Matos and Hinchcliffe top Houston quals Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda series leader Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) continues to raise the bar at this weekend’s Fast Trac 100 at the Grand Prix of Houston (tape-delayed broadcast on ESPN2 at 5:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 26).
The Sierra Sierra Enterprises second-year Atlantic racer maintained his dominance on the 1.683-mile JAGFlo Speedway circuit at Reliant Park on Saturday as he earned his second pole position of the young season and the sixth of his career. Matos shined bright under the sunny Texas skies as he blazed a top lap of 1:04.520 (93.906 mph) for a new Atlantic record at the street circuit constructed around the Reliant Center.
After leading the opening-round of qualifying by nearly seven-tenths-of-a-second, the 28-car Atlantic field closed the gap ever so slightly on Matos as the 25-year-old native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil led his closest competition by nearly five-tenths-of-a-second in Saturday’s final qualifying. Scoring a championship point for the pole, Matos now has 67 points on the season and he leads second-place Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) by 13 markers entering Sunday's race.
Matos has redefined excellence in Houston as he’s led every session and even before he registered his fastest time on his 26th and final lap on Saturday, he owned a mark that would’ve been good enough for pole. The goal now for the talented racer is to carry his momentum into Sunday’s race and stay clear of trouble as he bids to become the first Atlantic driver in 17 years to win the first three events of the season. Matos won his first Atlantic pole at Houston last season and he led a race-high 19 laps before contact with current Champ Car driver Graham Rahal dropped him back in the field with just five laps remaining.
The Sierra Sierra squad hopes for better results Sunday and the team certainly is off to a strong start to Round 3. In addition to Matos’ magnificence over the first two days on track, James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) has also performed well. The native of Toronto qualified behind his teammate for the second consecutive day as Hinchcliffe recorded a fast lap of 1:04.988 (93.230 mph) on just his fourth lap in the afternoon session. The effort held up as “Hinch” scored his second top-two starting spot of the young season.
Frenchman Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport) also enjoyed a strong result, despite spinning and hitting the Turn 10 wall with just 11 minutes remaining in qualifying. The Condor Motorsports rookie was sitting second in qualifying at the time of the crash that took off his back wing when he made contact. Perera lost his fast lap as a result of the incident but his next-fastest time of 1:05.070 (93.112 mph) was still good for a third-place starting position on Sunday’s grid.
A couple of promising young American racers scored the top qualifying results of their young Atlantic careers. US RaceTronics rookie Carl Skerlong (#24 King Taco/USRT) will start fourth in the Fast Trac 100 as he carded a lap of 1:05.115 (93.048 mph), while Matt Lee (#44 Integrated Structures) of Conquest Racing turned in his best effort, rounding out the top five qualifiers with his best lap of 1:05.204 (92.921 mph).
With a quick time of 1:05.254 (92.849 mph), Giacomo Ricci (#18 Banca Italease/Lotto/Global) made it two Conquest cars qualifying in the top 10 on Saturday as he wound up seventh overall. Newman Wachs Racing rookie J.R. Hildebrand (#36 Newman Wachs Racing) owned a time of 1:05.294 (92.793 mph) to produce his second top-10 qualifying result of ’07.
Americans Alan Sciuto (#20 The RoomStore of Phoenix) and Tom Sutherland (#2 Clickaway Computer) rounded out the top 10 as Sciuto checked in with a time of 1:05.324 (92.750 mph) and Sutherland earned his top result of the season at 1:05.433 (92.595 mph).
Sunday’s activity at JAGFlo Speedway begins with the 15-minute Atlantic warm-up session at 8 a.m. CT. The third round of series action begins with a green-flag standing start at 11:30 a.m. Sunday. Visit www.champcaratlantic.com to watch the race live and to learn more about North America’s top open-wheel development series.
ATLANTIC QUALIFYING NOTES
• For the second time this season Matos captured the $1,000 Cooper Tire Pole Award for leading qualifying. 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.
• Today marked the first time that two Sierra Sierra Enterprises cars swept the front row in qualifying since Cleveland in 2004 when Ryan Dalziel won the pole and Andrew Ranger qualified second.
• The top 12 drivers in qualifying were separated by less than a second on the timing clock.
Quotes from the top three drivers in today’s qualifying follow:
Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises
“I think that we improved the car a lot since the morning session and obviously the track got quicker as well. On my last run I was able to improve my lap time and made a good change in the car and was able to find some speed in the car. We found a good balance also so you know everything is going smooth and as we planned. Hopefully tomorrow we can get a better start than in Long Beach and we will be able to get to the first corner and see what happens in the race. (About the start tomorrow) I think in Long Beach I made a bad decision because I was on the dirty part of the track but here I am going to do different and take the clean part of the track and hopefully it will help me get a little bit better grip and help launching the car. First of all I need to finish the race and I hope these two guys are thinking the same way because we are only in the third race of the Championship. Obviously I am the quickest car, I have been the quickest in every session and I am on pole so I have an advantage here. I believe this track is even worse to pass than Long Beach so to be honest with you it will be very hard to pass unless someone makes a mistake so I’m looking forward to the race. Once we get clear of the first corner I should be able to build a gap and win the race.”
