Wickens wins Atlantic pole
LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Canadian teen Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) proved on Saturday that Red Bull really does give you wings – at least on the streets of Las Vegas.
The 18-year-old Red Bull Team Forsythe rookie posted a flying lap midway through final-round qualifying for Sunday’s Vegas Grand Prix Atlantic race (tape-delayed on ESPN2 at 5 p.m. ET on Friday, April 13), the opening round of the 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. After clocking the impressive time of 1:30.934 (96.598 mph) on a fresh set of Cooper tires with 14 minutes left in the session, Wickens held on to claim the pole in his first series race.
There were a few anxious moments for the Toronto racer, as several drivers in the talent-laden 27-car Atlantic field tried valiantly to knock him from the pole as the qualifying clock ticked down, but when the dust settled it was Wickens left waving the pole flag.
Wickens will line up on the front row Sunday next to his good friend and fellow Toronto native James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks), who locked up a second-place starting position on Friday when he led the opening round of qualifying. Hinchcliffe, who drives for the Minden, Nevada-based Sierra Sierra Enterprises team, had a disappointing session on Saturday afternoon. After exhibiting consistent speed all weekend, “Hinch” made contact with the wall in the Turn 11 tunnel at the pristine 2.44-mile street circuit in downtown Las Vegas early in qualifying. He was uninjured in the accident but he was forced to miss the rest of the session and also lost his fast lap for causing a stoppage in qualifying. Hinchcliffe still managed to post the ninth-fastest lap of the day at 1:31.896 (95.586 mph) while maintaining his front-row starting spot for Sunday’s race.
After Adrien Herberts (#45 Paladin Motorsports) forced a red flag late in qualifying when he hit the Turn 6 wall, the Atlantic young guns were left with only three minutes of track time to try and better the quick lap established by Wickens. American Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Daltile/Konica Minolta/Dynacor) of PR1 Motorsports gave Wickens the biggest scare as he made a big jump in time on his final lap but he fell just short of pole with a mark of 1:31.126 (96.394 mph). For his effort, however, Bomarito locked up a third-place starting position for the season opener.
Brazilian Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) made it two Sierra Sierra drivers among the top four overall qualifiers as he checked in with a top time of 1:31.147 (96.372 mph). J.R. Hildebrand (#36 Newman Wachs Racing) was impressive on Saturday as well as he produced his top qualifying effort of his young Atlantic career. The rising American star will start fifth on Sunday after producing a lap of 1:31.191 (96.325 mph).
Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport) of France and Condor Motorsports will line up sixth on the starting grid after he clocked a lap of 1:31.202 (96.314 mph). US RaceTronics racer Carl Skerlong (#24 King Taco/USRT) of Washington was just a tick behind Perera as he logged a lap of 1:31.203 (96.313 mph).
After a top-10 effort in the first round of qualifying, Simona De Silvestro (#5 Deans Knight/Wasteco) of Switzerland backed up her performance with another strong session Saturday. The Walker Racing rookie was eighth overall with a fast lap of 1:31.327 (96.182 mph).
Wickens’ Red Bull Team Forsythe teammate John Edwards (#7 Red Bull/INDECK) owned a quick time of 1:31.732 (95.757 mph) while Conquest Racing rookie Giacomo Ricci (#18 Banca Italease/Lotto/Global) of Italy closed out the top 10 rundown from qualifying at 1:31.975 (95.504 mph).
Sunday’s schedule at the Vegas Grand Prix calls for the Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper Atlantic cars to return to the track at 9:45 a.m. PT for a 15-minute warm-up session. Round 1 of the Champ Car Atlantic Championship will begin from a standing start at 4 p.m. and the race is scheduled for 50 minutes.
For more information on North America’s premier open-wheel development series and to follow all of Sunday’s race action from Vegas through the Live Timing link, please visit www.champcaratlantic.com.
