Road America: Round 12 series preview

2007 CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP DRAWS TO A CLOSE THIS WEEKEND WITH GENERAC GRAND PRIX AT THE LEGENDARY ROAD AMERICA CIRCUIT The 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda draws to a close this weekend...

2007 CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP DRAWS TO A CLOSE THIS WEEKEND WITH GENERAC GRAND PRIX AT THE LEGENDARY ROAD AMERICA CIRCUIT

The 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda draws to a close this weekend as the series visits one of the most revered permanent road courses in the world for Sunday's Generac Grand Prix at Road America (ESPN360.com, Live, 12:45 p.m. ET).

The weekend will serve as a coronation of sorts for Brazilian racer Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks), as Matos clinched the 2007 championship in the penultimate race of the season at San Jose. Matos heads into the weekend looking for his seventh victory on the season, which would be the most victories for a driver in a single season since A.J. Allmendinger also won seven races on his way to the Atlantic title in 2003. Matos does have some history on his side at Road America, as he started from the pole position and finished second in last year's Atlantic season finale at the venue, and also owns podium finishes in two previous Star Mazda starts at the 4.048-mile road circuit. Following Sunday's race, Matos will officially receive his $2 million prize toward a 2008 Champ Car World Series ride and other prizes at the 2007 Champ Car Atlantic Awards Banquet at The American Club in Kohler, Wis. on Sunday night.

Just as Matos has wrapped up the championship, French racer Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport/Everflux/Perfect Nutrition) has sewn up Rookie of the Year honors for 2007 and has also clinched second place in the overall championship standings. The Condor Motorsports driver has finished on the podium in seven consecutive races coming into the Generac Grand Prix, including victories at Mont-Tremblant and Toronto. Perera has excelled on permanent road circuits this season, and it would certainly come as no surprise if the Frenchman closes out the year with a third victory.

Canadian racer Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) has a comfortable, 21-point lead over his countryman, James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) for third in the championship heading into Road America, but that is the highest position available that has not yet been clinched. Both Wickens and Hinchcliffe have also been fast on permanent road course, what with Wickens taking his lone victory of the season in Race #1 of a doubleheader at Portland International Raceway and Hinchcliffe taking pole positions for both races at Portland. While Wickens makes his Road America debut this weekend, Hinchcliffe has won both Star Mazda and Formula BMW races at the venue previously and led three laps in his first Atlantic race at Road America last year.

The driver who may be carrying the most momentum into Road America, however, is American veteran Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor). Bomarito had a dream weekend last time out at San Jose with his first career Atlantic pole position and a dominant performance in the race where he led every lap en route to his second career Atlantic win. Bomarito's first Atlantic victory came at Road America last year, and he will be looking for a repeat of that performance this weekend.

Throughout the 2007 Atlantic season, European drivers have been particularly strong on permanent road courses. If that holds true again this weekend, the likes of Swiss rookie Simona De Silvestro (#5 Miauton), who is also the only woman in the field, as well as England's Ryan Lewis (#15 NCPI Solutions/Insport), Dutchman Junior Strous (#16 Shell/Best Box/HTP/NEM/Red, White & Bluezz USA) and Italy's Giacomo Ricci (#18 Banca Italease/Gioco del Lotto/Global Pesca/Abbey Resort) could also be front runners. Most of De Silvestro's best qualifying results have come on permanent road courses this season, while her Walker Racing teammate, Lewis, finished third and fifth in the Portland doubleheader and finished fifth in his maiden Atlantic run at Road America last year.

After missing both races of the Edmonton doubleheader due to lingering pain in his wrist from an injury earlier in the year, Strous came back strong on the street circuit at San Jose to record an Atlantic career-best result of fifth. Ricci, meanwhile, is looking to fight his way back to fifth in the overall championship standings after seeing his streak of five consecutive top-six results come to an end with a 19th-place result at San Jose.

One other European who could play a huge factor this weekend is Estonian Tonis Kasemets (#34 Nuclear Clean Air Energy), who returns to the Atlantic series for the first time since he finished second in the 2005 championship standings. Kasemets--driving this weekend for Newman Wachs Racing--picked up the last of his three 2005 victories at Road America. He competed in the Champ Car World Series event at Road America last year with Rocketsports.

Of course, there are also a host of American racers that are hungry to follow Bomarito's lead and make it two-in-a-row for the U.S.A. Sixteen-year-old rookie John Edwards (#7 Red Bull/INDECK) joins Wickens as part of a strong 1-2 punch for Red Bull Team Forsythe, while 2006 Star Mazda champion Adrian Carrio (#17 Carrio Cabling Company) is coming off back-to-back weekends in which he established career-best Atlantic results. Alan Sciuto (#20 WS Deans/The Room Store) has finished inside the top-eight in both of his previous Atlantic races at Road America, while Kasemets' Newman Wachs Racing teammate, J.R. Hildebrand (#36 Nuclear Clean Air Energy) made his Atlantic debut at the venue last year after wrapping up the Cooper Tires Formula Ford title.

