Tempers flare as Matos wins pole
Tempers flared in final qualifying, but when the dust settled, 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda points leader Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) emerged as the polesitter for Sunday’s Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto (ESPN360.com, Live, 10:00 a.m. ET).
The qualifying session left many drivers, including Matos, fuming as they believed their best qualifying laps were in some way impeded by at least one of the other 22 drivers on the 1.755-mile temporary street circuit. Matos—who already earned a front-row starting spot by being the fastest in Friday’s provisional qualifying session—salted away his fourth Atlantic pole of the season in Saturday’s final round with a lap at 1:05.621 (96.280 mph). The Brazilian is looking to become the first non-American or Canadian to win an Atlantic race at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition Place. All 16 previous Atlantic races in Toronto have been won by either American or Canadian drivers.
History may be on Matos’ side, however, as he led every lap en route to the victory in the first three Atlantic races he started from the pole position in 2007. Matos again extended his points lead by claiming the bonus point for leading final qualifying, and he now leads his Sierra Sierra Enterprises teammate James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) by 35 points, 203-168, heading into Sunday’s Round 8 of the 12-race 2007 Champ Car Atlantic Championship.
Matos is joined on the front row by French rookie Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport), who rebounded nicely from a crash during Friday’s provisional qualifying session to record a best qualifying lap at 1:05.876 (95.907 mph). It will be Perera’s second consecutive front-row starting spot, as he started from the pole position and led every lap on his way to his first career Atlantic victory last weekend at Mont-Tremblant. It is the Condor Motorsports driver’s third front-row start overall and his sixth top-three qualifying performance in eight races.
Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor) wound up third on the grid with a lap at 1:05.917 (95.848 mph). That time was actually turned on Friday and put him second on the provisional grid, but he lost one spot on the final grid by not turning a quicker lap on Saturday. Bomarito sat out the final few minutes of the qualifying session due to a broken toe-link. Nevertheless, he still matched his best qualifying performances of the season, which he previously achieved at Las Vegas and Long Beach. He is looking for his first victory of the season and has finished inside the top seven in five of seven events thus far. He also finished second in the Atlantic race at Toronto last year.
Dutch rookie Junior Strous (#16 Shell/Best Box/HTP/Red, White & Bluezz USA) posted a career-best qualifying performance and made it two Condor Motorsports cars in the top four. He qualified fourth with a best lap at 1:05.922 (95.841 mph) topping previous best starting spots of ninth at Long Beach and Mont-Tremblant. He is looking to improve on a season-best race result of sixth in the Las Vegas season-opener on Sunday.
Hinchcliffe rounded out the top five and was the top Canadian in the field with a best lap at 1:05.982 (95.753 mph). It was the Oakville, Ontario native’s seventh top-five qualifying performance in eight races. Hinchcliffe has finished inside the top-seven spots in all seven races thus far in 2007 and has finished on the podium in four of his last five Atlantic starts, but heads into the Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto looking for his first victory of the season.
The top 16 qualifiers were covered by less than one second. Live, flag-to-flag coverage of the Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto may be seen on ESPN360.com at 10:00 a.m. ET, with a 30-minute tape-delayed television broadcast scheduled for 5:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, July 11 on ESPN2.
• Sixteen-year-old rookie John Edwards (#7 Red Bull/INDECK) turned in his best qualifying performance since taking fifth on the grid for Round 2 at Long Beach with a sixth-place run in Toronto on Saturday. Edwards’ best lap was 1:06.014 (95.707 mph). He is looking to improve on a career-best race result of fourth, which he also achieved in Long Beach.
• The Atlantic field’s only woman driver, Swiss rookie Simona De Silvestro (#5 Miauton) posted her third consecutive top-10 qualifying performance by putting her Walker Racing car ninth on the grid at 1:06.195 (95.448 mph). She started an Atlantic career-best sixth last weekend at Mont-Tremblant and also started eighth two weeks ago in Cleveland. Her seventh-place race result at Mont-Tremblant was the best of her Atlantic career.
• Italian rookie Giacomo Ricci (#18 Banca Italease/Lotto/Global) qualified 17th with a lap at 1:06.622 (94.836 mph), but only missed the pole position by 1.001 seconds. Ricci has finished inside the top six in each of his last two Atlantic starts, including a career-best result of fourth at Cleveland two weeks ago.
Quotes from the top-three drivers on the grid for Sunday’s Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto follow below:
RAPHAEL MATOS (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: “I think it was a difficult session for everybody. It was a very difficult session for me as well. I’m very happy with the result. We have a great car. We’ll be fast tomorrow. We should have a good race tomorrow. Hopefully, we can finish on the top and collect more points and extend our points lead in the championship.”
FRANCK PERERA (#11 CJ Motorsport) of Condor Motorsports: “It was a pretty tough qualifying session. For sure, it was not easy because, unfortunately, I crashed yesterday so the team did a really good job to get the car back. It was pretty good already and I was already fighting with Matos. We had a nice fight. We had some problems, but I don’t want to talk about that. I think we will see tomorrow who will be the best like it was in Mont-Tremblant and the other races. I want to thank CJ Motorsport and my sponsor, Everflux. My team, Condor, is still doing a really good job and my teammate is also getting better, so that’s good.”
JONATHAN BOMARITO (#23 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor) of PR1 Motorsports: “From third-place starting position for tomorrow, we’re in good shape as long as we get a good start. I was getting a little bit worried there at the end of qualifying when I was sitting on pit lane with a bent toe-link. That’s why, basically, I wasn’t able to improve. I think I had a better car today, just didn’t get any laps to do it. The session was pretty rough, though, I must say. I wasn’t pleased, but we have a good car, good starting position tomorrow, so I’m looking forward to it. I think my luck is going to turn around and we’re going to have a good day tomorrow.”