Matos wins Atlantic pole
Raphael Brazilian Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) led a front-row sweep for Sierra Sierra Enterprises and extended his lead in the 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda by taking the pole position for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by LaSalle Bank (ESPN360.com, Live, 10:30 a.m. ET).
After taking the provisional pole in Friday qualifying, Matos stepped it up on Saturday with a best lap at 1:05.405 (115.918 mph) to secure his third Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season and the seventh pole of his Atlantic career. With his second qualifying bonus point in as many days, Matos extended his lead in the point standings to 19, 142-123, over teammate James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks). Matos is looking for his fourth Atlantic victory of the season on Sunday.
Matos is joined on the front row by Hinchcliffe, who posted a best qualifying lap at 1:05.545 (115.670 mph). It is the third front-row sweep of the season for the Sierra Sierra Enterprises team and is Hinchcliffe’s fifth front-row qualifying performance in six races this season. The Canadian is looking to extend his streak of consecutive podium results to four in Sunday’s race, and is also looking for his first Atlantic win of the season.
Hinchcliffe traded positions from Friday’s provisional qualifying session with Condor Motorsports rookie Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport). Perera slipped from second in provisional qualifying to third on the final grid with a lap at 1:05.619 (115.540 mph) for his fourth top-three qualifying performance in six starts this season. Perera earned his first Atlantic podium result two weeks ago in the second race of the doubleheader at Portland with a third-place run.
J.R. Hildebrand (#36 Newman Wachs Racing) will start fourth with a best lap at 1:05.683 (115.427 mph). It was Hildebrand’s third top-five qualifying performance of the 2007 season, and the rookie is in the midst of a three-race streak in which he has finished inside the top nine-spots. Hildebrand won one race during a Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 doubleheader last year at Cleveland on his way to the series title.
Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor) completed the top five with a best lap at 1:05.710 (115.380 mph). Bomarito has now qualified inside the top 10 for all six of his Atlantic starts this season and has four top-seven results in his first five races. He has made three previous Atlantic starts at Cleveland and has finished inside the top-eight in all three events with a best result of fourth in the first half of a doubleheader last year.
• Italian rookie Giacomo Ricci (#18 Banca Italease/Lotto/Global) matched the best qualifying performance of his Atlantic career by putting his Conquest Racing machine sixth on the grid at 1:06.223 (114.486 mph). Ricci previously started sixth at Long Beach. Ricci’s Conquest Racing teammate Matt Lee (#44 Integrated Structures) turned in his best Atlantic qualifying performance since a fifth-place starting spot at Houston with a seventh-place qualifying result at 1:06.274 (114.398 mph).
• Canadians Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) and Kevin Lacroix (#10 Uni-Select), who claimed their first career Atlantic victories in the doubleheader at Portland two weeks ago, will start next to each other on Sunday’s grid. Wickens put his Red Bull Team Forsythe Mazda-Cosworth/Swift 11th on the grid at 1:06.440 (114.112 mph), while Lacroix’s Brooks Associates racing machine starts 12th at 1:06.500 (114.009 mph).
Quotes from the top-three qualifiers for the Grand Prix of Cleveland follow below:
RAPHAEL MATOS (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: “The session obviously went really well for us with both cars of Sierra Sierra. It’s going to take a lot of effort to win tomorrow. First of all, I have to be very concentrated on my start. I have to make sure I get a good start. If I get a good start and if I don’t make any mistakes during the race, I think it’s going to be very difficult for someone to pass me. I believe that I have a very consistent car and a very fast car in terms of racecraft. I’m very happy with everything. It’s all the result of the hard work and all the development that we’ve been doing through testing and through the winter and working at the shop. All the crew, you can’t not mention everyone on that team, but it’s been very important all the effort the team is giving to this program. I’m very happy.”
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: “It’s our fifth front-row starting spot in the first six races. Qualifying for me last year was a bit of a struggling point, so it’s good that we’ve managed to step it up a notch. I think that’s partly why you’re seeing us go higher in the championship. Obviously, we had a really good car. It was so touch and go between Rafa (Matos) and I. It was actually a pretty fun session in terms of that, because everybody kept raising the bar and lowering the lap times. We had a good car. Tomorrow is just going to be really about the start. The start is going to be really important, and then if we have some full-course cautions, restarts are going to key. I’ve got to try and get that holeshot. I’ve been a little bit quicker than Rafa off the line, I think, so far this year, but because he’s normally had the advantage of being in front, it’s never quite been able to be enough to get ahead of him. We’ll see. He’s picked the outside lane, so that gives me a little bit of a cleaner run if I get a good jump. It’s going to kind of be the first corner and then the rest of the race. We’ll see how it ends up.”
FRANCK PERERA (#11 CJ Motorsport) of Condor Motorsports: “I’m quite disappointed, because yesterday is was good to be second or third or whatever because we were already competitive yesterday. You can be quick, but it’s always tough for me on the first day because I haven’t seen the track and it’s tough to find the right setup and everything. I believed I could take the pole for today. This morning I was first after the free practice, and I believed I could get the pole. In the beginning of the session, I was leading, but I had a ton of traffic and I was not able to find the right lap. For sure, I had to stop four laps before the end of the session like James (Hinchcliffe) did yesterday because I ran out of fuel. When you are competitive and you think that you can do the lap, you try everything about strategy. It’s okay. We’ll do it next time. Tomorrow’s race is long.”
POS NO NAME TIME SPEED LEADER
1 6 Raphael Matos 1:05.405 115.918 0.000
2 9 James Hinchcliffe 1:05.545 115.670 0.140
3 11 Franck Perera (R) 1:05.619 115.540 0.214
4 36 J.R. Hildebrand (R) 1:05.683 115.427 0.278
5 23 Jonathan Bomarito 1:05.710 115.380 0.305
6 18 Giacomo Ricci (R) 1:06.223 114.486 0.818
7 44 Matt Lee (R) 1:06.274 114.398 0.869
8 5 Simona De Silvestro (R) 1:06.312 114.332 0.907
9 15 Ryan Lewis 1:06.354 114.260 0.949
10 12 Ronnie Bremer 1:06.397 114.186 0.992
11 3 Robert Wickens (R) 1:06.440 114.112 1.035
12 10 Kevin Lacroix (R) 1:06.500 114.009 1.095
13 16 Junior Strous (R) 1:06.521 113.973 1.116
14 7 John Edwards (R) 1:06.671 113.717 1.266
15 20 Alan Sciuto 1:06.700 113.667 1.295
16 4 David Garza (R) 1:06.769 113.550 1.364
17 2 Tom Sutherland (R) 1:06.836 113.436 1.431
18 17 Adrian Carrio (R) 1:07.070 113.040 1.665
19 26 Justin Sofio 1:07.259 112.722 1.854
20 24 Carl Skerlong (R) 1:07.374 112.530 1.969
21 45 Adrien Herberts (R) 1:07.639 112.089 2.234
22 32 Mike Forest (R) 1:07.660 112.054 2.255
23 19 Brian Thienes (R) 1:07.712 111.968 2.307
24 37 Richard Heistand (R) 1:07.875 111.699 2.470
25 13 Frankie Muniz (R) 1:08.485 110.705 3.080
26 21 Bret MacDonald (R) 1:11.292 106.346 5.887