Rain turns Atlantic race into crashfest
In a race that saw a 14:29 red flag and 13 cars retire due to contact, French rookie Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport) picked up his second consecutive Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda victory in the Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto (ESPN2, July 11, 5:00 p.m. ET).
Shortly after the red lights went out and the field roared from its standing start into Turn 1, the skies opened up above Canadian National Exhibition Place. On the opening lap, Mike Forest (#32 Konica Minolta/Miracle Sealants/Dynacor/Earthwater) crashed on the back straightaway and was collected by Matt Lee (#44 Integrated Structures), Frankie Muniz (#13 Chandler Development) and Tom Sutherland (#2 Drive Energy Soda), bringing out the full-course caution.
The rains intensified into a downpour as the field circulated behind the pace car. Just before the field pulled onto pit lane for the red flag to allow all teams to change to Cooper rain tires, race leader Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor)—who got a great jump from his third-place position at the start and charged past Perera and polesitter Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) to take the lead—made contact with the barrier at Turn 6. As a result, Dutch rookie Junior Strous (#16 Shell/Best Box/HTP/Red, White & Bluezz USA) found himself at the head of the field for the restart on Lap 6 of what would be a 28-lap race.
Strous’ lead would be short-lived, however, as Perera shot past his Condor Motorsports teammate and into the lead in Turn 8 on Lap 6. Perera would not be challenged the rest of the way and went on to score a 6.057-second victory over 16-year-old American rookie John Edwards (#7 Red Bull/INDECK). Perera also claimed the bonus point for turning the fastest race lap with a 1:20.636 (78.352 mph). The victory and bonus point moved Perera into second place in the overall Atlantic championship standings, and he now trails points leader Matos by 30 points, 228-198, with eight of 12 races now complete.
Perera has now finished inside the top five in all eight of his career Atlantic races. He became the first non-North American native to win in 17 years of Atlantic racing in Toronto, as the first 16 were won by either Canadian or American drivers. The Frenchman also extended his lead in the Rookie of the Year standings to 20 points, 198-178, over Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK).
The second place result for Edwards did not come without a fight, as he and his Red Bull Team Forsythe teammate Wickens battled for the position throughout the closing stages of the race. Wickens finally spun while attempting a last-lap pass on Edwards, giving the youngster a career-best result in Atlantic competition. Edwards previous best run was fourth in Round 2 at Long Beach.
Wickens’ late spin gave the final podium position to Matos, who took a conservative approach to the race once the rains arrived in an effort to maximize his points haul. It was Matos’ third consecutive podium result and his sixth podium in eight Atlantic races this season. It was also the ninth consecutive time that at least one Sierra Sierra Enterprises car finished on the Atlantic podium dating to a second-place run in the 2006 season finale at Road America.
Italian rookie Giacomo Ricci (#18 Banca Italease/Lotto/Global) matched his career-best Atlantic result by finishing fourth. Ricci has now finished inside the top-six positions in his last three starts and owns five top-eight results in eight races this season. The performance also moved the Conquest Racing driver into fifth place in the championship standings.
Englishman Ryan Lewis (#15 NCPI Solutions/Insport) rounded out the top five. It was the Walker Racing driver’s best result since a fifth-place run in the second race of the Portland doubleheader in June and was Lewis’ third top-five result of the season, as he also finished third in the first race at Portland. Lewis finished third in last year’s Atlantic race at Toronto.
• The top-five finishers all represented different nationalities. Race-winner Perera hails from France, while second-place Edwards is American, followed by Brazilian Matos in third, Italy’s Ricci in fourth and English driver Lewis in fifth. American Alan Sciuto (#20 The Room Store of Phoenix) broke the pattern with a sixth-place run.
• The last-lap spin by Wickens cost the Toronto native four positions and he wound up seventh in the final race results. Wickens was the highest-finishing Canadian in the field.
