CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP ANXIOUS TO GET BACK ON TRACK THIS WEEKEND IN LONG BEACH INDIANAPOLIS (April 11, 2007) -- Last weekend's opening round of the 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda at Las...
CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP ANXIOUS TO GET BACK ON TRACK THIS WEEKEND IN LONG BEACH
INDIANAPOLIS (April 11, 2007) -- Last weekend's opening round of the 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda at Las Vegas brought so many positives and so much excitement for the season at hand that it had be considered a rousing success.
A full field highlighted by some of the top rising racing stars from across the globe, new sponsors and series partners enjoying the dawning of a new season at a fabulous new street circuit in downtown Las Vegas. The on-track competition itself was also compelling throughout the weekend. Not even a caution-filled race that brought just a handful of green-flag race laps could put a damper on the excitement and anticipation of the great racing that lies ahead for the 2007 Atlantic class.
But following Sunday's event that saw four long caution periods and 15 entries in the 27-car field retire early due to contact, it's safe to say that the majority of Atlantic competitors are hoping that what happened in Vegas stays in Vegas. The series is anxious to get back on track this weekend following up a dynamic season debut with one of the most popular events on the series calendar. The Atlantics will race on the streets of Long Beach for the 24th time in the 34-year history of the championship this weekend at the Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (tape-delayed broadcast on ESPN2 at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 19). A total of 29 cars are expected to start this weekend, making it the largest Atlantic field in nearly eight years.
One thing was made perfectly clear at last weekend's season opener -- there's a wealth of youthful speed in the rookie-dominated Atlantic field in 2007. And while the young guns were certainly blazing, it was also clear that the talented veterans on the circuit have no intention of making life easy on the fab freshmen.
Second-year driver Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) of the Sierra Sierra Enterprises team proved that in Vegas as he converted a smooth, late-race pass of rookie Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) for the lead into his second career Atlantic victory. Matos relied on his patience and experience to capture Round 1 and take early control of the series championship and the chase for the $2 million prize toward competing in the Champ Car World Series in 2008.
Matos has to be considered a serious threat to make it two wins in a row to start the season. The 25-year-old Brazilian had a strong coming out party on the 1.968-mile Long Beach street circuit last season when he qualified third, finished second and established a new series fast race lap record in his very first Atlantic race.
Clearly comfortable on the streets (his first win came at the San Jose street circuit last season) Matos will be looking to go back-to-back to begin '07 when he lines up at Long Beach. A host of other top series competitors hope to prevent that from happening, including Matos' teammate -- James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks). "Hinch" also had a strong opener, leading first-round qualifying and finishing fourth last weekend. He ran well last year at Long Beach as well, scoring a third-place result in his Atlantic debut, so expect the young Canadian to also make some noise in Round 2.
After finishing third in Vegas for his second straight podium result dating back to last year, PR1 Motosports racer Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor) could also do some damage at Long Beach. The native Californian is preparing for this third Long Beach Atlantic race and after running up front last season before mechanical issues knocked him out of action, Bomarito will have payback on his mind.
Wickens showed last weekend that he and the Red Bull Team Forsythe squad will be a force to be reckoned with this season. The 18-year-old Toronto native won his first series pole and led more race laps than anyone at Vegas before finishing second. He'll be looking to take the next step up on the podium in his first race at Long Beach. Wickens' teammate, John Edwards (#7 Red Bull/INDECK), also showed impressive speed in the opener and the 16-year-old Arkansas racer hopes to make his mark in his Long Beach debut.
A couple of teams will be looking to bounce back at Long Beach after a tough Round 1. Walker Racing took a hit at Vegas before a car even turned a wheel last weekend when British racer Ryan Lewis (#15 NCPI/Deans Knight/Wasteco) was forced to miss the event due to visa issues in his native UK. Lewis will return to action at Round 2, determined to make up some of the ground he missed one week ago. Lewis' stablemate on the Walker squad, Simona De Silvestro (#5 Deans Knight/Wasteco), performed well in her first Atlantic event before a late-race spin dropped her back in the field at Las Vegas. De Silvestro is looking forward to her first race on the historic Long Beach track.
The US RaceTronics squad also wants to put the opening round behind them. After a strong pre-season and some solid qualifying results at Vegas, the team saw both of its drivers exit the race early as a result of the numerous incidents. American Carl Skerlong (#24 King Taco/USRT) was third in first-round qualifying and was running in the top five when he ran into problems last weekend while David Garza (#4 Axtel/Tecate/Madisa/USRT) of Mexico will also be trying to rebound this week as each driver makes their first Long Beach Atlantic start for the California-based team.
