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Sebring: Rookie sensation Hildebrand tops Sunday times
If the teams of the 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda were hoping to see how their race cars responded to ever-changing conditions during this weekend’s two-day, pre-season open test, then Sunday had to be considered a smashing success.

The 15 Atlantic teams that participated in the first of three series-sanctioned test sessions scheduled prior to the beginning of the ’07 season encountered nearly every possible scenario Sunday at Sebring International Raceway. The day began with a steady downpour of rain dousing the 1.669-mile short road course and conditions turned dry, but cold and windy by mid day. The Florida sunshine began to emerge in the afternoon, bringing warm conditions to the already-challenging circuit, and by the end of the day the weather began to cool once more with gusty winds adding to the chill.

While Mother Nature kept the competitors on their toes all day, she also gave the Atlantic clan plenty of opportunity to test all kinds of racing setups for the upcoming season. The elements added to an already exciting first glimpse of the new series lineup as 24 Atlantic racers got the chance to show how their skills applied to the different conditions. And while the lap times were slower than the first day of testing at Sebring after the rains washed away the rubber on the track, the competition was just as fierce with the top 20 testers separated by less than a second on the timing sheets Sunday.

As testing came to a close it was one of the top rising American racing stars that owned the quickest lap of the day. After posting the third-fastest time Saturday in the first day of testing, Newman Wachs Racing rookie J.R. Hildebrand led the talented Atlantic field with a fast lap of 58.709 (102.342 mph), achieved in the final session of the day.

“We just have a lot of momentum right now,” said the 18-year-old native of Sausalito, California. “To run this well in the first series test with basically a whole new team – we have two new drivers, new engineers and new mechanics – and to work so well together right off the bat, it just bodes well for Newman Wachs Racing this season. And with the changing conditions, it’s definitely something you’re happy you get to deal with on a test day. Now when we get into the season and the weather throws something at you, you know you’re ready to handle with it.”

Another talented teen racer also stood strong against the ever-changing elements. Forsythe Racing driver John Edwards continued to show impressive speed throughout the day and he clocked the second-fastest lap with a mark of 58.831 (102.130 mph), also coming in Sunday’s final afternoon session.

“It was a great test overall,” remarked the 15-year-old Red Bull-sponsored racer. “We worked on a few things but we really wanted to see how we measured up against some of the other top teams in the series. We proved we can be fast. We wound up P2 and we could’ve been P1 if some things could’ve gone our way but we just couldn’t get that last tenth-of-a-second. For sure it was possible and for sure we know we can be contenders this season.”

After series veterans dominated the top spots in Saturday testing, second-year driver Ryan Lewis recorded the fastest lap among the experienced Atlantic racers Sunday. The 22-year-old Walker Racing pilot was third in the day’s rundown with a time of 58.885 (102.036 mph).

On Saturday, Raphael Matos posted the fastest time of the weekend with the returning Sierra Sierra Enterprises driver blistering the clock at 58.587 (102.555 mph). Sunday the speedy Brazilian remained among the top testers, settling in with the fourth-best mark of the day at 58.907 (101.998 mph). Canada’s Robert Wickens of the Forsythe Racing Red Bull squad completed a strong test by claiming fifth on Sunday’s leaderboard with his top time of 58.910 (101.993 mph).

Simona De Silvestro proved to be very fast in both the rain and in the dry. The Walker Racing rookie finished among the top seven for the second consecutive day as she wound up sixth in Sunday’s times with a lap of 58.918 (101.979 mph). Adrien Herberts of Paladin Motorsports was seventh at 58.944 (101.934 mph) while Junior Strous of The Netherlands and Condor Motorsports checked in with a time of 58.983 (101.867 mph) to claim eighth on the day. Fellow rookie Matt Lee of Conquest Racing was ninth at 58.984 (101.865 mph). PR1 Motorsports driver Jonathan Bomarito had the second-best overall time at the test but he completed the top 10 Sunday with a lap of 58.985 (101.863 mph).

Over the course of the two days at Sebring, the Atlantic Mazda-Cosworth-powered Swift machines logged nearly 9,000 testing miles with very few problems reported. The new Cooper Atlantic tires proved very durable as well under the sometimes-trying conditions and the new rain rubber held up well in the wet on the bumpy circuit.

The series returns to the testing trail at the MSR Houston road circuit in Angleton, Texas with another open test February 9-10 before closing out the pre-season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterrey, California March 7-8. The 2007 officially gets underway at the inaugural Vegas Grand Prix Fueled by Visa, April 6-8 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

For more information on North America’s top open-wheel development series, visit www.champcaratlantic.com

Combined lap times from Sunday’s testing at Sebring follow:

 1 36 J.R. Hildebrand (R) 58.709 102.342 0.000
 2 7 John Edwards (R) 58.831 102.130 0.122
 3 10 Ryan Lewis 58.885 102.036 0.176
 4 6 Raphael Matos 58.907 101.998 0.198
 5 3 Robert Wickens (R) 58.910 101.993 0.201
 6 5 Simona De Silvestro (R) 58.918 101.979 0.209
 7 11 Junior Strous (R) 58.983 101.867 0.274
 8 44 Matt Lee (R) 58.984 101.865 0.275
 9 23 Jonathan Bomarito 58.985 101.863 0.276
 10 15X Jonathan Summerton (R) 58.996 101.844 0.287 zzzz
 11 14 Maximilian Gotz (R) 59.113 101.643 0.404
 12 45 Adrien Herberts (R) 59.236 101.432 0.527
 13 4 David Garza (R) 59.262 101.387 0.553
 14 28 Alan Sciuto 59.329 101.273 0.620
 15 24 Carl Skerlong (R) 59.343 101.249 0.634
 16 34 Daniel Herrington (R) 59.362 101.216 0.653
 17 32 Mike Forest (R) 59.426 101.107 0.717
 18 18 Patrick Hogan (R) 59.482 101.012 0.773
 19 17 Adrian Carrio (R) 59.571 100.861 0.862
 20 8 Michael Patrizi (R) 59.624 100.772 0.915
 21 2 Tom Sutherland (R) 59.743 100.571 1.034
 22 26 Justin Sofio 59.790 100.492 1.081
 23 13 Frankie Muniz (R) 59.911 100.289 1.202
 24 12 Richard Heistand (R) 1:00.808 98.809 2.099

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