Matos outduels Wickens in Vegas It might not have been pretty but the champagne in Victory Circle tasted just as sweet Sunday for second-year Atlantic racer Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks).
Taking advantage of a strong late-race re-start, Matos claimed his second career series victory as he captured the checkered flag in the inaugural Vegas Grand Prix Atlantic race (tape-delayed broadcast on ESPN2 at 5 p.m. ET on Friday, April 13) – the first of 12 rounds in the Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.
Run on the fast and wide 2.44-mile street circuit constructed on the streets of downtown Las Vegas, Sunday’s season opener was marred by four caution flags. In between some spectacular racing, there were numerous incidents across the track as 15 cars in the field of 27 Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper Atlantic machines were eliminated from the race due to contact.
After the field launched from a standing start in the afternoon sun in Las Vegas, an interesting battle for the lead developed between polewinner and series rookie Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) and his friend and fellow Toronto resident James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks), who started second.
It didn’t take long for the first yellow flag to fly, however, as American rookie Adrian Carrio (#17 Carrio Cabling Company) of Genoa Racing crashed in Turn 4. On the ensuing re-start, Hinchcliffe got a great jump and zoomed past Wickens for the lead in the first turn.
After the second caution period of the day moments later, caused by an accident involving Carl Skerlong (#24 King Taco/USRT) of the US RaceTronics team, Wickens returned the favor. The Red Bull Team Forsythe freshman made a nifty move in Turn 1 to get by Hinchcliffe and reclaim the lead of the race.
Following the afternoon’s third yellow flag, Wickens was able to hold the point on a Lap 14 re-start, but meanwhile Matos, who started fourth, was beginning to make his move. The 25-year-old native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil took command of third place early and then passed his Sierra Sierra Enterprises teammate Hinchcliffe, for second once he saw the green flag on Lap 14.
The next orbit of the circuit saw a spectacular seven-car crash in Turn 3 that forced the next six laps to be run under caution as the busy Champ Car safety team tended to the extensive cleanup. Fortunately, no drivers were injured in any of the day’s incidents but the flow of the race was certainly disrupted.
With the cleanup complete, Matos made the most of his opportunity as he fought by Wickens and into the race lead in the first turn on Lap 19. On the same lap, American Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Daltile/Konica Minolta/Dynacor) overtook Hinchcliffe for third place as the action became furious in the late stages of the event.
On the 22nd and final lap of the race, another multi-car crash took place after Swiss rookie Simona De Silvestro (#5 Deans Knight/Wasteco) of Walker Racing spun in Turn 8. Wickens closed on Matos at the front of the field as the Brazilian slowed to obey the local caution flags waving to alert the competitors of the incident. Matos was able to hold on, however, taking the checkered flag by .160 of a second over the hard-charging rookie.
The victory felt particularly good for Matos as he gave his Sierra Sierra team, located in Minden, Nevada, a win in its “home” race. It also made for a strong start to the season for the series sophomore, who finished fourth in the race for the 2006 Atlantic title, despite leading the second-most laps of any competitor last season.
Wickens brought home a podium result in his first Atlantic race and the 18-year-old racer now trails Matos in the series standings by just two points (31-29) after the first round of action. Bomarito of PR1 Motorsports came home third for his fifth podium finish in 20 career Atlantic starts.
Hinchcliffe made it two Sierra Sierra drivers in the top four as he finished one spot off the podium and French rookie Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport) of Condor Motorsports completed the top-five finishers.
Dutchman Junior Strous (#16 Shell/Best Box/HTP/Red, White & Bluezz USA), also of Condor Motorsports, scored a sixth-place result in his series debut while Atlantic veterans Alan Sciuto (#20 The RoomStore of Phoenix) and Ronnie Bremer (#12 The RoomStore of Phoenix/Sealy/PRG) finished seventh and eighth, respectively.
Mathiasen Motorsports driver Justin Sofio (#26 RLM Investments) posted a top-10 result in ninth place and rookie Matt Lee (#44 Integrated Structure) of Conquest Racing rounded out the top 10.