James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises
“We had a good start to the session and the car had a relatively good balance. I think we underestimated how hot it was going to be there and the set-up didn’t suit a hot race track as well as we were hoping so we didn’t have quite the balance we had in the car this morning. We came in and made a few changes and the red flag there was actually kind of really well timed. We came in and there was going to be about eight minutes left in the session and being in the first pit stall there was going to be a lot of clear track and we had made some changes on the car but we were making a change and we probably missed the green flag by about five and a half seconds so Rafa was able to go out and by then I had to wait for the entire field to go by and I wasted the last part of the session behind people and traffic. I just couldn’t find a gap. A bit frustrating but I mean if a frustrating qualifying session ends in second place then the Sierra Sierra guys gave me a great car. (About the difference in lap times between first and second from yesterday) I feel the times this morning were a lot closer and the set-up we have in the car is a bit better suited for cooler conditions which we will have tomorrow because we are racing pretty early but it will be tough because Rafa is ridiculously quick, and it is pretty tough to pass here at the JAGFlo Speedway. We just have to make sure we get a good start, stay out of trouble and I think from there its just going to be the driver that makes the least mistakes which is not to difficult to do on this track.”
Frank Perera (#11 CJ Motorsports) of Condor Motorsports
“I am pretty happy because yesterday in qualifying we had some car set up problems so this morning we tested a lot of things and again in the session we improved the car a lot and we were doing great, better and better and we were catching Rafa. So yes I am happy but disappointed because I think I could fight for the pole at the end of the session but its racing. (About his spin) I was doing some many good laps and I was trying to push more and more and I completely lost my rear and I crashed. (About the start tomorrow) Definitely tomorrow will be less nice than I was last week. I had a very good start, it was my target in Long Beach but then I was taking it maybe too easy and the guys are good and they are trying to overtake. I tried to stay on the track and I lost everything and tomorrow will not be like that. Third place will be a good place to start and tomorrow I will try everything. I have nothing to lose.”
Results from Saturday’s final qualifying at the Grand Prix of Houston with car number in parentheses, driver, car, top time and speed.
Pos Driver Car# Team Lap Time Behind Leader
1 Raphael Matos 6 Sierra Sierra Enterprises 1:04.520 0.000
2 James Hinchcliffe 9 Sierra Sierra Enterprises 1:04.988 0.468
3 Franck Perera 11 Condor Motorsports 1:05.070 0.550
4 Carl Skerlong 24 US RaceTronics 1:05.115 0.595
5 Matt Lee 44 Conquest Racing 1:05.204 0.684
6 Jonathan Bomarito 23 PR1 Motorsports 1:05.244 0.724
7 Giacomo Ricci 18 Conquest Racing 1:05.254 0.734
8 J.R. Hildebrand 36 Newman Wachs Racing 1:05.294 0.774
9 Alan Sciuto 20 Alan Sciuto Racing 1:05.324 0.804
10 Tom Sutherland 2 Jensen MotorSport 1:05.433 0.913
11 David Garza 4 US RaceTronics 1:05.469 0.949
12 Ronnie Bremer 12 Polestar Racing Group 1:05.510 0.990
13 Simona De Silvestro 5 Walker Racing 1:05.646 1.126
14 Robert Wickens 3 Red Bull Team Forsythe 1:05.679 1.159
15 Justin Sofio 26 Mathiasen Motorsports 1:05.720 1.200
16 Adrian Carrio 17 Genoa Racing 1:05.790 1.270
17 Ryan Lewis 15 Walker Racing 1:05.845 1.325
18 Richard Heistand 37 Genoa Racing 1:06.007 1.487
19 Mike Forest 32 PR1 Motorsports 1:06.068 1.548
20 Luis Mussi 30 Gelles Racing 1:06.076 1.556
21 John Edwards 7 Red Bull Team Forsythe 1:06.138 1.618
22 Brian Thienes 19 Condor Motorsports 1:06.238 1.718
23 Joe D'Agostino 10 Brooks Associates Racing 1:06.425 1.905
24 Adrien Herberts 45 Paladin Motorsports 1:06.510 1.990
25 Junior Strous 16 Condor Motorsports 1:06.675 2.155
26 Tengyi Jiang 8 Brooks Associates Racing 1:07.028 2.508
27 Frankie Muniz 13 Jensen MotorSport 1:07.117 2.597
28 Bret MacDonald 21 Polestar Racing Group 1:09.192 4.672