Niemela on provisional pole in Utah

(Tooele, UT) It's all about the numbers in racing. Friday was all about 2, 8, 36, 19, 17, 6, and as always, it was about 1. 2, as in there are two more races in the 2008 season. There's this Sunday's race and the season finale at Road Atlanta in...

(Tooele, UT) It's all about the numbers in racing. Friday was all about 2, 8, 36, 19, 17, 6, and as always, it was about 1.

2, as in there are two more races in the 2008 season. There's this Sunday's race and the season finale at Road Atlanta in 2 weeks. With so many different winners this year, 6, the championship is by no means decided and there are nearly as many favorites as there are drivers competing this weekend, that's 17, for those of you counting along with this story.

But, this weekend has really been about 8 so far, that's the #8 Brooks Racing entry driven by Finnish rookie Markus Niemela. Markus recorded a new track record breaking lap of 2:28:915 which would sound much faster if I told you that the track at Miller Motorsports Park is a whopping 4.5 miles in length. With the constantly changing conditions Friday - heat, wind, rain and then spin dry, it was truly a challenge to obtain that most precious number, 1.

It was good," said Niemela. "I got P2 time pretty much in the beginning, then I felt my tires started going out and they told me that I'm two tenths (of a second) from the pole and I have one more lap left. I just thought, 'I have to throw down everything I have.' I got the pole by two tenths. I still got one more lap, actually, with the fuel that was going to be a little bit better, but then I made a mistake in the third from last corner and lost a couple of tenths. Anyway, I'm so happy with this.

"I know there is qualifying tomorrow and this is not the definite pole, but it's so good to be first on some time sheet. Nobody has been really dominating this year's championship, but I've been definitely dominating the second position. So many times I've been second in qualifying, practices and races, and I've never been first on any list, pretty much. This is just so good already. Hopefully, tomorrow goes good. I'm going to have 30 minutes of enjoying this and then start thinking about tomorrow."

Among those learning that 2 was not really Niemela's favorite number was #36, Jonathan Summerton, who is as hot as a driver can be in the Atlantic championship without self immolating. Summerton's qualifying speed was three tenths of a second slower than Niemela's, and makes the Rookie of the Year points leader a strong contention for P1 on Saturday.

"It was quite a big difference between this morning's session and now," Summerton explained. "We definitely didn't have a car for this track temperature and weather. I think the rain really hurt us big time. I was really struggling with the car, and the time we did surprised me when we did it. Hopefully, we can do better tomorrow. I know the car is capable of it, as we saw this morning. We've just got to get it right for the temperature."

We respectfully disagree, As we have shown, it's getting the right number, which leads us to third place qualifier Dane Cameron, the driver of the #19 Genoa Racing car. He clearly sees it's all about improving his numbers, a little bit at a time.

"I'm pretty happy with third in qualifying," Cameron said. "I would have liked to have been a little bit better, but we're a lot better than we were in the morning, so we're pretty happy with the improvement we made. It was pretty slippery because it just rained right towards the beginning of the session, but the car is getting a little bit better and a little bit better, so we'll see how it all ends up. We still need a little bit more to catch up to Niemela and Summerton, but we'll see what we can do."

This weekend's race will more closely draw a distinction between the remaining 6 drivers who can win the championship. Jonathan Bomarito, the current points leader has cooled off substantially, but the title is his to lose. And, if he does lose it, it's really more likely to go to the Rookie of the Year, whoever that is. Jonathan Summerton and Markus Niemela are only 6 points apart in that race as well as the series points in positions 2 and 3. The 3 remaining drivers with a mathematical chance to take the title are Junior Strous, Carl Skerlong and James Hinchcliffe, but the top three would have to have two very bad races collectively for that to happen.

Much of the outcome for Sunday's race will rest with the final qualifying session scheduled for Saturday morning, ahead of the day's featured event, a 7 hour Grand Am race.

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Jonathan Bomarito , Junior Strous , Dane Cameron , Jonathan Summerton , Carl Skerlong , Markus Niemela