Atlantic Championship returns to Mazda Raceway
The Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda will return to beautiful Mazda Raceway Laguna for the first time since 2004 with a field full of drivers that are sure to have their share of fan support in Sunday’s Monterey Festival of Speed.
MRLS locals need look no further than Monterey’s own Jonathan Bomarito when searching for a rooting interest. Now in his third full season of Atlantic competition, Bomarito will pilot the No. 26 Del Taco/RLM Investments/Stone Brewing machine for Mathiasen Motorsports. In addition to his full-time ride in the Atlantic Championship, the 26-year-old driver is also an instructor for the Skip Barber Racing School at Mazda Raceway, so he ought to know the quick way around the 2.238-mile, 11-turn roller coaster of pavement.
Bomarito certainly knew the quick way around the streets of Long Beach which hosted the 2008 Atlantic Championship season-opener last month, as evidenced by the fact that he started from the pole position and led a race-high 23 laps before a gearbox issue forced him into a brief off-course excursion and left him with a fifth-place race result. With all of that combined, look for Bomarito to be a force throughout the weekend.
Another driver who is somewhat local to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is Sonoma’s Dane Cameron, although his experience at the track is much more limited than Bomarito’s. Cameron wrapped up his 2007 Star Mazda championship-winning season with a second-place finish after starting from the pole position at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but that was his first race at the track. Between that and Atlantic testing at MRLS, however, Cameron proved to be a quick study, as he also managed to post the quickest time of Atlantic Spring Training at the track in March in his first test with the Genoa Racing team. This weekend he will try to parlay that speed into his first career Atlantic race victory aboard the No. 19 MAZDASPEED/Finlay Motorsports/Lynx Racing entry.
Cameron will be joined on the two-car Genoa team this weekend by India’s Imran Husain who will drive the No. 17 Genoa Racing machine in place of Orange, Calif. resident Alan Sciuto, who is recovering from a shoulder injury. Sciuto finished second in the season-opening Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge of Long Beach to Simona De Silvestro.
De Silvestro will undoubtedly be another fan favorite this weekend. She became the second woman in the 35-year history of the Atlantic Championship to win a race with her triumph in Southern California, and by virtue of that victory, she holds the series points lead heading into the Monterey Festival of Speed. De Silvestro was quick throughout the weekend in Long Beach and started the race from second on the grid. She will be looking for more of the same this weekend in the No. 34 Nuclear Clean Air Energy/NEI/Entergy machine for Newman Wachs Racing.
She is one half of a talented, two-car program from the team based in the Chicago area and is joined by American rookie standout Jonathan Summerton. The native of Kissimmee, Fla. made his Atlantic debut in Long Beach and finished fourth, which put him into the lead in the 2008 Rookie of the Year standings. He came into the series on the heels of becoming the first American race-winner in the A1GP series, and with that championship now complete, his focus has shifted completely to Atlantic. He will pilot the No. 36 Nuclear Clean Air Energy/NEI/Entergy machine.
A pair of Americans who will also attract their share of attention this weekend are Pacific Coast Motorsports teammates Carl Skerlong and Frankie Muniz. Skerlong, a second-year Atlantic racer from Mukilteo, Wash., was quick virtually throughout preseason testing and the season-opening weekend at Long Beach. He was second quickest in Spring Training and started the season-opener from third on the grid, but an opening-lap incident with Bomarito relegated him to a 23rd-place result in Round 1 of the 11-race championship. Nevertheless, Skerlong did turn the race’s fastest lap and will return to the cockpit of the No. 14 King Taco machine this weekend looking to prove once again that he is a championship contender.
His teammate, Muniz, is now in his third year of professional racing after making a name for himself as an actor with roles in the popular television series, “Malcolm In The Middle” and movies such as “Agent Cody Banks.” Muniz—who makes his home in Los Angeles—opened the year with a 15th-place performance at Long Beach and will once again pilot the No. 41 PCM/USRT car.
Another fan favorite comes from north of the border in Canadian racer James Hinchcliffe of Forsythe/Petit Racing. “The Mayor of Hinchtown” as he has become known on his personal website (www.hinchtown.com) is generally regarded as one of the fastest drivers in Atlantic and heads to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca looking to avenge a somewhat disappointing 10th-place performance in the Long Beach season-opener. The third-year driver will pilot the No. 3 Indeck/TireRack.com machine.
Second-year driver David Garza of Monterrey, Mexico joins Hinchcliffe. Hinchcliffe and Garza were 1-2 in the first Atlantic preseason test session of 2008 at Sebring in February, and also posted top-10 times at Spring Training and MSR Houston in March. Garza finished two spots behind Hinchcliffe at Long Beach and will also be looking to improve his fortunes this weekend in the No. 7 Madisa Cat/Axtel/Tecate entry.
