Strous wins first Atlantic pole
Under weather conditions that alternated between dry and wet a few times throughout the day, Junior Strous scored his first career pole position in Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda competition and will start Sunday’s Sommet des Legendes at Circuit Mont-Tremblant from the inside of the front row.
Strous posted a best lap at 1:28.805 (106.251 mph) in the No. 6 Shell/HTP/Muermans Group/Red, White & Bluezz entry from Condor Motorsports/Team Holland to score the pole. The Dutchman’s lap came in the first of the day’s two qualifying sessions when a light rain shower momentarily slowed the pace in the 45-minute session, but it dried in time for Strous and a few others to clock quick times. The second session was run almost entirely under a steady rain and nobody was remotely close to their times from the earlier session.
The pole position for Strous adds more momentum for him and the Condor Motorsports/Team Holland program. Last month at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Strous earned his first career podium result with a third-place performance, while teammate Dominick Muermans also finished fifth in his No. 9 Hugenholtz Property Group/Jumbo Supermarkten/Muermans Group machine. With the pole position, Strous earned a bonus championship point, which moved him to within just two markers of championship leader James Hinchcliffe. Strous enters Sunday’s race looking for his first Atlantic victory.
“I’m really happy with my first pole,” Strous said. “I worked really hard for it. The first qualifying session was so hectic, because we had the threat of rain. We were out kind of late and when it started raining we were panicking a bit, because I was fourth at the time. Luckily, the track dried up and we could come back. It was nice. The second qualifying session, was all wet and I took it easy. I didn’t want to have any damage. The car is good in the rain. I’m looking forward to the race tomorrow. I’m happy with the way it’s going. I’m up there in the points. It’s going well. I want to get some good points here and maybe win the race. We’ll see. I want to get the lead in the championship.”
Starting second by virtue of being the fastest qualifier in the wet final session is local favorite Kevin Lacroix in the No. 25 Uni-Select/Deans Knight/Wasteco entry from Walker Racing. The Saint-Eustache, Quebec native posted a best time in the second session at 1:43.313 (91.330 mph) to take the top time in the second session by more than a second ahead of Canadian rookie Daniel Morad. In the first session, Lacroix was fifth quickest with a lap at 1:29.656 (105.242 mph).
Lacroix has been among the quicker drivers throughout the 2008 Atlantic season to date and already owns one podium result following a third-place run in the season-opening Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge of Long Beach. He is looking to put a heartbreaking finish to last month’s Monterey Festival of Speed behind him this weekend. In Monterey, Lacroix appeared set for another podium until his car slowed on the final lap and stopped on course just shy of the checkered flag, leaving him one lap down in 15th place at the finish. He is also looking for his second career Atlantic victory.
“Today was pretty tricky,” Lacroix said. “There was a lot of standing water and I was going sideways some. Overall, it was good. I know that I like these conditions. I’ve always been fast in the wet. It’s all about confidence and control. The Uni-Select/Deans Knight Capital Management Ltd/ Wasteco car was great, too. It’s very tough to get a good wet setup, but we got it right on. I’m happy to be home and to be on the front row. I want to thank the team, Walker Racing, and my sponsors Uni-Select, Deans Knight Capital Management Ltd. and Wasteco, and hopefully tomorrow I can bring them home a win.”
Starting third for the best qualifying result of his young Atlantic career will be Finnish rookie Markus Niemela. The Brooks Associates Racing driver’s best lap was 1:29.064 (105.942 mph) in the No. 8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen/Rauma Town/Turku Karting machine, placing him two spots higher than his previous best qualifying result of fifth in Round 2 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. He has finished inside the top 10 in each of his first two starts and will be looking to improve upon his best Atlantic result of fourth, which also came at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last month.
“I think third position is good to start,” Niemela said. “Of course, it would have been better to start on the front row, but third is all right. It’s definitely not bad. It’s my first top-three start this year, so I think anything is possible, but let’s see what happens tomorrow. Who knows what the weather is going to be like tomorrow? We’ll see.”
Despite crashing near the end of the second qualifying session, Carl Skerlong will start fourth in the No. 14 King Taco entry with a best lap at 1:29.316 (105.643 mph). The Pacific Coast Motorsports driver is looking to continue his momentum from a second-place performance in Monterey last month. Hinchcliffe, who finished one spot ahead of Skerlong in Monterey, will start one spot behind him in Mont-Tremblant. The Canadian turned a best lap at 1:29.389 (105.557 mph) in the No. 3 Indeck/Tire Rack/NOCO entry for Forsythe/Pettit Racing.
Niemela’s BAR teammate Andreas Wirth qualified sixth in the No. 88 Wirsol Solar Energy/Sueba USA Development machine at 1:29.914 (104.940 mph), followed by Rookie of the Year points leader Jonathan Summerton at 1:30.038 (104.796 mph) in the No. 36 Newman Wachs Racing machine. Another American rookie, Dane Cameron, will start eighth in the No. 19 MAZDASPEED/Finlay Motorsports/Lynx Racing entry for Genoa Racing at 1:30.077 (104.750 mph), with Muermans ninth at 1:30.087 (104.739 mph) and Mexican racer David Garza completing the top 10 at 1:30.128 (104.691 mph).