Matos takes provisional Atlantic pole
Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda points leader Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) scored his fifth consecutive provisional pole position in first round qualifying for Sunday’s Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto (ESPN360.com, Live, 10:00 a.m. ET).
Matos turned a best lap at 1:1:05.694 (96.173 mph). The Brazilian has now been quickest in provisional qualifying for every race since Round 2 at Long Beach. The run does not include the doubleheader at Portland International Raceway last month, where only one round of qualifying was held for each race and each pole was won by Matos’ Sierra Sierra Enterprises teammate James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks). With the provisional pole, Matos again extended his lead in the championship standings over Hinchcliffe to 34, 202-168.
On the final lap of the session, American Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor) claimed second on the provisional grid with a lap at 1:05.917 (95.848 mph). Bomarito also started and finished second in last year’s Atlantic event at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition Place and has finished inside the top-four positions in four of seven events thus far in 2007 with PR1 Motorsports. Bomarito is still looking for his first Atlantic victory of the season.
Like Bomarito, Hinchcliffe also jumped toward the top of the time charts on his final qualifying lap and wound up third at 1:06.049 (95.656 mph). Hinchcliffe—a native of nearby Oakville, Ontario—has finished on the podium in four of his last five Atlantic starts, but he too is looking for his first victory of the season.
French rookie Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport) was fourth on the provisional grid at 1:06.126 (95.545 mph). Perera’s qualifying session ended eight minutes early as he spun and made contact with the tire barrier at Turn 6, removing the car’s rear wing. The Frenchman—who picked up his first Atlantic victory last weekend at Mont-Tremblant—lost his best qualifying lap for causing the stoppage, but his second-quickest lap was still enough to leave the Condor Motorsports pilot second in the order before the late flyers by Bomarito and Hinchcliffe.
Owner driver Alan Sciuto (#20 The Room Store of Phoenix) completed the top five with a lap at 1:06.214 (95.418 mph). Sciuto heads into Saturday’s final qualifying looking to eclipse his previous best starting position of fourth, which he achieved in qualifying for Round 2 at Long Beach. On Sunday, he will be looking to top his previous best result of sixth in Round 3 at Houston.
The top-nine qualifiers turned laps within nine-tenths of a second of Matos’ provisional pole-winning time.
• Dutch rookie Junior Strous (#16 Shell/Best Box/HTP/Red, White & Bluezz USA is on pace for his best Atlantic starting position to date with a sixth-place performance in provisional qualifying for the Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto. Strous turned a best lap at 1:06.343 (95.232 mph) and if he can maintain or improve his position in final qualifying, the Condor Motorsports driver will eclipse a previous best starting spot of ninth at Long Beach.
• Mexican driver David Garza (#4 Axtel/Tecate/Madisa/USRT) is also on target to claim his best Atlantic starting spot to date. The US RaceTronics rookie posted a best provisional qualifying lap at 1:06.379 (95.181 mph), good for seventh on the provisional grid. His previous best qualifying performance were 11th-place runs at Houston, the first race of the Portland doubleheader and last weekend at Mont-Tremblant.
• Toronto’s Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) was eighth-quickest in provisional qualifying with a lap at 1:06.495 (95.015 mph). Wickens’ qualifying effort came on the heels of a crash during the morning practice session, when he collected the car of Matt Lee (#44 Integrated Structures), which had spun in Turn 1. Lee wound up 20th in provisional qualifying at 1:07.437 (93.687 mph).
• It was a tough qualifying session for Saint-Eustache, Quebec native Kevin Lacroix (#10 Uni-Select). The Brooks Associates Racing rookie completed just 10 minutes of the session before crashing at Turn 7, which damaged the car’s rear wing and left rear suspension. Lacroix was credited with 21st on the provisional grid at 1:07.504 (93.594 mph).
• Brian Thienes (#19 Thienes Engineering) did not participate in the provisional qualifying session as the Condor Motorsports team was making repairs on the car following a crash during the morning practice session. Thienes made contact with the wall at pit out. He was not injured.
Quotes from the top-three drivers on the provisional Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto grid follow below:
RAPHAEL MATOS (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: “We certainly improved the car from this morning, especially when we put the new tires on. I think it was much better balanced. We were able to make a very good change on the new set of tires and we were able to find some time in the car. After we put the new set of tires on, we were making a change on the car. It was during the red flag. They finally started the session again, and we lost one lap and I had to come out in front out the field. That’s why I came in front of Franck (Perera) and James (Hinchcliffe). I had one lap less than those guys, so that’s why I was slower. I was trying to find a gap. On my second lap on sticker tires, I made a mistake and Perera tried to pass me. I just didn’t want him to pass me, and James was right behind me. I’m sorry. I want to apologize to him. That was a good lap, so I didn’t mean to do that. It was a fairly good session for us. I’m quite happy with the balance of the car. Hopefully, tomorrow we’ll make some good changes in the car and find a little bit more speed.”
JONATHAN BOMARITO (#23 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor) of PR1 Motorsports: “The session went good for the most part. I think we had the one red flag there that actually came out at a good time for us. We were in making a couple of changes anyways. The session was pretty smooth. The new tire run right at the end—because of that last lap—everybody basically had really only one flying lap. You basically had two laps by the beacon to get it done. Right in the last corner, Turn 8, one of the Red Bull cars had some broken suspension and was kind of limping the car back to the pits. I think that cost me a little bit of lap time. I don’t think it was three-tenths, but we’re sporty. The car’s really good. The team’s doing a phenomenal job, and Toronto has been good to us in the past. Really this year, the street courses, we’ve been stronger on than some of the road courses. We kind of have a good setup, and just the different driving styles. This year, everything has felt really good on the street courses. The track’s going to keep gripping up and getting faster and faster. I think we have a really good direction on how to keep ahead of the game and keep the car getting better. We’re going to go back at it even harder on Saturday. We’re looking forward to it.”
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: “Our plan for the session kind of got thrown out when that first red came out for Kevin (Lacroix). We had just come in and made our first stop and we were going to try and go back out, make the car a bit better, and then come in for tires. With that red, we kind of ran out of time, so we knew we had to strap on the tires then. We went back out and the car was pretty good. There are just certain drivers out there that love playing little games and it’s really getting pretty childish. I didn’t realize we’re in Formula Daycare anymore. I got the benefit of leaving pit lane first and some guys would wait until I was coming around, pull out in front of me, hold me up on a hot lap, get going, slow up again, and there’s just so many games being played. It’s really unsportsmanlike and it just makes for bad racing. The reason why my fast lap was my last one was because it was the only time I had a clear track and didn’t have people messing around. If we had just one more lap, we could have gone a bit quicker, because the tires weren’t even up to temperature. It’s only Friday. It’s just a shame that it’s one more championship point that we’ve lost. Tomorrow’s going to set the grid, so hopefully we can all play nice and give each other some room.”