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Hinchcliffe Leads Sierra Sierra Sweep at MSR Houston
ANGLETON, Texas – There apparently was no courting period needed in the budding relationship between Canadian racer James Hinchcliffe (right) and his new team, Sierra Sierra Enterprises. Friday had all the spark and magic of a dream first date for the pairing as Hinchcliffe convincingly led both the morning and afternoon sessions in the first of two days of pre-season testing at the MSR Houston road course for the Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.

In his first day testing for the veteran Atlantic Sierra Sierra squad, Hinchcliffe and the team clicked right away and seemed to find more of a groove as the day went along. Running under dark cloudy skies and unseasonably cool conditions in the 50s throughout the day, “Hinch” provided the heat as he led all 25 cars that turned lap times Friday, stopping the clock with a mark of 1:18.785 (108.752 mph). The 20-year-old Toronto native had a cushion of nearly four-tenths-of-a-second over the rest of the talented Atlantic field in the afternoon after pacing the morning session by more than six-tenths-of-a-second over his closest competitor.

“This was a fantastic first day,” said Hinchcliffe, who finished 10th in the 2006 Atlantic Championship. “I came on this new team, we got to know each other and bang, we were able to gel quickly and put it together fast and do well right out of the box. I know it’s just testing, and it doesn’t count, but it’s still a good start.”

Hinchcliffe was pushed hardest on Friday by his Sierra Sierra teammate, Raphael Matos (pictured right with his engineer Lee Dykstra). After posting the fastest overall time last month at Sebring in the first of three series open tests in ’07, Matos came back with a strong opening-day effort on the fast 2.38-mile MSR Houston track. The Brazilian rising star owned the sixth-fastest lap in the morning session but closed strong to finish second overall on the day with a quick time of 1:19.169 (108.224 mph) in the afternoon.

“It was good because both me and Hinchcliffe had a chance to try a lot of things on the cars,” said Matos, who was fourth in the final ’06 Atlantic standings. “We wanted to finish P1 but we were struggling a little bit in the tight corners with some understeer. The crew did an amazing job today and we’ll work on improving that a little so hopefully we can be on top (on Saturday).”

Adding that his teammate helped to get the most out of his performance Friday, Hinchcliffe said that as two of the top returning drivers in the series, both he and Matos need to be on their game to hold off a pack of very speedy newcomers.

“To have two cars really helps,” commented Hinchcliffe. “We (Raphael and I) just keep pushing each other to go faster all the time. Hopefully we can keep this up. I am really impressed at how these young rookies in the series are running fast and giving us ‘old’ guys a run for our money.”

The top rookie on the day was another Toronto racing product – 17-year-old Red Bull Team Forsythe driver Robert Wickens. He was second only to Hinchcliffe in the first session of the day and he carded a top time of 1:19.360 (107.964 mph) to claim third overall on the timing sheets.

“It went better than I expected. After Sebring, I knew I was quick enough to run up front. But I also knew there was still a lot left in my driving. The Forsythe Red Bull team is great. They gave me a great car. I need to try and push it to the limit,” said Wickens, who admitted that he needs to make up some ground to his countryman. “It’s frustrating to see that James Hinchcliffe is five tenths faster. We made some changes to the car but it was too rushed, and I didn’t get to go back out to try and beat his time. I’m hoping for good weather tomorrow and a great day of testing again.”

Rookie David Garza of Mexico and the US RaceTronics team also had a strong day. After posting the third-fastest time in the morning, Garza wound up fourth on the leaderboard with a top lap of 1:19.390 (107.923 mph). Atlantic veteran Jonathan Bomarito of PR1 Motorsports completed the top five on Friday with a quick count of 1:19.500 (107.774 mph).

After signing with Conquest Racing on Friday, Italy’s Giacomo Ricci was sixth at 1:19.553 (107.702 mph), while fellow rookie Carl Skerlong of Washington and US RaceTronics posted a time of 1:19.589 (107.653 mph) to claim seventh. Newman Wachs Racing’s Daniel Herrington of North Carolina had a fast lap of 1:19.768 (107.411 mph) in eighth overall. New York’s Matt Lee of Conquest Racing checked in at 1:19.780 (107.395 mph) while Arkansas native John Edwards of Red Bull Team Forsythe closed out Friday’s top 10 at 1:19.784 (107.390 mph). The top 10 drivers were separated by less than a second on the scoring clock and the entire field completed more 5,400 miles during the course of the day.

Even colder temperatures are in the forecast for Saturday as the Atlantics return to the testing track at 9 a.m. ET on Saturday. Visit www.champcaratlantic.com to learn more about North America’s top open-wheel development series and to follow all of Saturday’s action from MSR Houston through the Live Timing link.

Combined lap times from Friday’s Atlantic testing at MSR Houston:

James Hinchcliffe, Sierra Sierra Enterprises – 1:18.785/108.752 mph
Raphael Matos, Sierra Sierra Enterprises – 1:19.169/108.224 mph
Robert Wickens (R), Red Bull Team Forsythe – 1:19.360/107.964 mph
David Garza (R), US RaceTronics – 1:19.390/107.923 mph
Jonathan Bomarito, PR1 Motorsports – 1:19.500/107.774 mph
Giacomo Ricci (R), Conquest Racing – 1:19.553/107.702 mph
Carl Skerlong (R), US RaceTronics – 1:19.589/107.653 mph
Daniel Herrington (R), Newman Wachs Racing – 1:19.768/107.411 mph
Matt Lee (R), Conquest Racing – 1:19.780/107.395 mph
John Edwards (R), Red Bull Team Forsythe – 1:19.784/107.390 mph
J.R. Hildebrand (R), Newman Wachs Racing – 1:19.831/107.327 mph
Junior Strous (R), Condor Motorsports – 1:19.977/107.131 mph
Simona De Silvestro (R), Walker Racing – 1:20.075/107.000 mph
Ryan Lewis, Walker Racing – 1:20.391/106.579 mph
Adrian Carrio (R), Genoa Racing – 1:20.408/106.557 mph
Alan Sciuto, Gelles Racing – 1:20.508/106.424 mph
Gavin Cronje (R), Gelles Racing – 1:20.885/105.928 mph
Justin Sofio, Mathiasen Motorsports – 1:20.924/105.877 mph
Mike Forest (R), PR1 Motorsports – 1:21.149/105.584 mph
Tom Sutherland (R), Jensen MotorSport – 1:21.153/105.578 mph
Dominick Muermans (R), Jensen MotorSport – 1:21.239/105.467 mph
Tonis Kasemets, Polestar Racing Group – 1:21.569/105.040 mph
Frankie Muniz (R), Jensen MotorSport – 1:21.739/104.821 mph
Adrien Herberts (R), Paladin Motorsports – 1:21.928/104.580 mph
Richard Heistand (R), Gelles Racing – 1:23.929/102.086 mph

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