ATLANTIC QUALIFYING NOTES
• Rookies occupied seven of the top-10 starting positions in final qualifying
• Wickens became the first winner of the $1,000 Cooper Tire Pole Award. Cooper has also agreed to donate a matching $1,000 at each race to the Hole-in-the-Wall Camps, an official charity of Champ Car
• The top 17 drivers in qualifying were separated by less than two seconds on the timing clock
Quotes from the top three drivers from the final round of qualifying follow:
Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) of Red Bull Team Forsythe
“My session went pretty good. I was able to put a strong lap in under green and I guess luck was on my side because no one was able to match it. The Red Bull Forsythe Team did a great job improving the car from yesterday. (About getting his first pole in his first race) The team was kind of messing with me at the end. They came on the radio to tell me that there was one minute left and right then I botched the chicane. I kept on asking on the radio if someone had beaten my time but no one was saying anything, it was complete silence. I got to my pit box they weren’t doing anything but then they started jumping up and down, the cameras came and it was great. Hopefully I can keep it going tomorrow.”
James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises
“(About his spin) My teammate Raphael and I had different techniques going into that chicane and I thought I would give it a whirl but it didn’t work out well for me. It’s really unfortunate. The Sierra Sierra guys gave me a fantastic car. I made my time on old tires so if it wasn’t for my incident I could have given “young Wickey” a run for his money but that’s how it goes. It’s going to be a hell of a race. There are good passing opportunities in corner one. If you’re bold and brave you can make a move but it doesn’t take much to make a mistake here. It was important to get the pole yesterday to ensure a front row start for tomorrow but this is kind of a dream come true because I have known “young Wickey” for quite a while so to be one-two on the grid is cool but it would have been better if I were first and him second!”
Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Daltile/Konica Minolta/Dynacor) of PR1 Motorsports
“The car was definitely better today. We just kept chipping at it. The track is very interesting, very exciting. For a first year track they did a good job and to have no major issues. It’s very technical and fun. We chipped away at it and continued making progress. The red flag threw a wrench into it because we had just went out on new tires. We were able to scuff the tires on that lap and then when we went back out we only had one lap to bring the heat into the tires, fortunately it is a long lap before we get to the final chicane. At that point, it is difficult driving the car with only one and a half laps of heat into the tires. You just go out and see what happens.”
Combined qualifying times for Sunday's race follow, with car number in parentheses, driver, car, top time and speed.
1. (3) Robert Wickens, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, *1:30.934, 96.598 mph.
2. (9) James Hinchcliffe, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, **1:31.896, 95.586 mph.
3. (23) Jonathan Bomarito, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:31.126, 96.394 mph.
4. (6) Raphael Matos, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:31.147, 96.372 mph.
5. (36) J.R. Hildebrand, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:31.191, 96.325 mph.
6. (11) Frank Perera, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:31.202, 96.314 mph.
7. (24) Carl Skerlong, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:31.203, 96.313 mph.
8. (5) Simona De Silvestro, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:31.327, 96.182 mph.
9. (7) John Edwards, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:31.732, 95.757 mph.
10. (18) Giacomo Ricci, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:31.975, 95.504 mph.
11. (20) Alan Sciuto, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:31.992, 95.487 mph.
12. (44) Matt Lee, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:32.061, 95.415 mph.
13. (2) Tom Sutherland, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:32.209, 95.262 mph.
14. (12) Ronnie Bremmer, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:32.269, 95.200 mph.
15. (16) Junior Strous, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:32.615, 94.844 mph.
16. (45) Adrien Herberts, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:32.679, 94.779 mph.
17. (32) Mike Forest, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:32.863, 94.591 mph.
18. (4) David Garza, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:32.951, 94.501 mph.
19. (26) Justin Sofio, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:33.185, 94.264 mph.
20. (17) Adrian Carrio, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:33.583, 93.863 mph.
21. (13) Frankie Muniz, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:34.290, 93.159 mph.
22. (37) Richard Heistand, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:34.431, 93.020 mph.
23. (19) Brian Thienes, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:34.578, 92.876 mph.
24. (22) Dominick Muermans, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:34.835, 92.624 mph.
25. (49 Dan Selznik, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:35.133, 92.334 mph.
26. (8) Tengyi Jiang, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 1:35.250, 92.220 mph.
27. (21) Bret MacDonald, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper 1:36.662, 90.873 mph.