Niemela Takes First Career Atlantic Pole Position at Miller Following a windy final qualifying session on Saturday morning at Miller Motorsports Park, Finnish rookie Markus Niemela retained his first career Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda pole position for Sunday’s SunRichGourmet.com 1000.
Niemela will start from the pole in the No. 8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen/Rauma Town/Turku Karting machine for Brooks Associates Racing by virtue of a lap at 2:28.915 (108.448 mph) set in Friday’s provisional qualifying session. The windy conditions and cooler temperatures prevented virtually everybody from posting a quicker time in final qualifying, allowing Niemela to take it somewhat easy in final qualifying. He goes in search of his first career Atlantic race victory on Sunday.
“It feels all right, I like it,” Niemela said. “I’m really happy about the pole. Now, I have the rest of the day off. It’s nice to be on pole. It’s my first this year. It’s my first in Atlantic. Obviously, I’m really happy. I’m happy for me, I’m happy for the team. We’ve been very close to this so many times and now we could finally seize it and get the pole, so it’s good. Of course, we have the race to do and hopefully I get a good result from that as well. Now I can enjoy it for a while.
“In today’s qualifying, I heard the lap times on the radio all the time. Our entire strategy was quite conservative. I heard everyone was, like, two seconds off from yesterday’s times. Eventually, Summerton got, like, one-and-a-half seconds off. I didn’t have to hurry anywhere. I was just pretty much saving tires for tomorrow. If anybody got close to my time from yesterday, then I’d start pushing more. My last lap was pretty much just for fun and I went a little bit faster than the previous laps. I’m on pole and that’s what counts at the moment.”
Joining Niemela on the front row will be American rookie Jonathan Summerton in the No. 36 Newman Wachs Racing machine. Summerton was the fastest qualifier on Saturday morning with a lap at 2:30.433 (107.354 mph) after being second quickest on Friday with a lap at 2:29.230 (108.220 mph).
He earned a bonus championship point for his performance in final qualifying, allowing him to close his gap to 15, 204-189, behind points leader Jonathan Bomarito and extend his lead in the Rookie of the Year standings back to six points over Niemela. He will be looking for his third victory of the season in the SunRichGourmet.com 1000.
“We’re definitely expecting to be quick (in the race),” Summerton said. “As the race is going to be in the afternoon, the temperature is going to be on our side, for sure. This morning, the temperature, the track, I don’t know. We were really struggling. I mean, we managed to pull off the fastest that session and get our point back, but it’s a little hard to come out second after having such a strong practice the other day. Hopefully, in the race, for sure, I know we’ll be quicker.”
Dane Cameron completed the top three in the No. 19 MAZDASPEED/Finlay Motorsports/Lynx Racing entry for Genoa Racing. Cameron’s best qualifying lap of 2:29.500 (108.024 mph) gives the American rookie his best starting spot since he took the pole for Round 6 at Road America last month. He is also looking for his first Atlantic victory.
“I think there was quite a bit of rain last night, so the track was very, very low grip,” Cameron said. “It actually really hurt us this morning, so we weren’t really that good, so I’m pretty happy we got a good time in yesterday and can start from that position. We’ll make some changes and hopefully we’ll have a good setup, because it’s pretty low grip right now. With the wind blowing some dirt on the circuit, the weather that came through last night, and it’s going to be pretty interesting tomorrow, because the Rolex Series has a six- or seven-hour race tonight, and what that’s going to do to the track, nobody really knows. It’s going to be pretty interesting tomorrow, but we’re really excited to start in the top three. Hopefully we can finish on the podium, and we’d really like to get our first win before the season is over.”
Simona De Silvestro earned her third top-five starting spot of the season with a fourth-place qualifying result at 2:29.560 (107.981 mph).
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