Walker Racing’s three-car setup in the paddock will be another popular spot this weekend, as the team will field Canadian rising star Kevin Lacroix and brothers Greg and Leo Mansell. Lacroix—who won in just his second career Atlantic start last June at Portland—opened the 2008 campaign with a third-place showing at Long Beach and will once again drive the No. 25 Uni-Select/Deans Knight/Wasteco entry.
The Mansell brothers, meanwhile, made their respective U.S. racing debuts in Long Beach with a 13th-place performance by Greg and a 19th-place run by Leo. The brothers are the sons of 1992 Formula 1 World Champion and 1993 IndyCar World Series champion Nigel Mansell.
The Walker operation is one of two three-car programs planned for this weekend. The other is Bloomington, Calif.-based Condor Motorsports. Driving the No. 6 Shell/HTP/Muermans Group/Red, White & Bluezz entry will be second-year competitor Junior Strous of Wassenaar, The Netherlands, who turned in the fourth-quickest time of Spring Training at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in March. Strous will be joined by countryman Dominick Muermans as part of the Condor Motorsports/Team Holland program. Muermans, a rookie, will drive the No. 9 Hugenholtz Property Group/Jumbo Supermarkten/Muermans Group entry. Completing the Condor lineup will be Brazilian rookie Douglas Soares in the No. 11 Banco BMG machine.
Adding to the international flavor of the weekend will be a pair of two-car entries from Eurointernational and Brooks Associates Racing. Eurointernational, which is contesting its first season in Atlantic and is owned by Italian Antonio Ferrari, will field the No. 46 Constructora Iriaca/Astaltatora Maracay/Transporte Jumbo/Energy Freight System machine for Venezuelan rookie Luis Schiavo and the No. 70 Metro Directories of Georgia machine for Canadian rookie Daniel Morad. The Toronto resident, who won the 2007 Formula BMW USA championship, opened his maiden Atlantic season with a sixth-place performance at Long Beach and was third quickest in Spring Training in March.
Tucson, Ariz.-based Brooks Associates Racing has entered German Atlantic veteran Andreas Wirth and Finnish rookie Markus Niemela. Wirth—who owns three career Atlantic race victories and three Atlantic poles—will drive the No. 88 Wirth Energy/Sueba machine, while Niemela will make his second career Atlantic start aboard the No. 8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen/Rauma Town/Turku Karting entry. Niemela came home seventh in his Atlantic debut.
Finland will be well represented in the Monterey Festival of Speed, as joining Niemela will be another Finnish rookie in Henri Karjalainen with Jensen MotorSport. Karjalainen will drive the No. 2 Jensen MotorSport entry and will look to improve upon a 14th-place performance in the Long Beach opener, his first career Atlantic start.
Completing the entry list is a driver who will be making his Atlantic Championship debut this weekend, Dubai’s Christopher Zoechling, who brings previous experience from Formula Renault in Asia and Germany. He will drive the No. 45 machine for Corona, Calif.-based Paladin Motorsports.
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.
On-track activities for the Atlantic Championship get underway on Friday, May 16 with practice from 9:00 to 9:45 a.m. PT, followed by first-round qualifying scheduled for 2:00 to 2:45 p.m. Saturday’s schedule calls for another practice session from 8:30 to 9:15 a.m. and final qualifying from 12:40 to 1:15 p.m.
Sunday’s race-day schedule will see the Atlantic machines on-course for a 15-minute warm-up session beginning at 9:15 a.m. PT, with Round 2 of the 11-race 2008 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, the Monterey Festival of Speed, scheduled to begin from a standing start at 1:00 p.m. PT. The timed race is scheduled for 50 minutes.
Live Timing & Scoring data from throughout the weekend will be available on the official web site of the Atlantic Championship, www.atlantic-championship.com.
WHAT: Monterey Festival of Speed
WHERE: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – Monterey, Calif.
ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND SCHEDULE (All times local, PT): FRIDAY, MAY 16: Practice – 9:00 – 9:45 a.m., First Round Qualifying – 2:00 – 2:45 p.m. SATURDAY, MAY 17: Practice – 8:30 – 9:15 a.m., Final Qualifying – 12:40 – 1:15 p.m. SUNDAY, MAY 18: Warm-up – 9:15 – 9:30 a.m., Race – 1:00 p.m.
