WICKENS SCORES FIRST CAREER ATLANTIC WIN IN FIRST ROUND OF DOUBLEHEADER IN WET MADZA CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF PORTLAND PRESENTED BY JOE'S SPORTS AND OUTDOOR PORTLAND, Ore. (June 9, 2007) -- In wet conditions at Portland International Raceway,...
WICKENS SCORES FIRST CAREER ATLANTIC WIN IN FIRST ROUND OF DOUBLEHEADER IN WET MADZA CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF PORTLAND PRESENTED BY JOE'S SPORTS AND OUTDOOR
PORTLAND, Ore. (June 9, 2007) -- In wet conditions at Portland International Raceway, 18-year-old Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) picked up his first career Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda race victory in Saturday's first race of a doubleheader weekend as part of the Mazda Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland presented by Joe's Sports and Outdoor.
Wickens carefully and methodically worked his way forward after taking the standing start from fifth on the grid and under a steady rain throughout the race. He moved into second place by Lap 9 of the 30-lap race and took up the chase of polesitter and race-leader James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks), who had pulled away to a healthy advantage. Wickens chipped away through the middle stages of the race and by Lap 20; he was well within sight of Hinchcliffe. Approaching lapped traffic on Lap 24, Wickens played the situation perfectly and dove to the inside of Hinchcliffe entering Turn 1 and outbroke his Canadian countryman to take the lead.
From there, Wickens was never challenged and pulled away to win by 10.957 seconds over Hinchcliffe. Wickens' first career Atlantic victory came in just his fourth start in the series, and vaulted him into second place in the 2007 Atlantic point standings after four of 12 races. Wickens has finished inside the top 10 in all four of his starts in the series, and earned his third podium result of the season with the victory.
Hinchcliffe, meanwhile, led the first 23 laps of the race en route to his best result of the season, topping a previous best result of third in Round 3 at Houston in April. It was the second top-two performance in Atlantic competition at Portland International Raceway for the second-year driver, as he earned his first and only Atlantic victory to date in last year's event. Hinchcliffe remains third in the Atlantic driver standings, and will start Sunday's second half of the doubleheader from the pole position.
Ryan Lewis (#15 NCPI/Deans Knight/Wasteco) earned his best result of the season by taking the final podium position with a third-place performance, substantially topping his previous best result of 25th in Round 2 at Long Beach. It was also Lewis' second straight Atlantic podium at Portland, as the Englishman finished second last year in his debut race in the series.
Points leader Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) saw his three-race win streak come to an end with a fourth-place run in an eventful day. On the opening lap, the wet conditions contributed to Matos spinning in Turn 5 and dropping him back to 11th in the running order. However, the Brazilian put together a fantastic charge to salvage fourth place and, as a result, he retains the series points lead. Matos now holds a 25-point advantage, 121-96, over Wickens. Hinchcliffe is third with 94 points.
Picking up his fourth consecutive fifth-place result was Frenchman Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport). With the result, the Condor Motorsports rookie moved into fourth in the overall championship standings with 84 points. He is now 12 points in arrears of Wickens in the Rookie of the Year standings.
Saturday's first race of the Grand Prix of Portland Atlantic doubleheader will air on ESPN2 at 5:00 p.m. ET on Monday, June 8. On-demand video of this and all other races is also available on www.champcaratlanic.com.
* J.R. Hildebrand (#36 Newman Wachs Racing) started third and earned a career-best Atlantic result of sixth in Saturday's race. Hildebrand--the 2006 Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 champion--ran as high as third in the race and spun off-course while running fourth on Lap 15, costing him two positions.
* Alan Sciuto (#20 The Room Store of Phoenix) earned a championship point for gaining the most positions in the race. Sciuto finished seventh after starting 17th, one position shy of his previous season-best result of sixth, which he achieved in Round 3 at Houston.
* Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor), who came into the race second in the point standings, had a difficult run in Saturday's race. Bomarito tangled with Richard Heistand (#37 Eola Capital Investments) and Carl Skerlong (#24 King Taco/USRT) in Turn 8 on the opening lap, bringing out the day's only full-course caution period. As a result of the incident, Bomarito fell three laps behind and wound up 24th in the final rundown, but did earn one championship point for turning the fastest lap in the race on Lap 15. Bomarito fell to fifth in the point standings.
Quotes from the top-three finishers in Race #1 of the Grand Prix of Portland Doubleheader follow below:
"It feels amazing, to be honest. To be able to start fifth, and I like the wet, so I thought it would be a good run for me. On the first lap, I didn't get that good of a start. Somehow I bogged in the wet on the start. I'm still wondering how I pulled that off. Going into the first corner, I went really conservative. I couldn't see where I was going, so I didn't want to run into anyone, and I think I came out of the chicane in seventh or something. From there, I just put my head down. I was able to get up to fifth before the Safety Car came out. From there, I just took them one at a time until I got into second. Then, I just really put my head down and was driving almost at the limit, but now quite, because I wanted to leave room for error in case something happened. Luckily, there was room for error, because there were some pretty close moments a couple times trying to catch up to James. To be honest, once I got within a second of James, the spray was so bad that I couldn't maintain my pace because I couldn't see. Luckily, when we caught up to lapped traffic, I got a really good run coming onto the front straightaway and I was able to get James going into the first corner. From then, I was able to just manage the traffic and get a pretty decent gap for the finish."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises:
"It was interesting. It was kind of tough for us, because the first laps we were running in the rain were under the green flag in a race. Everybody had to play a little cautious. Rafa (Matos) decided not to do that as much as the rest of us, which is kind of to our benefit, because he was pretty quick. I didn't have the greatest start. I fell back a few places but managed to pick them off. I led at the restart and we had a really good car. The Sierra Sierra guys--I mean, wet, dry, hot, cold, street circuit, road circuit--they just give me fantastic equipment. I paced it for quite a bit and ran a consistent pace, and I was being told that Robbie (Wickens) was catching me. I was trying to watch my mirrors to see where he was gaining. There was one corner in particular where I could physically see he was faster. I tried everything to go quicker and I just couldn't do it through that particular corner. He was a bit better on the brakes. Ultimately, he got a run into the first corner and that was it. I didn't want to force the issue too much, just because we need good point. We need good finishes, especially with Jonathan (Bomarito) and Rafa a little bit further down; I knew it could be a good day for us. He squeezed by and right after he did that, it started to rain a bit more. The spray got pretty bad and I had to try and run a mistake free race from there, which I nearly did. Anyway, good points and I'm just happy for the team."
RYAN LEWIS (#15 NCPI/Deans Knight/Wasteco) of Walker Racing:
"Obviously, coming into the weekend, I was feeling pretty good. I had a good debut here last year. I think it's maybe more suited to what I'm used to back in Europe. It's a fast, sort of, flowing circuit. I genuinely enjoy driving around Portland. It's great fun. The way the race went, it was just a bit unfortunate. I think I probably could have held pace with James and Robert. James got a good jump on us at the start. Robert was driving really well. He drove past and pulled a decent gap on me. Unfortunately, I started trying a bit too hard and ran a bit wide. After that, I had to console myself that I knew I was going to end up in third place. That was what was going to happen here."