Hinchcliffe again on top at MSR Houston
They say Canadians are at home in cold weather and James Hinchcliffe certainly proved that he was comfortable in the unusually frigid conditions in Texas on Saturday. The Sierra Sierra Enterprises racer completed a dominant two days on the MSR Houston road circuit as he led both sessions for the second consecutive day to complete a clean sweep of the Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda open test.
The 20-year-old Toronto native shattered the unofficial Atlantic track record on the 2.38-mile fast road circuit located about 30 miles south of Houston. After dominating Friday in his first test session with the Sierra Sierra squad, “Hinch” once again rose above the cold, cloudy and windy conditions on Saturday. His fast lap of 1:18.345 (109.363 mph), posted in this morning’s session, eclipsed the previous series track mark of 1:18.669 set last year by Hinchcliffe’s former Forsythe Racing teammate Andreas Wirth during a series test session. For good measure, Hinchcliffe went out and led the final session of the day as well, although his time was slightly slower than his blistering morning pace.
“I really have to give thanks to the Sierra Sierra team. This is like a dream come true,” said a surprised Hinchcliffe immediately after conclusion of the test. “With a new team, a new car and even a new racing tire there’s always a lot of unknowns and for us to come here and lead every session was really expecting too much too soon. It’s really a bit of a shock, but I fully expect that at the next test the competition will be even tougher. We’ve got a lot of fast rookies in the series who are still learning the car. We still have a lot of work that needs to be done before the start of the season.”
The performance of the new Atlantic Cooper tire was perhaps even more impressive than Hinchcliffe’s results from the weekend. Despite temperatures in the mid 40s in the morning and the low 50s throughout the day, the Cooper rubber stood strong on the bumpy circuit and helped the series competitors produce remarkable lap times in very difficult conditions. “The tires were really impressive all weekend,” remarked Hinchcliffe. “They were very consistent and I think they’re really going to make the racing exciting this season. To blitz the track record in conditions like this says a lot about the quality of the Cooper tires.”
For the second consecutive day, Hinchcliffe edged out his Sierra Sierra teammate Raphael Matos for the top time. Matos also broke the previous series track record at MSR Houston as he carded a fast lap of 1:18.625 (108.973 mph), established on Saturday morning as well.
“We really accomplished a lot at this test and it’s great for the team to have two cars running up front,” said Matos, who owned the fastest time at the first series open test of ’07 last month in Sebring. “This is a great start to the season.”
After the impressive times recorded by the Sierra Sierra duo of Hinchcliffe and Matos, rookies claimed the next seven spots on the combined testing leaderboard. John Edwards of Red Bull Team Forsythe led the freshman force as he clocked a lap of 1:18.778 (108.761 mph) to wind up third overall at the test.
“On Friday I think we had a little bit more in the car so we were able to rebound a little better today,” said the 15-year-old Edwards. “Overall we were pretty satisfied with the test. We learned some things that we’ll be able to use once the season starts and now we’ll look forward to the next test (in March) at Laguna Seca.”
The US RaceTronics team proved that it will be a force to be reckoned with this season as its two rookie drivers each posted top-five overall times at the test. Mexico’s David Garza (Right) trailed only Hinchcliffe in Saturday’s final session and Garza’s fast mark of 1:18.787 (108.749 mph) ranked fourth overall over the two days. His teammate, American Carl Skerlong, ranked fifth with a fast lap of 1:18.915 (108.573 mph).
“It was a big change for us from the Sebring test, where we struggled a bit,” said Skerlong. “The competition in Atlantics is unparalleled and to run up at the front really gives us a lot of confidence as a team.”
Walker Racing rookie Simona De Silvestro (Right)enjoyed her second strong testing performance of the pre-season. The 18-year-old Swiss racer wound up sixth overall with a top time of 1:18.967 (108.501 mph). Canada’s Robert Wickens of Red Bull Team Forsythe slotted in seventh at 1:18.983 (108.479 mph), while American Matt Lee owned a fast lap of 1:19.154 (108.245 mph) to claim eighth for Conquest Racing.
A pair of talented American racers completed the top-10 rundown for the test as J.R. Hildebrand of Newman Wachs Racing checked in at 1:19.161 (108.235 mph) and PR1 Motorsports’ Jonathan Bomarito posted a lap of 1:19.196 (108.187 mph).
The durability of the Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper Atlantic cars continued to impress as the 26 competitors that tested over the course of the two days ran nearly 11,000 miles with very few problems reported.
The final pre-season test for the Atlantics will be held March 7-8 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca before the 2007 season officially gets the green flag at the inaugural Vegas Grand Prix, 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 the two-day Atlantic test at MSR Houston follow:
James Hinchcliffe, Sierra Sierra Enterprises – 1:18.345/109.362 mph
Raphael Matos, Sierra Sierra Enterprises – 1:18.625/108.973 mph
John Edwards (R), Red Bull Team Forsythe – 1:18.778/108.761 mph
David Garza (R), US RaceTronics – 1:18.787/108.749 mph
Carl Skerlong (R), US RaceTronics – 1:18.915/108.573 mph
Simona De Silvestro (R), Walker Racing – 1:18.967/108.501 mph
Robert Wickens (R), Red Bull Team Forsythe – 1:18.983/108.479 mph
Matt Lee (R), Conquest Racing – 1:19.154/108.245 mph
J.R. Hildebrand (R), Newman Wachs Racing – 1:19.161/108.235 mph
Jonathan Bomarito, PR1 Motorsports – 1:19.196/108.187 mph
Giacomo Ricci (R), Conquest Racing – 1:19.352/107.975 mph
Daniel Herrington (R), Newman Wachs Racing – 1:19.391/107.922 mph
Maximilian Gotz (R), Gelles Racing – 1:19.434/107.863 mph
Adrian Carrio (R), Genoa Racing – 1:19.685/107.523 mph
Junior Strous (R), Condor Motorsports – 1:19.917/107.211 mph
Adrien Herberts (R), Paladin Motorsports – 1:19.976/107.132 mph
Tom Sutherland (R), Jensen MotorSport – 1:20.046/107.038 mph
Justin Sofio, Mathiasen Motorsports – 1:20.058/107.022 mph
Mike Forest (R), PR1 Motorsports – 1:20.190/106.846 mph
Ryan Lewis, Walker Racing – 1:20.257/106.757 mph
Alan Sciuto, Gelles Racing – 1:20.508/106.424 mph
Gavin Cronje (R), Gelles Racing – 1:20.601/106.301 mph
Frankie Muniz (R), Jensen MotorSport – 1:20.675/106.204 mph
Tonis Kasemets, Polestar Racing Group – 1:21.018/105.754 mph
Dominick Muermans (R), Jensen MotorSport – 1:21.123/105.617 mph
Richard Heistand (R), Gelles Racing – 1:21.844/104.687 mph
Champ Car Atlantic PR