Hinchcliffe wins 2nd career pole
Canadian racer James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) got his quest to repeat his 2006 victory at Portland International Raceway off to a good start by taking the pole position for Saturday’s Mazda Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland presented by Joe’s Sports and Outdoor, the first race of a doubleheader weekend for the Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda (ESPN2, 6/18, 5 p.m. ET).
Hinchcliffe turned a best lap at 1:06.561 (106.224 mph) to secure the second pole of his Atlantic career and his first pole since last season’s penultimate race in Montreal. The 20-year-old Canadian heads into Saturday’s race looking for his second career Atlantic victory after taking his maiden series win at Portland International Raceway last year. Hinchcliffe has finished inside the top-seven positions in each of the first three races this season with a best result of third last time out at Houston in April.
Hinchcliffe led a front-row sweep for the Sierra Sierra Enterprises team, as teammate Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) secured the second position on the grid with a lap at 1:06.734 (105.949 mph). It is the third consecutive front-row starting spot for Matos, as the Brazilian started Round 2 at Long Beach and Round 3 at Houston from the pole position. Matos currently leads the Atlantic championship standings by virtue of the fact that he has won each of the first three races this season. He also heads into Saturday’s race having led the last 77 consecutive laps of Atlantic competition.
Atlantic rookie J.R. Hildebrand (#36 Newman Wachs Racing) turned in the best qualifying performance of his Atlantic career by taking third on the grid at 1:06.746 (105.930 mph). Hildebrand’s previous best qualifying effort came in the 2007 season-opener at Las Vegas, and he heads into Saturday’s race looking to improve on a previous best result of seventh, which he achieved in Round 3 at Houston.
Picking up a season-best qualifying result of fourth was Englishman Ryan Lewis (#15 NCPI/Deans Knight/Wasteco) with a lap at 1:06.933 (105.634 mph). Lewis made his Atlantic debut at Portland last season and finished second after starting fourth, and is looking to improve upon his best result of the 2007 season, a 25th-place showing in Long Beach.
Canadian rookie Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) completed the top five with a best qualifying lap at 1:06.946 (105.613 mph). It was Wickens’ best qualifying performance since taking the pole position for the Vegas Grand Prix to open his Atlantic career, and the rookie is looking to return to the podium for the third time in four races in Saturday’s race.
Saturday’s schedule for the Atlantic series calls for a 35-minute qualifying session beginning at 8:10 a.m. PT for Sunday’s second race of the doubleheader weekend. The first half of the doubleheader and Round 4 of the 2007 Champ Car Atlantic Championship, the Mazda Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland presented by Joe’s Sports and Outdoor, is scheduled for 12:15 p.m. PT. The timed race will be 45 minutes in length and will use a standing start.
Log on to www.champcaratlantic.com to follow all of the action this weekend from Houston and to watch Sunday’s race on demand.
ATLANTIC FRIDAY QUALIFYING NOTES:
• Atlantic newcomer Kevin Lacroix (#10 Uni-Select) acquitted himself well in his first qualifying session by putting the Brooks Associates Racing machine seventh on the starting grid. Lacroix brings previous experience from Formula BMW USA and the Star Mazda championship.
• After spending some time inside the top-five positions, and turning the third-quickest lap of the morning practice session, Simona De Silvestro (#5 Deans Knight/Wasteco) equaled her career-best qualifying performance by putting the Walker Racing machine eighth on the grid. De Silvestro is the only woman driver in the field.
• Champ Car World Series team Pacific Coast Motorsports today announced that it has established the PCM Jr Team in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship in association with US RaceTronics. Pacific Coast Motorsports debuted in the Atlantic series in 2003 and won the 2004 Atlantic title with driver Jon Fogarty. The program for driver and team development is designed to create a tangible link from karts to the Champ Car World Series. Atlantic drivers Carl Skerlong (#24 King Taco/USRT) and David Garza (#4 Axtel/Tecate/Madisa/USRT)—who drive for US RaceTronics—and 13-year-old driver Miles Maroney have been named to the PCM Jr Team.
Quotes from the top-three drivers in Friday qualifying follow below:
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: “It was an interesting session. It was probably one of the messiest qualifying sessions I’ve ever been in. There were just so many cars on track and guys were trying to get gaps. You hit traffic all the time, and it was absolutely manic out there. I was able to just get one lap that was relatively clean. It was a clear lap, but it wasn’t a particularly good one on my part. I think everybody kind of got held up today, and everybody probably could have gone a little bit quicker. Obviously, we had a good car this morning. The Sierra Sierra guys—we just rolled off the truck with such a good car. I’m so happy that we can sit on the front row again. We did in Houston and we’re doing it here. Technically, yes, I’m the defending race-winner, but I did it from eighth last year and I’d be lying if I said it was on flat out speed. I said coming into this event that I’d like to try and get a victory from the front of the grid, so we’re halfway there now.”
RAPHAEL MATOS (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: “Definitely, it’s a really good spot to start the race tomorrow. Certainly, we made a lot of progress since the morning (session). The car felt much better in qualifying. We just couldn’t really put a good lap together. I struggled a lot with traffic in qualifying. I thought that we had a car to get the pole; we just couldn’t put the lap together. The car has pretty similar balance from what I had in the morning; so hopefully, we’ll make some changes for tomorrow in the same direction. I’m quite happy for the team. Sierra Sierra again did an amazing job. I’m happy for James. Hopefully, we’ll be in the top spot tomorrow in the race.”
J.R. HILDEBRAND (#36 Newman Wachs Racing) of Newman Wachs Racing: “It feels great. Being that it’s a doubleheader weekend, there are a lot of points to be gained and lost this weekend. Being up at the front and being quick right off the bat was definitely something we were shooting for. We were a little bit concerned after the morning session, but the track came to us a little bit in the afternoon, so we were able to put down some good times. They’re tough sessions out there. It’s a little bit shorter than were used to, and there was a lot of traffic, which we weren’t really expecting. It went green for so long that everybody kind of got mismatched. We were able to get a good time in the middle and it held up to the end, so we’re very happy.”