Atlantic Series set to kick off in Las Vegas
INDIANAPOLIS – It’s certainly fitting that what’s expected to be one of the most thrilling seasons in the storied history of the Atlantic Championship will begin this weekend in the entertainment capital of the world.
The downtown streets of Las Vegas, Nevada will host Round 1 of the 12-race 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, April 6-8 at the Vegas Grand Prix (tape-delayed broadcast on ESPN2 at 5 p.m. ET on Friday, April 13). And while it will be tough to match the glitter and the neon lights that is Vegas, the star-studded field of the Atlantic Championship will certainly do its best to add to the wattage in an action-packed weekend of racing and entertainment.
Equaling its largest field from last season with some of the top developing racers and series champions from across the globe, the 34th season of Atlantic racing will kick off the season in style. A total of 28 entries are expected to take the first green flag of the year from a standing start on Sunday afternoon at the new 2.440-mile street circuit, making it the largest Atlantic field since last year's season opener at Long Beach when 28 cars roared to the starting line. The international appeal of the Atlantic series will also be evident as 11 countries will be represented this weekend, yet the domestic talent is definitely on solid footing as half of the racers in action at Vegas call the United States home.
In addition to the fitting theme of entertainment on and off the racetrack at the ’07 Atlantic lid-lifter, it’s also appropriate to host the first round of competition in Vegas because it’s extremely difficult to handicap the favorites in this year’s field. If someone were to place a wager on which driver would emerge from the pack to seize the Atlantic title and the $2 million champion’s bonus to compete in the Champ Car World Series in 2008, they’d certainly be taking a gamble.
The smart money might be on either of the series sophomores racing for the experienced Sierra Sierra Enterprise Atlantic team, headquartered in Minden, Nevada. Brazil’s Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) is back for his second season with Sierra Sierra and he’s the top returning racer from last season, when he finished fourth in the championship behind a win and a series-high four poles. After finishing with a top-three time in all three pre-season series open tests, “Rafa” looks to be in fine form entering Las Vegas. He might face his stiffest competition both this weekend and all season long from his stablemate, however. Canadian James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) also won and scored a pole position last season while finishing 10th overall in the title chase. He joins the Sierra Sierra squad in ’07 and after dominating the second series pre-season test in Houston, he’s ready to take his spot up front and seriously contend for the crown.
The Walker Racing team, which captured the ’06 Atlantic title with little-known rookie and current champ Car driver Simon Pagenaud, also returns with a strong program this season. After an impressive first year that saw him claim three podiums in just nine starts, British driver Ryan Lewis (#15 NCPI/Deans Knight/Wasteco) joins the Walker crew. Lewis will team up with teenage rookie female racer Simona De Silvestro (#5 Deans Knight/Wasteco) of Switzerland, who was a winner last year in Formula BMW USA competition. Both Walker racers will look for a strong start to the season in Las Vegas.
The 2005 series championship-winning team – Condor Motorsports – enters the season with a three-car lineup and high hopes of reclaiming the Atlantic hardware. French rookie Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport) dominated the final pre-season open test at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in his first time competing in the U.S. The former GP2 racer and Formula One test driver loves street racing and he’ll get a chance to demonstrate his street skills in his first series race this weekend. Fellow first-year pilot Junior Strous (#16 Shell/Best Box/HTP/Red, White & Bluezz USA) of the Netherlands will also be a force for the Condor team, along with experienced Anmerican driver Brian Thienes (#19 Thienes Engineering).
A pair of drivers looking to battle for not only series top rookie honors, but also the overall title in ’07, will compete at the Vegas Grand Prix for Red Bull Team Forsythe. Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) of Canada and American John Edwards (#7 Red Bull/INDECK) join the Forsythe squad – one of the winningest teams in Atlantic history – this season. Both Wickens, the Formula BMW USA defending champion, and Edwards, a racewinner in European Formula Renault last season, are established members of the Red Bull Junior Driver Development Team and each teenage racer showed impressive speed and maturity in pre-season testing.
The California-based US RaceTronics team makes the jump from a one-car program to a strong two-car effort this season. David Garza (#4 Axtel/Tecate/Madisa/USRT) of Mexico moves up from Formula BMW USA to join the emerging squad and he was a consistent top-10 performer in off-season testing. His rookie teammate, American Carl Skerlong (#24 King Taco/USRT) – the winner of the ’06 Formula TR 2000 Pro Series title – also showed blazing speed in testing and both drivers expect solid results in ’07.
After ending 2006 with the team’s first Atlantic win, PR1 Motorsports returns with the same potent driver lineup this year. Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Daltile/Konica Minolta/Dynacor) of Monterey, California closed out last season with a victory at Road America and the third-year series racer will look to build on that momentum to start the season. Mike Forest (#32 Miracle Sealants/Daltile/Konica Minolta/Dynacor/Earthwater) of Canada also is back for the PR1 squad for his first full season in the series.
In its first year of Atlantic action, Conquest Racing finished second in the championship last season with Graham Rahal. The squad will look to equal those results or go one better in ’07 with talented rookies Giacomo Ricci (#18 Banca Italease/Lotto/Global) and Matt Lee (#44 Conquest Racing). Italy’s Ricci won the Formula 3000 Italian and Euro titles last year while the American Lee scored a pair of wins while finishing second in Formula BMW USA in 2006.
