Skerlong Takes Provisional Pole for Mazda Formula X in NJ Throughout Friday’s test sessions and practice on Saturday morning, Carl Skerlong has been the quickest driver at New Jersey Motorsports Park’s Thunderbolt Raceway. Skerlong continued the trend in qualifying on Saturday afternoon, claiming the provisional pole for Sunday’s Mazda Formula X event, which will be Round 9 of the 11-race Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda season.
Driving the No. 14 King Taco machine for Pacific Coast Motorsports, Skerlong logged a best lap at 1:10.801 (110.693 mph) to take the number one position by nearly four tenths of a second over rookie Jonathan Summerton. Skerlong earned a bonus championship point for his efforts and will be looking to claim the second pole position of his Atlantic career on Sunday morning in final qualifying, which will be held a few hours prior to the race.
“It’s been going great so far,” Skerlong said. “(Engineer) Burke (Harrison)’s done an awesome job with the car all weekend, and the same with the guys. The morale has been good all weekend. Hopefully, we’ll be able to take it tomorrow. The weather is going to probably going to play a part in it. There is possibly going to be some rain tonight, and we saw how that affected the track this morning. Hopefully we can keep it going and finally have that win that we’ve been looking for.”
Summerton was second on the provisional grid with a lap at 1:11.194 (110.082 mph) in the No. 36 Newman Wachs Racing entry. The Rookie of the Year points leader owns two top-three starting spots thus far in 2008 and he will be looking to cut into his current, 28-point deficit to overall championship leader Jonathan Bomarito. He will also be looking for his third victory of the season on Sunday.
“As I’ve said all weekend, it’s fun to be out there,” said Summerton. “It gets dirty very quickly, though, when people drop a wheel, it brings the dirt on. We were struggling with that in the last couple of laps and couldn’t go any faster. It was a little disappointing, because we had the speed to be on pole. Hopefully, tomorrow it stays dry and we can be on pole.”
Dane Cameron made it a sweep of the top-three positions for American drivers in provisional qualifying when he clocked the third-quickest lap of the session at 1:11.198 (110.076 mph) in the No. 19 MAZDASPEED/Finlay Motorsports/Lynx Racing machine for Genoa Racing. The rookie took his first career Atlantic pole position for Round 6 at Road America last month and has finished inside the top five in five of his last six starts. He heads into Sunday’s race looking for his first career Atlantic victory.
“We’re really happy to qualify third,” Cameron said. “We’ve been struggling a little bit throughout the weekend. We missed the second practice with a throttle cable issue, so we’re trying to make up for lost ground here. The track conditions have been pretty tough with the weather and all that. We made some big changes for qualifying to see what would happen, because we’ve got two sessions, and it really paid off for us this time. I’m glad to be in the top three. Hopefully, now we found something that works and we can improve on this and try to start on the front row on Sunday.”
Finnish driver Markus Niemela made it three rookies inside the top four with a fourth-place qualifying performance at 1:11.339 (109.859 mph) in the No. 8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen/Rauma Town/Turku Karting machine for Brooks Associates Racing. Niemela is currently tied for third in the overall championship standings with James Hinchcliffe and trails Summerton by eight points in the Rookie of the Year point standings.
Niemela’s Brooks Associates Racing teammate Tom Sutherland was fifth in the No. 88 ClickAway Computers & Networking machine at 1:11:369 (109.812 mph). Sutherland started a career-best fifth for Round 7 at Road America in August and will be making his sixth Atlantic start of the season in the Mazda Formula X.
Bomarito took sixth on the provisional grid at 1:11.438 (109.706 mph) in the No. 26 Del Taco/Stone Brewing/Discount Tire/RLM Investments entry for Mathiasen Motorsports, followed by Hinchcliffe in the No. 3 Indeck/Tire Rack/NOCO machine from Forsythe/Pettit Racing at 1:11.569 (109.506 mph). Dutch racer Junior Strous was eighth at 1:11.637 (109.402 mph) in the No. 6 NEM/Shell/HTP/Muermans Group/Red, White & Bluezz mount from Condor Motorsports/Team Holland, with Mexican racer David Martinez ninth in the No. 7 Axtel/Tecate/Madisa machine at 1:11.703 (109.301 mph) for Forsythe/Pettit Racing. Kevin Lacroix completed the top 10 at 1:11.790 (109.168 mph).
The top-10 drivers in provisional qualifying were covered by less than one second.
• After turning in the sixth-quickest time in practice on Saturday morning, New Jersey native Frankie Muniz was 11th in provisional qualifying with a best lap at 1:11.890 (109.017 mph) in the No. 41 PCM/USRT machine for Pacific Coast Motorsports. The best starting spot of Muniz’s Atlantic career was 13th for Round 7 at Road America last month.
• Coming off a career-best race result of 10th at Trois-Rivieres, Finnish rookie Henri Karjalainen is poised to eclipse his career-best starting position of 15th, which he has achieved three times this season. Karjalainen was 14th in Saturday’s provisional qualifying session with a lap at 1:12.779 (107.685 mph).
• In provisional qualifying for his first Atlantic race since 2005 and just the fourth of his career, Rich Zober posted the 19th-quickest time at 1:16.148 (102.921 mph) aboard the No. 66 Zober Industries, Inc./www.zober.com machine for Polestar Motor Racing.