Atlantic Championship Long Beach preview
INDIANAPOLIS – After a long off-season that included drastic changes to the open-wheel racing landscape in North America, the 35th Anniversary season of the Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda will embark on its 11-race season this Sunday with the Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge of Long Beach.
While much has changed, many things have also stayed the same in the Atlantic Championship, with world class drivers and teams set to battle it out on top road and street circuits throughout North America for the next six months. The top returning driver to the series is James Hinchcliffe (No. 3 Indeck/Tire Rack), who has reunited with Forsythe Racing Inc. for the 2008 season.
Last year, Hinchcliffe finished fourth in the championship with three pole positions and nine top-10 results with Sierra Sierra Enterprises. This year, he will be joined on the two-car Forsythe team by Mexican racer David Garza (#7 Madisa Cat/Axtel/Tecate), who is entering his second year of Atlantic competition. Both Hinchcliffe and Garza have shown good speed throughout preseason testing and expect to be contenders for race victories and the championship.
The Forsythe teammates, however, will undoubtedly have their hands full if they intend to keep American racer Jonathan Bomarito (#26 RLM Investments/Discount Tire Centers/Stone Brewing) in their mirrors. Bomarito—who is beginning his fourth year in Atlantic—joined Mathiasen Motorsports late in the off-season, but quickly got up to speed with the team and led the final preseason test session at MSR Houston last month. Bomarito also finished second at Long Beach last year.
Pacific Coast Motorsports—which won the 2004 Atlantic title before moving on to sports car racing and the Champ Car World Series—has returned to Atlantic this year with a two-car program of its own. Driving the team’s No.14 King Taco machine will be second-year Atlantic driver Carl Skerlong from Mukilteo, Wash. Skerlong is another driver who has been a fixture near the top of the time charts throughout preseason testing and is expecting big things in 2008.
Skerlong is joined on the two-car team by another second-year Atlantic competitor, Frankie Muniz, who will drive the No. 41 PCM/USRT machine. Muniz, who made his name as an actor in the “Malcolm in the Middle” television series, is embarking on just his third year of professional racing and will kick off the season at the same track where he was first bitten by the racing bug. He won the 2005 Toyota Pro/Celebrity race at Long Beach.
The Long Beach Atlantic entry list boasts one four-car team in Condor Motorsports and a three-car program from Walker Racing. Condor Motorsports is led by returning driver Junior Strous of The Netherlands in the No. 6 Shell/HTP/Muermans Group/Red White & Bluezz machine. Strous and his countryman, Dominick Muermans (No. 9 Hugenholtz Property Group/Jumbo Supermarkten/Muermans Group) make up the Condor Motorsports/Team Holland program. Muermans will be making his third Atlantic start this weekend. Driving the No. 77 Bare Elegance/Valley Ball Cabaret machine will be second-year Atlantic driver Brian Thienes, who makes his home in nearby Huntington Beach, Calif. Rounding out the quartet for Condor will be Brazilian rookie Douglas Soares in the No. 11 Banco BMG machine.
Walker Racing also has an impressive lineup, with Canadian racer Kevin Lacroix (No. 25 Uni-Select/Deans Knight/Wasteco) kicking off his first full year of Atlantic competition alongside English rookies Greg Mansell (No. 5 Sunseeker) and Leo Mansell (No. 15 Sunseeker). Lacroix won the second race of a doubleheader at Portland last summer in his first weekend of Atlantic competition, and is looking to get his 2008 campaign off to an equally solid start. The Mansell brothers—who are the sons of 1992 Formula 1 World Champion and 1993 IndyCar World Series champion Nigel Mansell—will be making their U.S. racing debut this weekend.
Another interesting multi-car combination comes from Newman Wachs Racing. Driving the team’s No. 34 Nuclear Clean Air Energy machine is the only woman entered in the Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge of Long Beach, Simona De Silvestro of Switzerland. De Silvestro is beginning her second year of Atlantic competition and has moved to the Newman Wachs team after spending her rookie campaign with Walker Racing. Driving the team’s No. 36 Nuclear Clean Air Energy car is American rookie Jonathan Summerton who made history by becoming the first American driver to win an A1GP race last weekend in Shanghai, China.