Condor Motorsports, headquartered in Bloomington, California, enjoyed a solid opening weekend as two of the team's three drivers scored top-six finishes in Vegas. Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport) of France finished fifth last weekend while Dutchman Junior Strous (#16 Shell/Best Box/HTP/Red, White & Bluezz USA) was sixth in his series debut. Both drivers will try to build on those results this weekend along with the third member of the veteran team's driver lineup, Brian Thienes (#19 Thienes Engineering) of Huntington Beach, California.
After forming his own team last week just in time to score a seventh-place finish in Round 1, Alan Sciuto (#20 The RoomStore of Phoenix/Gelles Racing) of nearby Orange, California is also excited for his home race. Sciuto will compete for Alan Sciuto Racing at Long Beach and he produced a 10th-place finish at the venue last season. Another local driver, Justin Sofio (#26 RLM Investments) of Arleta, California, is coming off a ninth-place result in Vegas and he hopes to celebrate his 28th birthday on Sunday with a solid finish in front of his home crowd.
Young Sausalito, California racer J.R. Hildebrand (#36 Newman Wachs Racing) is looking forward to his first Long Beach Atlantic action this weekend, especially after a nice fifth-place qualifying effort last week was doused after the final-lap accident dropped Hildebrand back in the field.
It appeared for awhile that both Conquest Racing cars would secure top-10 finishes in Vegas, but a final lap accident involving several cars quashed that notion. American Matt Lee (#44 Integrated Structure) did hold on to finish 10th for the team in his first series race while Giacomo Ricci (#18 Banca Italease/Lotto/Global) of Italy fell out of the top 10 late after running there the whole race. Both drivers are hoping for even better results this weekend.
Ronnie Bremer (#12 The RoomStore of Phoenix/Sealy/PRG) of Polestar Racing Group made his Atlantic debut at Long Beach in 2004, finishing fourth. The following year he made his first Champ Car start at the venue and brought home a seventh-place result. Bremer is back this weekend and after an eighth-place finish at Vegas, he hopes to continue his good vibe at the beach. Bret MacDonald (#21 Brelia Ent./BAM/BCP/Rock House) will also compete for Polestar this weekend as he makes his first Long Beach start.
The Jensen Motorsport team saw all three of its cars claimed by accidents last weekend. California racers Frankie Muniz (#13 Chandler Development) and Tom Sutherland (#2 Clickaway Computer) of the Jensen crew are aiming for better results on more familiar ground Sunday, along with Dutch racer Dominick Muermans (#22 Muermans Group).
Genoa Racing is also hoping to put Vegas in the rear-view mirror this week at Long Beach. The team, which saw its first series action since the mid 90s at last week's opener, watched both American drivers Adrian Carrio (#17 Carrio Cabling Company) and Richard Heistand (#37 Eola Capital Investments) exit early in the mayhem at Vegas. In their first taste of Long Beach racing, both drivers are targeting better results in the second round.
Tengyi Jiang (#8 Champ Car Grand Prix of China) of China made his Atlantic debut last week and unfortunately also saw his race end early due to contact. The Brooks Associates Racing driver is back at it again this week as he makes his first start at Long Beach. He'll be joined there by a series sophomore happy to make his '07 debut with the team this weekend, Joe D'Agostino (#10 Discount Tire), who finished 11th last year at Long Beach.
Canada's Mike Forest (#32 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor/Earthwater) of the PR1 team will be conquering some demons this weekend as he returns to the place where his season was altered in '06. Forest suffered fractured veterbrae in a qualifying accident last year at Long Beach so he hopes this year's visit goes a bit smoother.
Adrien Herberts (#45 Paladin Motorsports), who made his Atlantic maiden voyage last week and fell victim to one of the many incidents, will be searching for better results at Long Beach, while Luis Mussi (#30 Gelles Racing) will make his first series start on Sunday after missing the opening round of racing.
The cars that will be battle for position in Long Beach are all 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. The weekend schedule gets underway with a practice session from 8-8:40 a.m. (local) Pacific Time. The opening round of qualifying will take place from 12:15-12:50 p.m. Friday. The Atlantics return to the track for practice Saturday morning from 8:35-9:20 a.m. The final round of qualifying will be held from 12:40-1:15 p.m. Saturday. Race day begins with the sound of the Mazda-Cosworth engines firing for a 15-minute warm-up practice from 8-8:15 a.m. Sunday morning. The Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge will begin from a standing start at 10:35 a.m. Sunday. The race is scheduled for 50 minutes. For additional information, visit the official web site of North America's premier open-wheel development series, www.champcaratlantic.com.