Lee Gets Tenth in Atlantic Debut Despite Host of Yellows LAS VEGAS, April 9 - Rookie Matt Lee came up with a solid top-10 finish in his first venture in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Sunday on the 2.44-mile downtown Las Vegas street...
Lee Gets Tenth in Atlantic Debut Despite Host of Yellows
LAS VEGAS, April 9 - Rookie Matt Lee came up with a solid top-10 finish in his first venture in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Sunday on the 2.44-mile downtown Las Vegas street circuit here.
The event, the first of 12 in the series, which is presented by Cooper Tires and powered by Mazda, was strange. Only nine of the 22 laps were run under green-flag conditions due to four yellows, and 15 of the 27 cars were eliminated by accidents. Luckily no one was hurt.
The race was strange for Lee too. The 17-year-old driver from Syosset, N.Y. was forced to make four pit stops with his Conquest Racing/Integrated Structures No. 44 Swift to replace tires or parts due to two different incidents. Luckily all the stops were under yellow and he and the Conquest Racing crew timed them so that he didn't lose a lap, allowing him to be one of the 12 drivers who were running at the finish. He also did some heads-up driving to miss a massive crash around him at the very end of the race.
"Our car wasn't too good for the first round of qualifying, but the crew worked hard on the set-up and it was a lot better for the second round of qualifying and for the race," Lee noted.
He qualified 12th and moved up to 11th after the standing start, avoiding the car ahead of him that stalled at the green flag. He then fell back to 14th for the next four laps after another driver hit him in the rear. He was 16th on lap five and then pitted for repairs, pushing him back to 24th by lap six.
He passed Dan Selznick, Tengyi Jiang and Bret MacDonald during a spurt of green-flag racing between laps eight and 10 to move into 21st spot, but then he pitted again under the next yellow to push him back to 22nd, the last driver on the lead lap.
Lap 13 was green and Lee made great use of it, advancing to 17th by passing John Edwards, Selznick, Frankie Muniz, Jiang and Adrien Herberts. Then there was a seven-car crash on lap 14 that involved some of the drivers that he'd just passed. When things got sorted out he was back in 15th place for the last restart on lap 19 with less than 5 minutes of the race left.
He moved up to 14th on the white-flag lap, running his fastest lap of the race with a 1:34.482 at 92.970 miles per hour, and then got tenth at the checkered after more cars crashed ahead of and around him on the last lap.
Due to all the yellows, the race ended up being a timed event of 50 minutes.
"Someone hit me from behind at the beginning of the race and blew out a rear tire," Lee explained. "We pitted to change that, and got going again without losing a lap. Then some backmarker turned into me in Turn Four and damaged the front wing. We replaced the nose, and then found out that one of the front tires had been damaged too, so we came in again to change that. Then we had to come in again to replace a tire clip, so I made four pit stops in all. But the Conquest Racing team did a good job and we didn't lose a lap.
"Then there was a big crash at the end," he continued. "I was trapped between cars and had nowhere to go. I actually crashed into the tire wall a bit then, but I snapped the car around and got away. The race was over at that point, and I got tenth. There were just too many crashes."
Even the winner, Raphael Matos, didn't expect as many yellow flags as occurred on Sunday. Robert Wickens, who finished second ahead of Jonathan Bomarito, said the whole race was kind of a tease.
Lee doesn't have long to wait until his next race, because it will occur this coming weekend on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., with the Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
-credit: restart communications