Houston: Matos holds off Skerlong to win again
Second-year Atlantic racer Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) is a much better race car driver than a baseball player but he completed a remarkable triple play Sunday, winning his third consecutive race to open the 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.
After scoring wins at Las Vegas and Long Beach to start the season, Matos made it three victories in three weeks as he led all 43 laps at JAGFlo Speedway at Reliant Park Sunday afternoon. The 25-year-old Brazilian rising star also claimed a piece of Atlantic history as he became the first driver in 17 years to capture the first three events of a series season. Mark Dismore won five straight races to open the 1990 campaign as he went on to score the Atlantic Pacific Division title in the last year that Atlantics featured split divisions.
Matos didn’t have an easy drive to the landmark victory. Starting from the pole, the native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil had a decent launch to the standing start on the 10-turn, 1.683-mile street circuit as he held the lead through the treacherous Turn 1. American Carl Skerlong (#24 King Taco/USRT) of the US RaceTronics team produced a fantastic start, however, making a daring move to outside in the first turn to jet from fourth into second place.
After the lone caution flag of the race – caused by an opening-lap accident involving Ryan Lewis (#15 NCPI/Deans Knight/Wasteco) of Walker Racing and Genoa Racing’s Richard Heistand (#37 Eola Capital Investments) in Turn 3 – Matos enjoyed a good re-start at the green flag, keeping Skerlong in his rear-view mirror.
Skerlong, the 18-year-old native of Mukilteo, Washington, had no intention of bowing to the series leader, however. Skerlong menaced Matos for the race lead throughout the first half of the 50-minute event. The rookie racer continued to push but he found his limit after touching the wall several times while giving chase and eventually Matos began to re-focus at the front of the 27-car Atlantic field.
Turning the fastest lap of the race with a mark of 1:05.072 (93.109 mph) on the 39th orbit of the circuit, Skerlong remained a force in second place, but Matos used his experience and skill to keep the fast freshman behind him. At the checkered flag, Matos captured a 0.946-of-a-second victory over Skerlong, who scored his top result one day after producing his best qualifying effort of fourth place. The win enabled Matos to open up a 23-point lead in the championship standings and the race for the $2 million champion’s bonus towards a Champ Car ride in 2008.
After starting third and running some impressive laps early in the race, James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) scored his first podium finish of the season for Sierra Sierra Enterprises. The talented Canadian has finished among the top 10 in all three events in ’07 and he improves to third in the season standings with today’s result.
With his third top-six finish to begin the season, American Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor) takes control of second in the series standings. The PR1 Motorsports pilot started sixth but came home fourth to continue his hot start to his third series season.
For the third consecutive race, Condor Motorsports rookie Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport) earned a fifth-place finish. The speedy Frenchman has had a productive beginning to his Atlantic career and currently sits fifth on the series leaderboard.
A pair of promising young American racers occupied the sixth- and seventh-place positions in Sunday’s finishing order. Alan Sciuto (#20 The RoomStore of Phoenix) crossed the stripe in sixth place while J.R. Hildebrand (#36 Newman Wachs Racing) was seventh overall.
Conquest Racing’s Giacomo Ricci (#18 Banca Italease/Lotto/Global) posted his second top-10 result of his rookie season in eighth place while Ronnie Bremer (#12 The RoomStore of Phoenix/Sealy/PRG) of Polestar Racing Group and Red Bull Team Forsythe freshman Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) rounded out the top-10 finishers.
The Atlantic Championship will take a break after competing on back-to-back-to-back weekends to begin ’07. The series swings back into action June 9-10 with a doubleheader weekend at Portland International Raceway at the Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland Presented by Joe’s.
ATLANTIC RACE NOTES
With Skerlong’s second-place finish, an American driver has now finished on the podium in all three series races this season (Bomarito was on the podium at both Las Vegas and Long Beach).
Today marked the first time that two Sierra Sierra Enterprises drivers finished on the podium since Ryan Dalziel won at Road America in 2004 while Andrew Ranger finished third.
John Edwards (#7 Red Bull/INDECK) earned a bonus point for improving the most positions in today’s race. Edwards started 21st and finished 12th.
