Niemela Scores First Atlantic Victory in Utah Finnish driver Markus Niemela became the seventh different winner in the 2008 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda and remained one of three drivers still in mathematical contention for the championship in the SunRichGourmet.com 1000 at Miller Motorsports Park.
Niemela started from the pole position for the first time in his Atlantic career in the No. 8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen/Rauma Town/Turku Karting machine for Brooks Associates Racing and led every lap to win by 0.446 seconds over American rookie Jonathan Summerton. It was Niemela’s fourth top-two result of the season and his ninth result of seventh or better in 10 races this season. It was also the third Atlantic victory for the Brooks Associates Racing team and the team’s first win since Kevin Lacroix won for the team at Portland last year.
“It’s my first win this year,” Niemela said. “I’m so happy. I know everybody says this every time, but the team did a fantastic job and, seriously, this victory goes as much to them as to me. Also, for my teammate Tom Sutherland, he really has brought so much into this team when he came a couple of races ago. It helps a lot with the setup. I was able to learn some corners from him during the week and he was able to learn from me, obviously, but it’s really good to have him here. We’re getting good results from this. I’m just so happy and it’s a so important victory. It is extremely important for me and my career. During the race, actually, two times it came into my head that ‘I just cannot lose this.’ I don’t know how would feel after finishing second and, fortunately, I don’t have to have that feeling now. I just can’t be happier.”
Niemela’s victory and Summerton’s second-place finish coupled with a sixth-place performance by points leader Jonathan Bomarito pushes the championship battle to the season finale at Road Atlanta in two weeks. Just 10 points separate the top-three drivers, with Bomarito holding an eight-point advantage over Summerton, 224-216, and Niemela another two points back with 214.
The runner-up result for Summerton was his fourth consecutive podium result in the No. 36 Newman Wachs Racing machine and his fifth podium in his past six starts. He actually led the field through Turn 1 on the opening lap, but race officials determined that he crept slightly forward before the lights went out for the standing start and he was ordered to surrender the position to Niemela, which he did before the completion of the first lap. He pressured Niemela on a few occasions throughout the 50-minute race, but was never able to take the lead. He leads Niemela by two points in the Rookie of the Year standings.
“I was happy to be second,” Summerton said. “Being on the podium is always a good thing. The start was a little bit disappointing, but I’m real happy with a second place. We’re coming out with the rookie lead and hopefully we can win the championship in Atlanta. I think we’re eight points behind, so hopefully we can win that.”
Dane Cameron made it a rookie podium sweep with a third-place performance in the No. 19 MAZDASPEED/Finlay Motorsports/Lynx Racing machine for Genoa Racing. It was Cameron’s second podium result of the season and his sixth top-five result in 10 races.
“We’ve been coming on pretty strong the last half of the year so it’s good to get our second podium,” said Cameron. “We’re still looking for the first win, but it means a lot to us to get on the podium. It gives us another head start on momentum. Road Atlanta is a track I have quite a bit of experience at, as I did here at Miller, so hopefully we can use that to our advantage. I’d really like to qualify on pole, win that race and end the year on a real high note. We’ll see what we can do, but I’m really pleased with another podium this weekend.”
Last week’s winner Carl Skerlong finished fourth in the No. 14 King Taco machine for Pacific Coast Motorsports and also earned a bonus point for running the race’s fastest lap at 2:29.564 (107.978 mph) on Lap 18 of the 20-lap race. It was his seventh top-five performance of the season, but he has been mathematically eliminated from the championship as he now trails Bomarito by 35 points with a maximum of 34 points available.
Simona De Silvestro came home fifth in the No. 34 Nuclear Clean Air Energy/NEI/Entergy machine for Newman Wachs Racing. It was her third top-five result of the season and her seventh top-10 performance in 10 races. The run also enabled her to move up one position in the championship standings to eighth.
• With his sixth-place performance in the No. 26 Del Taco/Stone Brewing/Discount Tire/RLM Investments machine for Mathiasen Motorsports, Bomarito not only maintained his position atop the point standings, but he also earned the bonus point for most positions improved in the race. Bomarito started ninth.
• Brooks Associates Racing driver Tom Sutherland earned his third straight top-10 result with a seventh-place run in the No. 88 ClickAway Computers & Networking entry. Sutherland’s career-best result of sixth came last weekend in New Jersey and he finished eighth at Trois-Rivieres last month.
• Rookie Greg Mansell also picked up his third consecutive top-10 with a ninth-place outing in the No. 5 Sunseeker machine for Walker Racing. He also finished a career-best seventh at New Jersey and ninth at Trois-Rivieres.
• Dutch driver Junior Strous and Canadian James Hinchcliffe were also eliminated from the championship in Utah. Strous finished eighth in the No. 6 NEM/Shell/HTP/Muermans Group/Red, White & Bluezz machine for Condor Motorsports/Team Holland and Hinchcliffe was 10th in the No. 3 Indeck/Tire Rack/NOCO entry for Forsythe/Pettit Racing.