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Rookie Perera leads first day of Atlantic Testing
Much like the fast Frenchmen that have come before him recently in both the Champ Car Atlantic Championship and the Champ Car World Series, it didn’t take rookie Franck Perera long to make an impact on the test track.

The 22-year-old native of Montpellier, France made the most of his first time driving an Atlantic machine as he topped all 23 drivers testing Wednesday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the first day of the final pre-season open test for the Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. After just putting together a deal to test for the veteran Condor Motorsports Atlantic squad over the weekend, Perera came out blazing on the 2.238-mile classic road circuit. He led the morning session by more than two-tenths-of-a-second over his closest competitor and he followed that up by unofficially breaking the series track record while pacing the final session of the day.

Perera posted an impressive lap of 1:16.634 (105.133 mph) in the early afternoon, a time that easily surpassed the official track record of 1:16.986 (104.653 mph), established by A.J. Allmendinger during his Atlantic championship-winning season of 2003. The performance harkened back to the dynamic debuts of both three-time reigning Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais and defending Atlantic champion Simon Pagenaud – also both of France – who turned heads while turning remarkable lap times at their first testing performances in their respective series.

“I was a little surprised to be leading in the morning, being that it was my first time in this car and my first time at this track, but I wanted to end the day on top,” said Perera, who’s established himself in Europe racing in Formula Renault, the F3 Euro Series and the GP2 Championship. “Coming from GP2 maybe I have a little more experience than some other rookies but this is a tough jump going from GP2 to an Atlantic car. Today was good, but testing is not finished yet. We still have a lot of work to do tomorrow.”

After finishing second at Monaco in GP2 competition last season, Perera said that one of the things that interests him about Atlantics and racing in America is the challenge of competing on a street circuit. If he’s able to secure a ride for this season with the 2005 series champion Condor Motorsports team, he’ll have plenty of chances to show his street skills. In the meantime, he’ll get another chance to demonstrate his road racing acumen on Thursday at Mazda Raceway.

Only slightly overshadowed by Perera’s performance in the opening day of testing was Raphael Matos of Sierra Sierra Enterprises. The second-year Atlantic standout also showed impressive speed Wednesday and unofficially topped Allmendinger’s track record as well with a quick lap of 1:16.684 (105.065 mph). Matos, who led the first series open test of the season at Sebring, felt good about his performance at the venue where he captured both the 2003 Skip Barber National Championship and the 2005 Star Mazda title.

“It was definitely a good day for us and we can use a lot of the information we’re learning here at the high-speed tracks we race at this season,” said Matos. “We were quickest at Sebring and my teammate James (Hinchcliffe) led the second test at Houston while I was second and now we’re second today. To be one of the quickest cars at every test really builds the team’s confidence heading into the first race of the year in Las Vegas.”

In just his second test for the Conquest Racing team, Italy’s Giacomo Ricci turned it on late in the day to claim the third-fastest time of 1:17.117 (104.475 mph). David Garza of Mexico posted his second straight strong testing effort for the US Racetronics team. Garza, who was fourth overall last month in the series test at MSR Houston, occupied the same position in Wednesday’s combined test times with a mark of 1:17.215 (104.342 mph).

Canadian Robert Wickens rounded out the top-five times of the day with a lap of 1:17.243 (104.305 mph) for Red Bull Team Forsythe, while local Monterey racer Jonathan Bomarito of PR1 Motorsports slotted in sixth on the testing leaderboard at 1:17.244 (104.303 mph).

With a fast time of 1:17.312 (104.212 mph), Great Britain’s Ryan Lewis was seventh for Walker Racing, while American John Edwards was eighth after posting a top lap of 1:17.381 (104.199 mph). A couple of other talented U.S. racers completed the top-10 rundown as Jonathan Summerton, testing for Brooks Associates Racing, was clocked at 1:17.478 (103.988 mph) and Carl Skerlong checked in at 1:17.566 (103.870 mph) for US RaceTronics.

The Atlantics complete the pre-season testing schedule on Thursday with another full-day of track activity at Mazda Raceway. The 2007 season officially takes the green flag April 6-8 at the inaugural Vegas Grand Prix on the downtown streets of Las Vegas, Nevada. Visit www.champcaratlantic.com to learn more about North America’s top open-wheel development series and to follow all of Thursday’s testing action from Laguna Seca through the Live Timing link.

Combined lap times from Wednesday’s Atlantic testing at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca follow:

  1. Franck Perera (R), Condor Motorsports – 1:16..634/105.133
  2. Raphael Matos, Sierra Sierra Enterprises – 1:16.684/105.065 mph
  3. Giacomo Ricci (R), Conquest Racing – 1:17.117/104.475 mph
  4. David Garza (R), US RaceTronics – 1:17.215/104.342 mph
  5. Robert Wickens (R), Red Bull Team Forsythe – 1:17.243/104.305 mph
  6. Jonathan Bomarito, PR1 Motorsports – 1:17.244/104.303 mph
  7. Ryan Lewis, Walker Racing – 1:17.312/104.212 mph
  8. John Edwards (R), Red Bull Team Forsythe – 1:17.381/104.119 mph
  9. Jonathan Summerton (R), Brooks Associates Racing – 1:17.478/103.988
  10. Carl Skerlong (R), US RaceTronics – 1:17.566/103.870 mph
  11. Adrian Carrio (R), Genoa Racing – 1:17.631/103.783 mph
  12. J.R. Hildebrand (R), Newman Wachs Racing – 1:17.661/103.743 mph
  13. Matt Lee (R), Conquest Racing – 1:17.702/103.688 mph
  14. Simona De Silvestro (R), Walker Racing – 1:17.737/103.642 mph
  15. Justin Sofio, Mathiasen Motorsports – 1:17.751/103.623 mph
  16. Adrien Herberts (R), Paladin Motorsports – 1:17.996/103.298 mph
  17. James Hinchcliffe, Sierra Sierra Enterprises – 1:18.013/103.275 mph
  18. Tom Sutherland (R), Jensen MotorSport – 1:18.621/102.476 mph
  19. *Adrian Carrio (R), Genoa Racing – 1:18.662/102.423 mph
  20. Dane Cameron (R), Polestar Racing Group – 1:18.694/102.381 mph
  21. Brian Thienes (R), Condor Motorsports – 1:18.758/102.298 mph
  22. Frankie Muniz (R), Jensen MotorSport – 1:19.019/101.960 mph
  23. Mike Forest (R), PR1 Motorsports – 1:19.208/101.717 mph
  24. Dominick Muermans (R), Jensen MotorSport – 1:19.670/101.127 mp
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