So little happened in qualifying on Saturday morning that I'll take a moment to let our readers know how to pronounce the name of the town where Miller Motorsports Park resides. Since it's out in the middle of nowhere (seemingly), I thought it was...
So little happened in qualifying on Saturday morning that I'll take a moment to let our readers know how to pronounce the name of the town where Miller Motorsports Park resides. Since it's out in the middle of nowhere (seemingly), I thought it was a very aptly named Too-lee, as we are out in the toolies, beautiful though they may be. Not so. The name is pronounced Too-Ella as though addressing a package to the late singer, Miss Fitzgerald, which would be kind of weird, now that I think about it.
The reason that nothing really happened today: the track was about 2 seconds per lap slower. The series reports that the weather was cooler, while most of the drivers were talking about last night's rain washing away all the rubber, not to mention, the grip, on the track. Whatever, the cause, Saturday's relative slowness means the field is virtually unchanged from yesterday. Since Markus Niemela was cautious on Friday about being excited about qualifying first, today? He was positively jubilant about it today, recording his first ever pole in the Atlantic Championship Series.
"It feels all right, I like it," Niemela said. "I'm really happy about the pole. Now, I have the rest of the day off. It's nice to be on pole. It's my first this year. It's my first in Atlantic. Obviously, I'm really happy. I'm happy for me, I'm happy for the team. We've been very close to this so many times and now we could finally seize it and get the pole, so it's good. Of course, we have the race to do and hopefully I get a good result from that as well. Now I can enjoy it for a while.
"In today's qualifying, I heard the lap times on the radio all the time. Our entire strategy was quite conservative. I heard everyone was, like, two seconds off from yesterday's times. Eventually, Summerton got, like, one- and-a-half seconds off. I didn't have to hurry anywhere. I was just pretty much saving tires for tomorrow. If anybody got close to my time from yesterday, then I'd start pushing more. My last lap was pretty much just for fun and I went a little bit faster than the previous laps. I'm on pole and that's what counts at the moment."
In terms of the points race, current leader Jonathan Bomarito will start mid-pack in 9th place, so unless he can make up significant ground during the race, it appears that Niemela and fellow front row starter Jonathan Summerton stand a good chance of overtaking JB, if not further eroding his lead.
"We're definitely expecting to be quick (in the race)," Summerton said. "As the race is going to be in the afternoon, the temperature is going to be on our side, for sure. This morning, the temperature, the track, I don't know. We were really struggling. I mean, we managed to pull off the fastest that session and get our point back, but it's a little hard to come out second after having such a strong practice the other day. Hopefully, in the race, for sure, I know we'll be quicker."
Perhaps their greatest challenge will be in not taking one another out of the competition, something that would benefit Bomarito, along with other championship hopefuls such as Junior Strous and Carl Skerlong. If Niemela can prevail while racing the longest of all North American road courses, he will be the 7th driver to win this year.
Niemela? Summerton? If not them, one driver was at the top of the charts for a time today and whose overall performance is on the upswing is Greg Mansell, driver of the #5 Sunseeker car for Walker Racing. While the series lists him as being from "Jersey, England", Jersey is part of neither England nor the United Kingdom, but it is the current home of the Nigel Mansell family. Nigel's younger son is looking mighty racy lately and could do very well on Sunday.
Whatever the outcome, it is certain these 17 young drivers will enjoy driving a road course designed by racers for racers.