The 2008 season will once again feature champions from top North American driver development series. Driving the No. 19 MAZDASPEED/Finlay Motorsports/Lynx Racing machine for Genoa Racing will be 2007 Star Mazda champion Dane Cameron. The Sonoma, Calif. native was quickest in Spring Training at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last month, which was his first test with the Genoa team. Cameron is joined by American Alan Sciuto (No. 17 Dean Ultra Plug), who hails from nearby Orange, Calif. and finished eighth in the 2007 Atlantic championship standings. Genoa Racing has entered a third car but has not yet announced a driver for it.
Also moving into the Atlantic ranks is 2007 Formula BMW USA champion Daniel Morad, who is slated to pilot the No. 70 Metro Directories of Georgia machine for Atlantic newcomers Eurointernational. Morad will team with Argentine racer Luis Schiavo (No. 46 Constructora Iriaca/Asfaltadora Maracay/Transporte Jumbo/Energy Freight Systems).
Yet another intriguing two-car operation is that of Tuscon, Ariz.-based Brooks Associates Racing. Driving the team’s No. 88 Wirsol/Sueba USA machine is German Atlantic veteran Andreas Wirth, who is returning to the series after a one-year absence. Wirth owns three career Atlantic race victories and three pole positions—including a victory after starting from the pole position at Long Beach in 2006—and has reunited with the Brooks team for the first time since 2005, when he brought the operation its first Atlantic victory.
Joining Wirth on the BAR team will be Finnish rookie Markus Niemela in the No. 8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen machine. Niemela was among the quickest drivers in the first preseason test at Sebring International Raceway in February. Niemela is also one of two Finnish rookies in the series, as Henri Karjalainen has also been entered to drive the No. 2 machine for long-time Atlantic competitors Jensen MotorSport.
Completing the entry list for the Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge of Long Beach is another driver who will be able to sleep in his own bed this weekend. Placentia, Calif.-resident Greg Minium will make his Atlantic Championship debut aboard the No. 45 Paladin Motorsports machine.
All Atlantic race cars are Swift 016.a Atlantic chassis powered by 300-horsepower Mazda-Cosworth MZR engines capable of speeds in excess of 175 mph. Each entry will ride on new Cooper Atlantic racing slicks and rain tires throughout the weekend.
The weekend schedule for the Atlantic Championship gets underway at 8:00 a.m. PT on Friday, April 18 with a 45-minute practice session, followed by first-round qualifying from 12:15 to 12:50 p.m. Saturday’s schedule calls for another practice session from 8:35 to 9:20 a.m., with final qualifying slated to run from 12:50 to 1:25 p.m. and an all-driver autograph session from 3:45 to 4:15 p.m. at the Cooper Tire Display.
Sunday’s race day schedule will see the Atlantic machines on course for a 15-minute warm-up session beginning at 8:00 a.m. PT, and the season-opener of the 11-race 2008 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, the Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge of Long Beach will roll off from a standing start shortly after 10:30 a.m. PT.
Live Timing & Scoring data from every on-track session will be available on the official web site of the Atlantic Championship, www.atlantic-championship.com.
IMPERIAL CAPITAL BANK ATLANTIC CHALLENGE OF LONG BEACH
WHAT: Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge of Long Beach
WHERE: Long Beach, Calif.
ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND SCHEDULE (All times local, PT): FRIDAY, APRIL 18 – Practice: 8:00 – 8:45 a.m., First Round Qualifying: 12:15 – 12:50 p.m. SATURDAY, APRIL 19 – Practice: 8:35 – 9:20 a.m., Final Qualifying: 12:50 – 1:25 p.m. SUNDAY, APRIL 20 – Warm-Up: 8:00 – 8:15 a.m., Race: 10:35 a.m. – 11:35 a.m.
