Atlantic Series: Mt. Tremblant preview
For the first time in his Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda career, Canadian racer James Hinchcliffe will race in his home country as the series points leader as the Atlantic Championship contests the first of four races north of the border in this weekend’s Sommet des Legendes at Circuit Mont-Tremblant.
Hinchcliffe, who drives the No. 3 Indeck/Tire Rack/NOCO machine for Forsythe/Pettit Racing, holds the points lead in large part thanks to his victory in Round 2 of the 11-race championship in the Monterey Festival of Speed at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last month. The victory was the second of Hinchcliffe’s Atlantic career. He leads Simona De Silvestro, who won the season-opening Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge of Long Beach, by two points (44-42) heading into the Sommet des Legendes.
Both Hinchcliffe and De Silvestro own one victory and one 10th-place result from the first two races, and Hinchcliffe holds the points lead by virtue of the two bonus points he earned for being the fastest provisional qualifier and taking the overall pole position in Monterey. Hinchcliffe has the added bonus of being the 2008 Atlantic driver with the highest finishing in the series’ visit to Mont-Tremblant last year, when he finished third behind Franck Perera and eventual series champion Raphael Matos.
Last year, Hinchcliffe finished one spot ahead of American driver Jonathan Bomarito, who also returns for another Atlantic run at Mont-Tremblant this weekend. Driving the No. 26 Del Taco/RLM Investments/Stone Brewing machine for Mathiasen Motorsports, Bomarito is looking to get his season on-track after a somewhat disappointing start. Bomarito was clearly the fastest driver throughout the season-opening weekend at Long Beach but wound up fifth as a result of an off-course excursion while leading. In his home race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Bomarito and the team struggled to find speed throughout the weekend and he retired from the race with a mechanical problem.
De Silvestro is another driver who is undoubtedly looking forward to her second visit to Circuit Mont-Tremblant. The Swiss racer picked up the best result of her rookie Atlantic campaign in 2007 at Mont-Tremblant with a seventh-place outing. That experience could prove to be extremely beneficial to De Silvestro this weekend and she could certainly solidify herself as a championship contender with a strong performance this weekend in her No. 34 Nuclear Clean Air Energy entry for Newman Wachs Racing.
The local favorite in the Sommet des Legendes is undoubtedly Kevin Lacroix of Saint-Eustache, Quebec. Lacroix is another driver who has shown impressive speed throughout the 2008 campaign in the No. 25 Uni-Select/Deans Knight/Wasteco machine for Walker Racing. Lacroix finished third in the Long Beach season-opener and was poised for another podium result in Monterey before his car slowed to a stop on course just shy of the checkered flag. He will undoubtedly be a top contender for the victory in Mon-Tremblant.
Another top challenger should be American racer Carl Skerlong in the No. 14 King Taco entry from Pacific Coast Motorsports. Skerlong started third in Long Beach but finished 23rd as a result of an opening-lap incident, but he rebounded nicely in Monterey. Skerlong was on the pace throughout the weekend, as evidenced by the fact that he started the race from second on the grid and also finished second in the race after leading the first six laps. Skerlong will be looking for his first career Atlantic race victory this weekend.
Another American racer not to be overlooked is rookie Jonathan Summerton in the No. 36 Newman Wachs Racing entry. The Floridian currently leads the Atlantic Rookie of the Year standings on the strength of top-six performances in each of his first two races. He is another looking for his first Atlantic victory and could score one this weekend.
Bolstered by top-five performances at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Condor Motorsports/Team Holland teammates Junior Strous and Dominick Muermans will both be looking to continue their momentum in Canada. Strous picked up a career-best Atlantic result of third in Monterey, while Muermans earned his first career top-five result in Atlantic competition. Strous will pilot the No. 6 Shell/HTP/Muermans Group/Red, White & Bluezz entry, while Muermans is in the No. 9 Hugenholtz Property Group/Jumbo Supermarkten/Muermans group machine.
Finnish rookie Markus Niemela is another who has shown impressive speed throughout the early portion of the Atlantic season. Niemela drives the No. 8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen entry for Brooks Associates Racing and is teamed with German Andres Wirth, who wheels the No. 88 Wirsol Solar Energy/Sueba USA Development machine. Both drivers could be strong contenders throughout the weekend at Mont-Tremblant.
Hinchcliffe’s Forsythe/Pettit Racing teammate David Garza is another looking for a breakthrough this weekend in the No. 7 Axtel/Tecate/Madisa machine and could score well this weekend. The same can also be said for Canadian rookie Daniel Morad in the No. 70 Metro Directories of Georgia machine from Eurointernational, as well as American rookie Dane Cameron in the No. 19 MAZDASPEED/Finlay Motorsports/Lynx Racing mount from Genoa Racing.
The 2.621-mile layout at Mont-Tremblant is reminiscent of European road circuits, which could play right into the hands of rookies Greg and Leo Mansell, the sons of 1992 Formula 1 World Champion and 1993 IndyCar World Series champion Nigel Mansell. Greg will drive Walker Racing’s No. 5 Sunseeker machine, with Leo slated for the team’s No. 15 Sunseeker entry.
Second-year Atlantic competitor Frankie Muniz had some of the best runs of his rookie season in Canada. He will be looking to continue that trend this weekend aboard the No. 41 PCM/USRT machine for Pacific Coast Motorsports.
Rookie Henri Karjalainen makes it two Finnish racers in the field as driver of the No. 2 GNLD machine for Jensen MotorSport. Karjalainen is joined on the two-car team from Montreal – the only Canada-based Atlantic team – by series veteran Philip Fayer. The Montreal native makes his Atlantic return in the No. 22 Jensen MotorSport machine.
A pair of drivers from South America completes the Sommet des Legendes entry list. Brazilian rookie Douglas Soares will drive the No. 11 Banco BMG machine for Condor Motorsports, while Venezuelan Luis Schiavo is entered in the No. 46 Constructora Iriaca/Astaltatora Maracay/Transporte Jumbo/Energy Freight System for Eurointernational.
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.
After a day of testing on Friday, Saturday’s schedule will see the Atlantic machines on course for practice from 9:00 to 9:45 a.m. ET, followed by a first round of qualifying from 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. Saturday’s schedule concludes with a final qualifying from 4:00 to 4:45 p.m.
Sunday’s race day schedule calls for a 30-minute warm-up from 9:00 to 9:30 a.m. and Round 3 of the 11-race 2008 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, the Sommet des Legendes, will roll off from a standing start at 1:00 p.m. The timed race will be 50 minutes in length.
Live Timing & Scoring data from throughout the weekend will be available throughout the weekend on www.atlantic-championship.com.