The Atlantic Championship swings right back into action next week, April 13-15, on the streets of Long Beach with the Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge at the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Make sure to follow all of the action through the Live Timing link at www.champcaratlantic.com.
ATLANTIC RACE NOTES
• Wickens earned a bonus championship point for posting the fastest race lap on the final lap of the race. He established an Atlantic record at the venue with his time of 1:31.554 (95.943 mph).
• American Brian Thienes (#19 Thienes Engineering) of Condor Motorsports also earned a bonus point by improving the most positions in the race. Thienes started 23rd in the event and finished 12th.
Quotes from the top three drivers from Sunday’s race follow:
Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises
“We tried to change our approach a little bit from last year which was going for the win and focus more on getting points this season. Fortunately we were able to get good re-starts and I passed James, Jonathan and Robert and it worked out great for us. On the last re-start when I passed Wickens, I pushed as hard as I could but then the yellow came out and I was a little too conservative. He caught up to me but I was able to retain my position. I knew the race would have a lot of re-starts, a lot of yellow flags, but I did not expect that many. I tried to do my best on the re-starts but you never know what’s going to happen. You have to give credit to the guys, we never touched wheels or did anything stupid. I am just trying to score points and look at the big picture, which is the championship.”
Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) of Red Bull Team Forsythe
“There’s only so many tricks you can pull on a re-start. Luckily I got one re-start where I didn’t get passed but then three corners later the yellow came out. The whole race was kind of a tease. I led in my first race then the yellow would come out and we would have to re-start again. It was hard. I also lost my left mirror on the car so heading into corner one I couldn’t see who was there and that’s when Raphael (Matos) passed me and hats off to him. He ran a strong race and was really fast. Once he had got by me I was hoping it would stay green. I put my head down but there was a local yellow flag so I slowed down and so did Raphael who was a little more cautious than I was so I gained on him a little bit but I just ran out of time. The Red Bull Forsythe team did an incredible job.”
Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Daltile/Konica Minolta/Dynacor) of PR1 Motorsports
“Unfortunately we had so many yellows. It was basically who could time the restarts and be quick on two lap bursts. Unfortunately for the fans there was not much racing but when there was green flag racing there was a lot of going back and forth among the top four, so hopefully they enjoyed that. It was an exciting race. The re-starts are very tricky entering the chicane and you have to get the timing right. Each time it was catching me out a little bit but then at the end I got it right and got around James (Hinchcliffe). I did think there would be numerous yellows but not as bad as it was. It seemed a late, desperate kind of driving and you will get crashes that big with that kind of driving. For us this year it will be points, points, points. Hopefully the guys involved realize that and we can go racing in Long Beach.”
Results from Sunday’s Vegas Grand Prix Atlantic race with starting position in parentheses, driver, type of car, laps completed and reason out, if any:
1. (4) Raphael Matos, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 22.
2. (1) Robert Wickens, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 22.
3. (3) Jonathan Bomarito, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 22.
4. (2) James Hinchcliffe, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 22.
5. (6) Franck Perera, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 22.
6. (15) Junior Strous, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 22.
7. (11) Alan Sciuto, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 22.
8. (14) Ronnie Bremer, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 22.
9. (19) Justin Sofio, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 22.
10. (12) Matt Lee, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 22.
11. (17) Mike Forest, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 22.
12. (23) Brian Thienes, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 22.
13. (5) J.R. Hildebrand, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 21, contact.
14. (10) Giacomo Ricci, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 21, contact.
15. (13) Tom Sutherland, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 21,contact.
16. (24) Dominick Muermans, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 21, contact.
17. (8) Simona De Silvestro, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 20, contact.
18. (9) John Edwards, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 13, contact.
19. (25) Dan Selznick, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 13, contact.
20. (21) Frankie Muniz, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 13, contact.
21. (26) Tengyi Jiang, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 13, contact.
22. (16) Adrien Herberts, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 13, contact.
23. (27) Bret MacDonald, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 12, contact.
24. (22) Richard Heistand, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 9, contact.
25. (18) David Garza, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 6, contact.
26. (7) Carl Skerlong, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 4, contact.
27. (20) Adrian Carrio, Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper, 0, contact. Champ Car Atlantic PR