TRACK LAYOUT: 2.238-mile permanent road course
RACE LENGTH: 50-minute time limit
TRACK RECORDS (based on current layout):
Qualifying (one lap) – 6/14/03, A.J. Allmendinger, 1:16.986, 104.653 mph
Race (full distance) – 9/12/04, Jon Fogarty, 40:22.20, 99.786 mph
RACE ROUND: Round 2 of the 11-race 2008 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda
NEXT RACE: Sommet des Legends – Circuit Mont-Tremblant, June 29
MAZDA RACEWAY LAGUNA SECA RACE HISTORY (28 events, 1976, 1984-88, 1990-2004)
Year Race Winner Pole Winner
1976 Gilles Villeneuve Dan Marvin
1976 Price Cobb Price Cobb
1984 John David Briggs Jimmy Santos
1985 John David Briggs John David Briggs
1986 Ted Prappas Ted Prappas
1986 Tom Phillips Tom Phillips
1987 Jimmy Vasser Johnny O’Connell
1988 Mitch Thieman Dean Hall
1990 Mark Dismore Jimmy Vasser
1990 Mark Dismore R.K. Smith
1990 Mark Dismore Mark Dismore
1991 John Tanner Jimmy Vasser
1991 Jimmy Vasser Jimmy Vasser
1992 Mark Dismore Charles Nearburg
1992 Mark Dismore Charles Nearburg
1993 Jacques Villeneuve** Jacques Villeneuve**
1993 Jacques Villeneuve** Jacques Villeneuve**
1994 Richie Hearn Richie Hearn
1995 Case Montgomery Case Montgomery
1996 Patrick Carpentier Patrick Carpentier
1997 Alex Barron Alex Barron
1998 Lee Bentham Anthony Lazzaro
1999 Anthony Lazzaro Anthony Lazzaro
2000 Dan Wheldon Dan Wheldon
2001 Joey Hand Rocky Moran Jr.
2002 Luis Diaz Ryan Hunter-Reay
2003 A.J. Allmendinger A.J. Allmendinger
2004 Jon Fogarty Jon Fogarty
Multiple Race Winners
Mark Dismore, 5
John David Briggs, 2
Jimmy Vasser, 2
Jacques Villeneuve**, 2
Multiple Pole Winners
Jimmy Vasser, 3
Charles Nearburg, 2
Jacques Villeneuve**, 2
Anthony Lazzaro, 2
COOPER TIRES PRESENTS THE ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP POWERED BY MAZDA
MONTEREY FESTIVAL OF SPEED
• 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 Monterey Festival of Speed will feature four drivers who make their homes in the Golden State, including one from Monterey and another one from Northern California. Jonathan Bomarito (No. 26 Del Taco/RLM Investments/Stone Brewing) will sleep in his own bed throughout the weekend, as he hails from Monterey, while Dane Cameron (No. 19 MAZDASPEED/Finlay Motorsports/Lynx Racing) will likely drive his own car to and from the track since he makes his home in Sonoma. Frankie Muniz, driver of the No. 41 PCM/USRT machine for Pacific Coast Motorsports resides in Los Angeles, while No. 17 Genoa Racing driver Imran Husain makes his home in Santa Monica.
• International Flair: This weekend’s race will feature drivers representing 12 different countries. The United States is best represented with a total of five drivers; followed by Canada with three; Finland, England and The Netherlands with two each; and one each from Mexico, Brazil, India, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Germany.
• Rookies Aplenty: This weekend’s field will include 11 rookies, including one driver who will be making his first career start in the Atlantic Championship. That driver is Christopher Zoechling in the No. 45 Paladin Motorsports entry. The other rookies entered are Henri Karjalainen (No. 2 Jensen MotorSport), Greg Mansell (No. 5 Sunseeker), Markus Niemela (No. 8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen/Rauma Town/Turku Karting), Dominick Muermans (No. 9 Hugenholtz Property Group/Jumbo Supermarkten/Muermans Group), Douglas Soares (No. 11 Banco BMG), Leo Mansell (No. 15 Sunseeker), Cameron, Jonathan Summerton (No. 34 Nuclear Clean Air Energy), Luis Schiavo (No. 46 Constructora Iriaca/Astaltatora Maracay/Transporte Jumbo/Energy Freight System) and Daniel Morad (No. 70 Metro Directories of Georgia).
• Past Winners: Chances are good that the driver who wins the Monterey Festival of Speed will be visiting Victory Circle for the first time in his Atlantic career. Only five drivers in the field have previously won Atlantic events: James Hinchcliffe (No. 3 Indeck/TireRack.com), Bomarito, Kevin Lacroix (No. 25 Uni-Select/Deans Knight/Wasteco), Simona De Silvestro (No. 34 Nuclear Clean Air Energy/NEI/Entergy) and Andreas Wirth (No. 88 Wirth Energy/Sueba). De Silvestro earned her first career Atlantic victory in the Long Beach season-opener last month.