Quotes from the top three drivers are as follows:
Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises
“I was able to keep the first position this time, I didn’t get a great a start. I don’t know, last year my starts were really good this year I am struggling a little bit but I was able to manage to keep the first position. Once we got clear of the first corner I was able to build up a small gap and then the first yellow came, and after that restart I was able to build up a small gap. At the midpoint of the race, I lost a bit of concentration and Carl got me a little bit and just paced myself and got my concentration back. I built a gap again and we were able to have a very consistent car. What else can I say, it was a great weekend for us. (About making history, winning three in a row) It was very important for me this accomplishment, winning three races in a row. Actually, before the race we had a meeting with Sierra Sierra and we were talking about that because I have a good lead in the championship and we didn’t want to risk anything and obviously James wants to win as well. We just wanted to make sure that both cars were on the podium and we were able to do that. I am quite happy for the team right now.”
Carl Skerlong (#24 King Taco/USRT) of US RaceTronics
“(On his move from fourth to second early in the race) It didn’t seem like a big risk. To me there was quite a large hole on the outside and I figured someone should occupy it. I’ve seen James race for a long time and I knew he wouldn’t make a stupid decision so I thought I was safe and took advantage of it. (About his eventful weekend and finding his comfort level) We definitely got a late start, I pretty much missed the whole day Friday and I was somewhat down on myself by the end of the day. It’s one of those things where I sort of started my weekend on Saturday and just kind of went from there. Starting fourth was great, we were looking for a top five for this race and I finished second I can’t really ask for much more (About being strong in Houston) It’s a great track and a great venue for the race, but it’s just another track though. We were quick in Vegas, but were somewhat unlucky there, we struggled a little in Long Beach, but a top ten in this field is still quite good from my view point since the field is so competitive.”
James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises
“The start for us was alright I got a good launch better than Rafa did but then he took the inside line being pretty defensive. I didn’t really want to try an outside pass because I didn’t think it was going to work into the chicane, Carl proved me wrong. Rafa slowed down to make it, he wanted to make the corner and Carl did a pretty brave move on the outside, props to him for pulling that off. I think the first few laps after we got it going green again we had a little bit of a quicker car and we tried a few moves but it didn’t quite work out and then I think I overheated my tires a bit. From there I lost touched with them a little bit and traffic came into play at one point and I really lost the gap at that point and there was just no way to make it up these guys were just too quick. It’s a fantastic result for the Sierra Sierra team, with both cars on the front row for the start and two on the podium.
FP Car# Driver Team Laps Lag Status
1 6 Raphael Matos Sierra Sierra Enterprises 43 0.000 Running
2 24 Carl Skerlong US RaceTronics 43 0.945 Running
3 9 James Hinchcliffe Sierra Sierra Enterprises 43 8.178 Running
4 23 Jonathan Bomarito PR1 Motorsports 43 9.388 Running
5 11 Franck Perera Condor Motorsports 43 18.244 Running
6 20 Alan Sciuto Alan Sciuto Racing 43 22.382 Running
7 36 J.R. Hildebrand Newman Wachs Racing 43 22.788 Running
8 18 Giacomo Ricci Conquest Racing 43 29.550 Running
9 12 Ronnie Bremer Polestar Racing Group 43 30.295 Running
10 3 Robert Wickens Red Bull Team Forsythe 43 35.780 Running
11 26 Justin Sofio Mathiasen Motorsports 43 36.909 Running
12 7 John Edwards Red Bull Team Forsythe 43 40.325 Running
13 17 Adrian Carrio Genoa Racing 43 40.841 Running
14 4 David Garza US RaceTronics 43 44.572 Running
15 5 Simona De Silvestro Walker Racing 43 46.826 Running
16 30 Luis Mussi Gelles Racing 43 1:02.941 Running
17 44 Matt Lee Conquest Racing 42 1 Lap Running
18 32 Mike Forest PR1 Motorsports 42 1 Lap Running
19 45 Adrien Herberts Paladin Motorsports 42 1 Lap Running
20 10 Joe D'Agostino Brooks Associates Racing 42 1 Lap Running
21 13 Frankie Muniz Jensen MotorSport 42 1 Lap Running
22 8 Tengyi Jiang Brooks Associates Racing 42 1 Lap Running
23 19 Brian Thienes Condor Motorsports 39 4 Laps Running
24 2 Tom Sutherland Jensen MotorSport 34 27.939 Contact
25 37 Richard Heistand Genoa Racing 22 1 Lap Contact
26 21 Bret MacDonald Polestar Racing Group 22 2 Laps Contact
27 15 Ryan Lewis Walker Racing 0.000 Contact
28 16 Junior Strous Condor Motorsports 0.000 DNS