Newman Wachs Racing is back for its sophomore season after a strong series debut last year. The team expects even better results in ’07 led by supreme American talent J.R. Hildebrand (#36 Newman Wachs Racing). Last season Hildebrand enjoyed a dominant performance winning 12 of 14 races en route to the FF2000 series title. After pacing one of the Atlantic series test sessions at Sebring in January, Hildebrand looks ready to come out strong at Las Vegas.
The Jensen MotorSport Atlantic team is also hoping for a strong Round 1 effort in Vegas. With new sponsors, a new look and a new three-car driver lineup, the experienced Jensen team eyes a breakout year in ’07. Actor-turned-racer Frankie Muniz (#13 Hard Rock Vegas/Chandler Development) of “Malcolm in the Middle” TV fame, makes his Atlantic debut this weekend after competing in Formula BMW USA last year. American teen Tom Sutherland (#2 Clickaway Computer) will also see his first series action this weekend along with Dutch driver Dominick Muermans (#22 Muermans Group) for the Jensen squad.
A returning series racer and a seasoned rookie will compete at the Vegas Grand Prix for Polestar Racing Group. Ronnie Bremer (#12 The RoomStore of Phoenix/Sealy/PRG) of Denmark raced for Polestar in 2004 and finished fifth in the series title chase that season before moving up to Champ Car the following year. Bremer returns to the squad this weekend and he’ll be paired with Bret MacDonald (#21 Brelia Ent./BAM/BCP/Rock House), an American racer who distinguished himself in the Formula TR 2000 Pro Series over the last few seasons.
Led by developing young American drivers Adrian Carrio (#17 Carrio Cabling Company) and Richard Heistand (#37 Eola Capital Investments), Genoa Racing returns to the series this year and Vegas will be the team’s first series start since the mid 90s. Carrio is the defending Star Mazda Series champion while Heistand showed solid skills in the Skip Barber National Championship Series last season.
Atlantic sophomore Alan Sciuto (#20 The RoomStore of Phoenix) returns to competition in 2007 with his own team, Alan Sciuto Racing, and the young Californian is anxious to test out the new Vegas circuit.
Justin Sofio (#26 RLM Investments) of Mathiasen Motorsports begins his fourth Atlantic season in 2007 and with an increased focus and expanded technical team, the American driver is looking for more consistent results.
Brooks Associates Racing begins its 13th Atlantic season at Las Vegas and the team will count on talented Chinese rookie Jiang Tengyi (#8 Champ Car Grand Prix of China) to come out of the gates strong in Las Vegas.
American Dan Selznick (#49 The RoomStore of Phoenix) of The Room Store team returns for his fifth year competing in Atlantics and the newest team to join the series – Paladin Motorsports – makes its first start this weekend with Canadian rookie Adrien Herberts (#45 Paladin Motorsports).
All Atlantic cars competing at Vegas are Swift 016.a chassis powered by 300-horsepower Mazda-Cosworth MZR engines capable of speeds in excess of 175 mph. Each entry will ride on new Cooper Atlantic racing slicks and rain tires. Friday morning the season gets underway with a practice session from 8-8:35 a.m. (local) Pacific Time. The opening round of qualifying will take place from 12:45-1:20 p.m. Friday. On Saturday morning the Atlantics return to the track for practice from 8-8:45 a.m. The final round of qualifying will be held from 12:30-1:05 p.m. Saturday. The Mazda-Cosworth engines will fire to begin the first race day of the season with a 15-minute warm-up practice from 9:45-10 a.m. Sunday morning. The Vegas Grand Prix Atlantic race will take place after the Champ Car World Series season opener and will get underway at 4 p.m. Sunday. The race, which will begin from a standing start on the downtown streets, is scheduled for 50 minutes. For additional information and to follow all of the weekend action as it happens through the Live Timing link, visit the official web site of North America’s premier open-wheel development series, www.champcaratlantic.com.
COOPER TIRES PRESENTS THE CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP POWERED BY MAZDA
VEGAS GRAND PRIX CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC RACE
WHAT: Vegas Grand Prix Champ Car Atlantic Championship Race
WHERE: Streets of downtown Las Vegas – Las Vegas, Nevada, April 6-8
CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local): FRIDAY, APRIL 6 – 8-8:35 a.m., Practice; 12:45-1:20 p.m., First-Round Qualifying. SATURDAY, APRIL 7 – 8-8:45 a.m., Practice; 12:30-1:05 p.m., Final-Round Qualifying. SUNDAY, APRIL 8 – 9:45-10 a.m., Warm-up, 4-5 p.m., Atlantic Race.
U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: FRIDAY, APRIL 13 – ESPN2, The Vegas Grand Prix Champ Car Atlantic Championship Race at 5 p.m. ET.
TRACK LAYOUT: 2.440-mile temporary street circuit
RACE LENGTH: 50-minute time limit
TRACK RECORDS: No records have been established at this venue as it is new to the Atlantic schedule this season
RACE ROUND: 1 of 12 in the 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda
NEXT RACE: The Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 13-15 on the streets of downtown Long Beach