In recent weeks, Americans Frankie Muniz (#13 Chandler Development), Tom Sutherland (#2 ClickAway Computer), Brian Thienes (#19 Thienes Engineering), Carl Skerlong (#24 King Taco/USRT), Justin Sofio (#26 RLM Investments/Stone Brewing/SAECO), Richard Heistand (#37 Eola Capital Investments) and Matt Lee (#44 Integrated Structures) have all had strong race and/or qualifying results as well.

The 24-car field will also include Mexican driver David Garza (#4 Axtel/Tecate/Madisa/USRT) and Canadian racers Mike Forest (#32 Konica Minolta/Miracle Sealants/Dynacor/Earthwater) and Kevin Lacroix (#10 Uni-Select). Lacroix returns to Brooks Associates Racing after a one-race absence and is looking to recapture the magic of his victory in Race #2 of the Portland doubleheader, while Forest's career-best Atlantic result of 10th came last year at Road America. Garza is riding a streak of nine consecutive points-paying results.

The teams and drivers will be vying for a total of $100,000 in purses in the Generac Grand Prix. Each Atlantic race features a $100,000 purse as part of $3.7 million in total prize money.

All Atlantic race 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 get underway on Friday at 8:00 a.m. CT for a 45-minute practice session, followed by first round qualifying from 3:40 to 4:15 p.m. Saturday's schedule will see the Atlantic machines on course for another practice from 8:00 to 8:30 a.m., with final qualifying scheduled to run from 1:15 to 1:50 p.m. The drivers will also participate in an autograph session at the Cooper Tire Display beginning at 4:15 p.m. on Saturday.

Sunday's race day schedule provides for a 15-minute Atlantic warm up session beginning at 8:30 a.m. CT, and the lights will go out for the final Champ Car Atlantic standing start of the 2007 season shortly after 11:45 a.m. The Generac Grand Prix will have a 50-minute time limit.

In addition to live flag-to-flag coverage on ESPN360.com, ESPN2 will carry a 30-minute tape-delayed telecast of the Atlantic action from Road America at 5:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, August 22. The race will also air to U.S. service men and women in over 130 countries around the world through the American Forces Radio & Television Service.

COOPER TIRES PRESENTS THE CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP POWERED BY MAZDA

FAST FACTS

GENERAC GRAND PRIX

WHAT: Generac Grand Prix

WHERE: Road America -- Elkhart Lake, Wis.

CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local, CT):

FRIDAY, AUGUST 10
Practice: 8:00 -- 8:45 a.m.
First-Round Qualifying: 3:40 -- 4:15 p.m

SATURDAY, AUGUST 11
Practice: 8:00 -- 8:30 a.m.
Final Qualifying: 1:15 -- 1:50 p.m

SUNDAY, AUGUST 12
Warm-Up: 8:30 -- 8:45 a.m.
Race: 11:45 a.m. -- 12:45 a.m.

LIVE INTERNET VIDEO: SUNDAY, AUGUST 12 - Flag-to-flag coverage of the Generac Grand Prix will be available on ESPN360.com beginning at 12:45 p.m. ET.

U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 22 -- ESPN2, Generac Grand Prix, 5:00 p.m. ET.

TRACK LAYOUT: 4.048-mile permanent road course

RACE LENGTH: 50-minute time limit

TRACK RECORDS (based on current layout):


Qualifying (one lap) -- 8/7/04, Ryan Dalziel, 1:59.504, 121.944 mph Race (one lap) -- 9/24/06, Raphael Matos, 1:59.174, 122.280 mph
Race (17 laps) -- 9/24/06, Jonathan Bomarito, 47:23.451, 92.251 mph

RACE ROUNDS: Round 12 of 12 in the 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda

NEXT RACE: Dash In The Desert (non-points) at Grand Prix Arizona, December 1

-credit: ccws/atl

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Series Atlantic
Drivers Ryan Dalziel , A.J. Allmendinger , Jonathan Bomarito , Tonis Kasemets , Justin Sofio , Adrian Carrio , Robert Wickens , Kevin Lacroix , Junior Strous , Alan Sciuto , James Hinchcliffe , David Garza , Brian Thienes , Carl Skerlong , J.R. Hildebrand , John Edwards , Richard Heistand , Mike Forest , Franck Perera , Frankie Muniz , Matt Lee