• Justin Sofio (#26 RLM Investments) took his best result of the season with an eighth-place result. The Mathiasen Motorsports driver’s previous best result was ninth in the 2007 Atlantic season-opener at Las Vegas.
• American rookie Muniz rebounded from the opening-lap chaos to collect his first top-10 result in Atlantic competition with a 10th-place result. Muniz claimed the bonus point for improving the most starting positions after starting 23rd. His previous best result was 19th at Long Beach.
• Oakville, Ontario’s James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) lost two spots in the championship standings with an 11th-place result. Hinchcliffe retired due to contact after completing 10 laps, snapping a streak of seven consecutive top-seven finishes. He is now fourth in the championship with 178 points.
Quotes from the top-three finishers in the Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto follow below:
RAPHAEL MATOS (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: “Since I lost all those positions on the start, I completely changed my mindset on the race. Franck (Perera) got a better start and I was not able to hold my position. I believe he broke a little too early for Turn 1 and (Jonathan) Bomarito passed both of us on the outside. I was in fifth position and it started raining hard, and people were crashing everywhere under the yellow flag. I was just trying to push as hard as I could, but not taking too many risks. That’s basically what I was doing. I’m so glad that we finished this race. I nearly crashed several times and it was really, really tricky conditions out there. It was very, very difficult. I’m very happy that I brought the Sierra Sierra car back to the podium.”
JOHN EDWARDS (#7 Red Bull/INDECK) of Red Bull Team Forsythe: “The battle with Robert (Wickens) was pretty intense. There were plenty of times that I thought both of us were going to be taken out of the race. We raced hard, but we raced pretty clean up until the last move. Unfortunately, I didn’t see him when I turned in; otherwise I would have given him a little more room, thinking I could probably hold my position going into Turn 6. Unfortunately, the first time I saw him was when I felt the contact. I looked in my mirror and saw him spinning behind me. It was a tough battle, but he nearly took both of us out in the hairpin on one of the earlier laps and I wasn’t going to give it up to him easy. It’s great to be on the podium. I’m the youngest runner and a lot of people have said that’s a bad thing, but hopefully I proved today that it’s not.”
FRANCK PERERA (#11 CJ Motorsport) of Condor Motorsports: “It was a tough race, because we didn’t drive in the rain (before) and the track was really slippery. For me, my strategy was to do a really great start anyway if it was raining or dry, and to try to be in front of Rafa (Matos) because for sure, my target is fighting for the championship, so it was important to be in front of him because I knew he was quick. The car was great. I could have a really big gap. It was a perfect race. I want to thank my team, Condor, who did a great job again here. Both cars were better. My teammate (Junior Strous) was also fast for this weekend. I also want to thank my sponsor, Everflux, and again, CJ Motorsport who gave me this chance to win this championship.”
FP Driver Laps Behind Leader Status
1 Franck Perera 28 0.000 Running
2 John Edwards 28 6.056 Running
3 Raphael Matos 28 7.998 Running
4 Giacomo Ricci 28 12.702 Running
5 Ryan Lewis 28 14.604 Running
6 Alan Sciuto 28 15.229 Running
7 Robert Wickens 28 16.391 Running
8 Justin Sofio 28 17.218 Running
9 Frankie Muniz 27 1 Lap Running
10 David Garza 26 2 Laps Running
11 James Hinchcliffe 10 7.162 Contact
12 Matt Lee 10 1:26.850 Contact
13 Junior Strous 10 1:56.266 Contact
14 Kevin Lacroix 9 14.744 Contact
15 Carl Skerlong 9 20.750 Contact
16 Adrian Carrio 9 22.292 Contact
17 Adrien Herberts 9 38.337 Contact
18 Simona De Silvestro 8 2 Laps Contact
19 J.R. Hildebrand 6 1 Lap Contact
20 Jonathan Bomarito 4 10 Laps Contact
21 Brian Thienes 1 1 Lap Contact
22 Tom Sutherland 1 1 Lap Contact
23 Mike Forest 5.795 Contact