Hinchcliffe tops opening Atlantic practice
For the second consecutive Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda race weekend, James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) topped the time charts in the first practice session of the Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by LaSalle Bank.
Hinchcliffe turned a best lap at 1:07.683 (112.016 mph) to lead the 26-car Atlantic field, as he also did in the first practice session two weeks ago in Portland. The Canadian parlayed that opening-practice speed into pole positions for both races of the doubleheader in Portland, and finished second in both races. He is still looking for his first win of the 2007 season.
"It was a pretty good session for us," Hinchcliffe said. "We pulled out of the pits and had a good car right away. The Sierra Sierra guys once again gave us a really good car right off the truck. We had a bit of a scare at the beginning. We couldn't get my steering wheel to stay on right before the session. We thought we were going to miss a little bit having to change the steering column, but they got it sorted. Luckily, it stayed on for the whole session. We just tried to find some clear laps, made a few small changes to the car, and kept making it better. We came in for a pit stop at the end and made the car even better, but didn't get a chance to do a lap time. We're feeling pretty good for this afternoon, I think."
On his final lap of the practice session, Alan Sciuto (#20 The Room Store of Phoenix) turned the second-quickest time of the session at 1:08.108 (111.317 mph). Sciuto, an owner/driver, is looking to improve upon his best result of the 2007 season to date, a sixth-place performance at Houston. The third-year driver is also looking for his first career Atlantic victory this weekend.
"It went pretty good," Sciuto said. "After the crash at the last race, we had a lot of work. The team did a great job putting the car back together. I wanted to run some good, clean laps. The track is in awesome condition. It's a fun track, really fast, so I like it. I think it will be a good race. It's a little bumpy, but it just toughens it up even more and evens out the field."
Points leader Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) completed the top three with a lap at 1:08.265 (111.061 mph). After winning the first three races of the season, the Brazilian is looking to return to Victory Lane this weekend after runs of fourth and sixth in the Portland doubleheader. Matos currently leads his Sierra Sierra Enterprises teammate, Hinchcliffe, by 17 points (140-123) heading into this weekend's race, which will mark the halfway point in the 12-race 2007 Champ Car Atlantic season.
"The session went okay," Matos said. "The car was a little off in the beginning, but we worked through it and it was better in the end of the session. I got at least one good lap in and I'm happy being at P3. We'll see about qualifying."
Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport) was the quickest of the 19 rookies entered in this weekend's field with a lap at 1:08.337 (110.944 mph). The Frenchman earned his career-best Atlantic result of third in the second race of the Portland doubleheader and is just 10 points behind Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) in the Rookie of the Year point standings heading into this weekend.
Simona De Silvestro (#5 Miauton) posted an opening-practice top-five speed for the second consecutive race weekend. The only woman driver in the field turned in the fifth-quickest speed at 1:08.415 (110.818 mph), two weeks after running the third-best time in the opening practice at Portland. De Silvestro is looking to top her previous best Atlantic qualifying result of eighth--which she achieved at Houston and the first race of the Portland doubleheader--and is also looking to improve upon her career-best Atlantic result of 15th in Houston.