The depth of talent among the 2008 Atlantic Series drivers is nothing short of amazing. Of the thirteen drivers who have contested all 9 races thus far in the season, nearly half, that's 6, have won a race in 2008. I don't know of any other ...
The depth of talent among the 2008 Atlantic Series drivers is nothing short of amazing. Of the thirteen drivers who have contested all 9 races thus far in the season, nearly half, that's 6, have won a race in 2008. I don't know of any other development series who can offer a young driver such fabulous odds of winning. And, in a direct refutation of a common complaint, as some will continue to grumble about the opportunities for American drivers, three of the six have been Americans. Today was Seattle's Carl Skerlong's turn. In a totally dominating performance at New Jersey Motorsports Park's Thunderbolt Raceway, Skerlong claimed his first career win in the Cooper Tires Presents the Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda victory in the inaugural Mazda Formula X.
Driving the #14 King Taco car for Pacific Coast Motorsports, he led every session in which he participated throughout the weekend. He earned the maximum number of championship points (34) from the weekend, taking bonus points for being the fastest qualifier in both qualifying sessions and also earning a bonus point for turning the race's fastest lap in addition to his 31 points for the victory under hot and humid conditions. He led every lap to win by 2.464 seconds ahead of rookie Markus Niemela. And, in a truly formidable demonstration of driving skills, there were no full course yellows all day.
"It was long, but I could have kept going for hours at that pace," Skerlong said. "We had an awesome car all weekend. Lapped traffic started to play into it, but in the end, we came out on top. They weren't throwing blue flags like they normally do. It's a new track and new corner workers, so it's somewhat to be expected. Going green to checkered, it was kind of surprising to me considering how practice and qualifying went. It made for a long race. It is a very physical track, but in the first time here, to take the first victory I really couldn't ask for much more. It's hot, I'm sweaty, but all in all, it was great."
Niemela, who earned his front row start due to qualifying second in Sunday morning's second round of qualifications, wisely chose to tuck his car behind Skerlong on the race's standing start and never seriously challenged the victor for the lead. Driving the #8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen/Rauma Town/Turku Karting car for Brooks Racing, Markus earned his third second- place result of the season. With only two races remaining this year, and as he said in his end of the race interview, Niemela is more than ready to stop being wing man and claim the top spot on the podium for himself. His patience and consistency have caused him to move into a solid third place in the points standings.
"It was hot and quite humid," Niemela said. "Last year, I was racing in Malaysia in the middle of the summer and I thought it was quite hot, but this wasn't far from that. It was so humid and hot, but it was the same for everybody. It's kind of fun, every once in awhile, to race in extreme conditions. This was one of those. I was happy I could do all right until the end. I didn't make any mistakes and didn't have any physical problems, so that was good. "
"My biggest problem in the race, I lost my radio 13 minutes into the race. After that, I didn't know what was going on. I kind of cooled off for a while, because Carl was too far in front of me. I couldn't catch him unless he made a mistake. Then, I thought I would push for the fastest lap in the end when the car was lighter and try to get him to make a mistake, which he didn't do. That was my motivation at the end of the race. Second place is not bad, but obviously, I have to start winning. I'm beginning to get a bit fed up with being second. It's good, but you can never be satisfied with second."
Meanwhile, double race winner Jonathan Summerton is in second place in season points, a mere 16 points behind points leader Jonathan Bomarito. In addition, Jonathan S leads Rookie of the Year by a much slimmer 6 point margin. Summerton earned his third consecutive podium result with a third- place run in the #36 Newman Wachs Racing entry. It was also the American's fourth podium in the last five races and was his seventh result of sixth or better of the season.
"Coming from Florida, I guess everybody was saying that I'm used to this, but when you're in the car and there's not very much breeze, it gets pretty hot," Summerton said. "I'm real happy for the team. We're going for points and we're going for the championship. The traffic kind of cost us a little. Maybe we could have gotten up to second. This morning in qualifying, we struggled a lot. I think if we would have qualified in the top two, we could have put a fight to Carl. It didn't happen, but we managed to pull a third out from that and I'm really happy about that."
The teams now have less than a week to travel west for next week's September 21st contest at Miller Motorsport Park. Then, it's back towards the Right Coast for what promises to be an exciting finale October 3rd at Road Atlanta.