POINTS LEADER MATOS LOOKS FOR RETURN TO VICTORY LANE AS CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP HEADS FOR GRAND PRIX OF CLEVELAND PRESENTED BY LASALLE BANK The 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda swings...
POINTS LEADER MATOS LOOKS FOR RETURN TO VICTORY LANE AS CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP HEADS FOR GRAND PRIX OF CLEVELAND PRESENTED BY LASALLE BANK
The 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda swings back into action this weekend with Sunday's Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by LaSalle Bank and points leader Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) will be looking to return to Victory Lane after a two-race absence.
Matos swept the first three events on the 2007 calendar at Las Vegas, Long Beach and Houston and retained his lead in the championship standings with runs of fourth and sixth in the doubleheader at Portland International Raceway earlier this month. Matos currently leads his Sierra Sierra Enterprises teammate, James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks), by 17 points (140-123), but the Brazilian's lead going into the Portland weekend was 23 points over Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor), who slipped to fifth in the standings following a rough weekend in Portland.
While Matos' lead in the point standings is sturdy heading into Cleveland--which will wrap-up the first-half of the 12-race 2007 Champ Car Atlantic Championship--one bad outing could change the order dramatically as Bomarito could attest. What may potentially work in Matos' favor is the fact that he is one of only seven drivers entered this weekend with previous Atlantic experience on the wide open runways and taxiways of Burke Lakefront Airport. Last year, Matos finished fifth in the first half of an Atlantic doubleheader at Cleveland but retired due to contact in the second race. Nevertheless, he and Bomarito are the only drivers in the field with a top-five result in previous Atlantic competition in Cleveland. As a result, both drivers should clearly rank among the favorites going into the weekend.
In fact, Bomarito is the only driver in the field with more than one top-five performance at Cleveland, having finished fourth in the first half of last year's doubleheader and fifth in 2004. All three of Bomarito's previous Cleveland starts in Atlantic have been productive, as the 25-year-old Californian also finished eighth in the second race of the 2006 doubleheader, and another solid performance this weekend would be extremely helpful in his quest to move back up the championship standings.
Prior to Portland, Bomarito had finished inside the top four spots in each of the first three races this season. However, a first-lap incident in Race #1 of the Portland doubleheader dropped him off the lead lap and he scored just a single point for turning the race's fastest lap on his way to a 24th-place result.
Hinchcliffe is another driver with previous Atlantic experience at Cleveland, having finished 17th and 19th in the doubleheader last year, but the Canadian has considerably better results at Cleveland with runs of second and third in a Formula BMW USA doubleheader in 2004. Hinchcliffe is also carrying the momentum of three straight podium results and is hungry to break through for his first win of the season this weekend.
Hinchcliffe's Canadian countrymen, Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) and Kevin Lacroix (#10 Uni-Select) must also rank with the favorites this weekend by virtue of their breakthrough Atlantic victories in Portland. Wickens earned his first Atlantic win in Race #1 of the Portland doubleheader, while Lacroix--in just his second Atlantic start and his first weekend in the series--picked up the victory in Race #2. Wickens also leads the Rookie of the Year point standings by 10 points (119-109) over Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport).
No driver in the series has been more consistent over the first five races this season than Perera. The Frenchman finished fifth in each of the first four races before taking his first podium result with a third-place run in the second half of the Portland doubleheader. Perera is the only driver to have finished every race thus far in the top five.
Another driver to watch this weekend will be Ronnie Bremer (#12 The Room Store) for the Chardon, Ohio-based Polestar Racing Group. Bremer finished sixth in his lone previous Atlantic start at Cleveland in 2004 and also finished 14th in the Champ Car World Series event at Cleveland in 2005. Bremer has also enjoyed a consistent season with top-13 results in all five of his starts thus far.
Others who may be poised to break through with a maiden Atlantic victory this weekend include rookies J.R. Hildebrand (#36 Newman Wachs Racing), Carl Skerlong (#24 King Taco/USRT), David Garza (#4 Axtel/Tecate/Madisa/USRT), Junior Strous (#16 Shell/Best Box/HTP/Red, White & Bluezz USA) second-year driver Ryan Lewis (#15 NCPI/Deans Knight/Wasteco) and third-year Atlantic competitor Alan Sciuto (#20 The Room Store of Phoenix). Hildebrand finished first and second in a Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 doubleheader at Cleveland last year en route to the series title, and has finished inside the top-nine positions in each of his last three starts in the series. He also qualified third for Race #1 of the Portland doubleheader.