TRACK LAYOUT: 1.968-mile temporary street circuit
RACE LENGTH: 50-minute time limit
TRACK RECORDS (based on current layout):
Qualifying (one lap) – 4/14/07, Raphael Matos, 1:15.724, 93.561 mph
Race (full distance) – 4/15/00, Buddy Rice, 45:44.100, 82.619 mph
RACE ROUND: Round 1 of the 11-race 2008 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda
NEXT RACE: Monterey Festival of Speed – Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, May 18
INSTANT REPLAY: After winning the season-opening event in Las Vegas one weekend earlier, Brazilian driver Raphael Matos turned in a dominating weekend in Long Beach by taking the pole position and leading every lap en route to his second consecutive victory. Jonathan Bomarito finished second, 1.517 seconds in arrears, while Canadian rookie Robert Wickens completed the podium. American youngster John Edwards finished fourth and Franck Perera completed the top five.
LONG BEACH RACE HISTORY (24 events, 1978-82, 1989-Present)
||Willy T. Ribbs|
** - Son of Gilles Villeneuve
Multiple Race Winners
Tom Gloy, 2
Geoff Brabham, 2
Mark Dismore, 2
Alex Tagliani, 2
Multiple Pole Winners
Case Montgomery, 2
COOPER TIRES PRESENTS THE ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP POWERED BY MAZDA
35 Years and Counting: The 35th Anniversary celebration for the Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda kicks off with this weekend’s season-opening Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge of Long Beach. Over the years, the Atlantic series has seen more than its share of legendary drivers pass through the series on their way to greatness, from Formula 1 superstars such as Gilles Villeneuve, Keke Rosberg and Jacques Villeneuve to IndyCar racing heroes such as Bobby Rahal, Jimmy Vasser, Michael Andretti, Danny Sullivan, Sam Hornish Jr., Dan Wheldon and Buddy Rice. This year, Atlantic graduates will compete for race victories and championships in top-tier North American series such as the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the American Le Mans Series and the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. Atlantic has earned the distinction of being North America’s longest-running driver development series, and also one of the best.
California Connections: The Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge of Long Beach will feature six drivers who hail from the Golden State, including three drivers who make their homes in the immediate vicinity of Long Beach. Frankie Muniz, driver of the No. 41 PCM/USRT machine for Pacific Coast Motorsports resides in Los Angeles. Alan Sciuto (No. 17 Dean Ultra Plug) of Genoa Racing is from Orange, while Brian Thienes (No. 77 Bare Elegance/Valley Ball Cabaret) hails from Huntington Beach and rookie Greg Minium (No. 45 Paladin Motorsports) is from Placentia. The two other Californians in the field are Monterey’s Jonathan Bomarito (No. 26 RLM Investments/Discount Tire Centers/Stone Brewing) and rookie Dane Cameron (No. 19 MAZDASPEED/Finlay Motorsports/Lynx Racing) from Sonoma.
International Flair: This weekend’s race will feature drivers representing 10 different countries. The United States is best represented with a total of eight drivers; followed by Canada with four; Finland, England and The Netherlands with two each; and one each from Mexico, Brazil, Switzerland, Venezuela and Germany.
Good Times at The Beach: This weekend’s field will include several drivers with fond memories of Atlantic racing at Long Beach. Chief among them is German racer Andreas Wirth (No. 88 Wirsol/Sueba USA) who started from the pole position and won the race in his last Long Beach Atlantic race in 2006. Wirth is the lone former Long Beach winner in this weekend’s Atlantic field. Bomarito finished second in Long Beach last year, while Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe (No. 3 Indeck/Tire Rack) also owns a Long Beach podium trophy with a third-place run in 1996.
Rookies Aplenty: This weekend’s field will include 11 rookies, including nine drivers who will be making their first career starts in the Atlantic Championship. Those drivers are Henri Karjalainen (No. 2 Jensen MotorSport), Greg Mansell (No. 5 Sunseeker), Markus Niemela (No. 8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen), Douglas Soares (No. 11 Banco BMG), Leo Mansell (No. 15 Sunseeker), Cameron, Jonathan Summerton (No. 34 Nuclear Clean Air Energy), Minium and Daniel Morad (No. 70 Metro Directories of Georgia).
Past Winners: Chances are good that the driver who wins the Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge of Long Beach will be visiting Victory Circle for the first time in his or her Atlantic career. Only four drivers in the field have previously won Atlantic events: Hinchcliffe, Wirth, Bomarito and Canadian driver Kevin Lacroix (No. 25 Uni-Select/Deans Knight/Wasteco).