his Sierra Sierra Enterprises teammate, James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks), 173-143. With half of the 12-race season now in the books, Matos has his eyes focused on the $2 million prize that the Atlantic champion will receive to move up to the Champ Car World Series. Matos has been nothing short of dominant throughout the first half of the season, leading every lap in each of his last three victories after starting from the pole position, and he has not finished worse than sixth in any race in 2007.
Hinchcliffe, meanwhile, has finished inside the top seven in all six of his starts, but the Canadian returns to his home country for the first of four consecutive races still searching for his first victory of the season. Hinchcliffe saw his three-race streak of podium finishes halted by a sixth-place performance in Cleveland, but that performance was still noteworthy in that he had to charge from 25th at the end of the first lap to sixth at the finish after an off-course excursion on the opening lap.
Hinchcliffe is one of five Canadians in this weekend's 24-car field at Mont-Tremblant, and all will be looking to dazzle their countrymen. Undoubtedly, the driver who will have the most local fan support is the lone Quebecois in the field, Kevin Lacroix (#10 Uni-Select). The native of Saint-Eustache, Quebec will be making his fourth Atlantic start this weekend with Brooks Associates Racing, but he has already made a big splash in Atlantic by taking a victory in just his second series start in the second half of the Portland doubleheader earlier this month.
The same can be said for Toronto's Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK). The 18-year-old claimed his first career Atlantic win the day before Lacroix in the first half of the Portland doubleheader and has finished inside the top five in five of six races this season. He has finished inside the top 10 in all six events, and is currently ranked third in the overall championship standings, 33 points behind Matos and three in arrears of Hinchcliffe. He also leads the Rookie of the Year driver standings by six points. Wickens is part of a two-car effort for Red Bull Team Forsythe, which also includes the youngest driver in the Atlantic field, 16-year-old John Edwards (#7 Red Bull/INDECK).
Completing the lineup of Canadians are Coquitlam, British Columbia's Adrien Herberts (#45 Paladin Motorsports) and Mike Forest (#32 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor/Earthwater) of Edmonton, Alberta. Herberts makes his way to Mont-Tremblant one week after a scary incident in the Grand Prix of Cleveland in which his car rolled following contact with Matt Lee (#44 Integrated Structures). Herberts was not seriously injured and plans to compete this weekend. Forest, meanwhile, heads to Mont-Tremblant after completing just three laps in Cleveland before retiring with a mechanical problem.
Forest is teamed with Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor) on the two-car PR1 Motorsports operation. Bomarito is currently ranked fifth in the championship standings, and finished inside the top-four positions in each of the first three races. However, has finished outside the top 20 in two of his past three starts.
Another driver to watch this weekend is the most consistent Atlantic driver through this point in 2007, Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport). The Condor Motorsports pilot is the only driver to have finished inside the top five in all six races, with four consecutive fifth-place runs to open the year before back-to-back third-place runs in Race #2 at Portland and the Grand Prix of Cleveland. The Frenchman leads a three-car effort for Condor Motorsports, which also fields Junior Strous (#16 Shell/Best Box/HTP/Red, White & Bluezz USA) and Brian Thienes (#19 Thienes Engineering).
Several drivers are carrying the momentum of their best career Atlantic finishes with them into Canada. J.R. Hildebrand (#36 Newman Wachs Racing) claimed his first podium result with a second-place run last weekend in Cleveland. Hildebrand is one of few drivers in this weekend's field with previous experience at Circuit Mont-Tremblant, having won both races in a Skip Barber Regional Series doubleheader in 2004.
Mexican rookie David Garza (#4 Axtel/Tecate/Madisa/USRT) has actually set career-best results in each of his six Atlantic starts, topped by an eighth-place run in the Grand Prix of Cleveland. Garza is teamed on the two-car US RaceTronics operation with Carl Skerlong (#24 King Taco/USRT), who earned his Atlantic career-best result with a second-place performance in Houston.
Giacomo Ricci (#18 Banca Italease/Lotto/Global) earned the best Atlantic result of his career with a fourth-place performance in the Grand Prix of Cleveland. Ricci's teammate on Conquest Racing is Lee. Rookie Simona De Silvestro (#5 Miauton) picked up her best Atlantic result to date with an 11th-place run in Cleveland. The only woman in the Atlantic field is joined on the two-car Walker Racing team by Englishman Ryan Lewis (#15 NCPI Solutions/Insport), who picked up his best result of the season with a third-place run in Race #1 of the Portland doubleheader three weeks ago.
Floridian Richard Heistand (#37 Eola Capital Investments) picked up his first Atlantic points in Cleveland with a 16th-place result for Genoa Racing. Heistand is teamed with American rookie Adrian Carrio (#17 Carrio Cabling Company). Joining Hildebrand, Heistand, Carrio, Thienes, Edwards, Lee and Skerlong as American rookies are Jensen MotorSport teammates Tom Sutherland (#2 Drive Energy Soda) and former actor Frankie Muniz (#13 Chandler Development). Jensen MotorSport is the only Canada-based team in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship and is based in Newcastle, Ontario.
Completing the 24-car entry are a pair of American Atlantic veterans in Alan Sciuto (#20 The Room Store of Phoenix) and Justin Sofio (#26 RLM Investments). Sciuto, an owner/driver, picked up his fourth top-nine result of the season last weekend in Cleveland with a ninth-place run, while Sofio wound up 10th for Mathiasen Motorsports. Sofio also earned the bonus point for improving the most positions from start to finish in Cleveland after starting 19th.
All Atlantic cars are Swift 016.a Atlantic chassis powered by 300-horsepower Mazda-Cosworth MZR engines capable of speeds in excess of 175 mph. Each entry will ride on new Cooper Atlantic racing slicks and rain tires throughout the weekend.
On-track activities for the Champ Car Atlantic Championship at Mont-Tremblant get underway on Friday morning with practice from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. ET, followed by provisional qualifying from 1:10 to 1:50 p.m. Saturday's schedule calls for another practice session from 9:00 to 9:45 a.m., with final qualifying slated for 12:45 to 1:25 p.m. and a driver autograph session beginning at 4:00 p.m.
Sunday's race day schedule will see the Atlantic machines on-course for a 15-minute warm-up session beginning at 9:00 a.m., and Round 7 of the 12-race Atlantic calendar will roll off from a standing start at 11:30 a.m. The timed race will be 50 minutes in length.
In addition to live coverage on ESPN360.com, ESPN2 will carry a 30-minute tape-delayed telecast of the Atlantic action from Mont-Tremblant at 6:00 p.m. ET on Friday, July 6. It will also air to U.S. service men and women in over 130 countries around the world through the American Forces Radio & Television Service.