Skerlong has already made one visit to an Atlantic podium in his five-race career in the series with a second-place outing in Round 3 at Houston. He has finished inside the top 11 in each of his last four starts. Skerlong's US RaceTronics teammate Garza has improved his finishing position in each of his five races in Atlantics, and posted a career-best 10th-place result in Race #2 at Portland. Strous has finished inside the top 13 in all four of his starts this season. The Dutchman did not compete in Round 3 at Houston due to a wrist injury sustained in an incident at Long Beach.
Lewis earned his first podium result of the season with a third-place run in Race #1 of the Portland doubleheader and came back to earn a second consecutive top-five result with a fifth-place run in Race #2. Sciuto has finished inside the top seven in three of his five starts this season and is another driver to benefit from previous Atlantic experience at Cleveland. He finished 15th and ninth in the doubleheader last year.
Simona De Silvestro (#5 Deans Knight/Wasteco) is the only woman racer in the field and joins Lewis on the two-car Walker Racing operation. Walker Racing owner Derrick Walker is one of four Champ Car World Series owners who will also field Atlantic entries this weekend. The others are Red Bull Team Forsythe owner Jerry Forsythe, who fields Wickens and 16-year-old American rookie John Edwards (#7 Red Bull/INDECK), Conquest Racing owner Eric Bachelart, who has entered Italian rookie Giacomo Ricci (#18 Banca Italease/Lotto/Global) and American youngster Matt Lee (#44 Integrated Structures), and Academy Award-winning actor Paul Newman, who is partnered with Eddie Wachs as owner of the car driven by Hildebrand. Newman is also a co-owner of the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing Champ Car team.
Newman is not the only Hollywood type to be associated with the Atlantic series this weekend, as rookie driver Frankie Muniz (#13 Chandler Development) is a former actor who has shifted his focus to becoming a professional race driver. Muniz is part of a two-car Jensen MotorSport team alongside American rookie Tom Sutherland (#2 Drive Energy Soda).
Completing a strong, 26-car entry list--the largest Atlantic field at Cleveland since 29 cars competed in 1998--are rookie drivers Adrian Carrio (#17 Carrio Cabling Company), Brian Thienes (#19 Thienes Engineering), Bret MacDonald (#21 Brelia Ent./BAM/BCP/Rock House), Mike Forest (#32 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor/Earthwater), Richard Heistand (#27 Eola Capital Investments), and Adrien Herberts (#45 Paladin Motorsports), as well as Atlantic veteran Justin Sofio (#26 RLM Investments). Sofio is the driver with the most Atlantic experience at Cleveland with four previous starts, and the Californian celebrated a C2 class victory and seventh-place overall result in Race #1 of a doubleheader in 2005.
On-track activities for the Champ Car Atlantic Championship at the Grand Prix of Cleveland get underway on Friday, June 22 with a 45-minute practice session from 10:45 to 11:30 a.m. ET, followed by first round qualifying from 2:30 to 3:05 p.m. Saturday's schedule calls for the Atlantic machines to practice from 8:50 to 9:35 a.m., with final qualifying slated for 12:40 to 1:15 p.m. Sunday's race-day schedule will see the Atlantic competitors on track for a 15-minute warm-up session beginning at 8:00 a.m. and Round 6 of the 12-race 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, the Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by LaSalle Bank, will begin from a standing start at 10:30 a.m. The race will have a 50-minute time limit.
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.
WHAT: Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by LaSalle Bank
WHERE: Burke Lakefront Airport -- Cleveland, Ohio
CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local, ET): FRIDAY, JUNE 22 -- Practice: 10:45 -- 11:30 a.m., First Round Qualifying: 2:30 -- 3:05 p.m. SATURDAY, JUNE 23 -- Practice: 8:50 -- 9:35 a.m., Final Qualifying: 12:40 -- 1:15 p.m. SUNDAY, JUNE 24 -- Warm-Up: 8:00 -- 8:15 a.m., Race: 10:30 -- 11:20 a.m.
U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: WEDNESDAY, JULY 4 -- ESPN2, Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by LaSalle Bank, 6:00 p.m. ET
2006 CLEVELAND RACE WINNERS: Graham Rahal (both races in doubleheader)
2006 CLEVELAND POLESITTERS: Race #1 -- Andreas Wirth, Race #2 Simon Pagenaud
TRACK LAYOUT: 2.106-mile temporary road course
RACE LENGTH: 50-minute time limit
TRACK RECORDS (based on current layout): Qualifying (one lap) -- 2006, Simon Pagenaud, 1:04.678 (117.221 mph). Race -- (one lap) 2006, Andreas Wirth, 1:04.255 (117.990 mph), 32 laps -- Charles Zwolsman, 34:46.826 (109.937 mph).
RACE ROUND: Round 6 of 12 in the 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda
NEXT RACE: Grand Prix of Mont-Tremblant, July 1.