Three-Way Battle for Atlantic Championship
Imagine a championship game that has three teams fighting for one title. While that is impossible in stick-and-ball sports, that is exactly the scenario in front of drivers Jonathan Bomarito, Jonathan Summerton and Markus Niemela—as well as their teams—as the 2008 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda concludes a dramatic, 35th Anniversary season on Friday afternoon at Road Atlanta in support of the Petit Le Mans Powered by the Totally New Mazda 6.
|Can American Jonathan Bomarito wrap up the crown on Friday?|
By virtue of his eight-point lead in the championship standings over Summerton (224-216) and his series-leading three victories on the 2008 Atlantic season, Bomarito and his Mathiasen Motorsports team must be considered the favorites heading into the weekend. The series veteran from Monterey, Calif. has finished inside the top 10 in nine of his 10 starts this season in the No. 26 Del Taco/Stone Brewing/Discount Tire/RLM Investments machine, including victories in the first race of doubleheaders at both Edmonton and Road America and at Trois-Rivières in mid-August, which vaulted him into a 28-point lead over Summerton with three races remaining.
Since Trois-Rivières, however, Bomarito has seen his points lead shrink dramatically as both Summerton and Niemela kept the pressure on. In Round 9 at New Jersey Motorsports Park, Bomarito finished ninth, while Niemela and Summerton finished second and third, respectively. After New Jersey, Bomarito’s lead over Summerton was 16 points and Niemela was 22 behind.
In Round 10 at Miller Motorsports Park, Niemela won and Summerton finished second, and those results coupled with a sixth-place performance by Bomarito has gotten us to where were are now, with just 10 points separating the top-three drivers going into the season finale. While there are numerous scenarios for any of the three championship contenders to take the title, Bomarito can wrap up the title at Road Atlanta with a second-place race result or better, regardless of how well Summerton or Niemela perform.
In addition to battling for the overall championship, both Summerton and Niemela are also fighting for Rookie of the Year honors in the Atlantic Championship. Summerton, who hails from Kissimmee, Fla., currently leads the rookie standings by two points, 216-214, over Niemela. He owns a pair of victories this season in the No. 36 Newman Wachs Racing entry, winning the second race of the doubleheaders at both Edmonton and Road America this summer. He has finished inside the top 10 in eight of his 10 starts this season and heads to Atlanta riding a streak of four consecutive podium results.
Niemela, from Rauma, Finland, solidified his stake in the title fight with his first career Atlantic victory last time out at Miller Motorsports Park aboard the No. 8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen/Rauma Town/Turku Karting machine for Brooks Associates Racing. Niemela has finished seventh or better in nine of his 10 starts this season and is carrying the momentum of back-to-back podium results to Atlanta.
While Bomarito, Summerton and Niemela are the only drivers eligible to win the championship at Road Atlanta, the field will include several other drivers with the potential to close out their season with a victory and perhaps play “spoiler” to one or more of the championship contenders.
Dutch racer Junior Strous has already won once this season and would love to finish his Atlantic campaign with a second victory. Strous won Round 3 at Mont-Tremblant and has finished inside the top 10 in eight of his 10 starts this season in the No. 6 NEM/Shell/HTP/Muermans Group/Red, White & Bluezz entry for Condor Motorsports/Team Holland.
Canadian James Hinchcliffe makes his way to Road Atlanta looking for the third victory of his Atlantic career and his second win of the season. The driver of the No. 3 Indeck/Tire Rack/NOCO machine for Forsythe/Pettit Racing won Round 2 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May and also owns eight top-10 results from 10 starts.
With her victory in the season-opening Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge of Long Beach, Simona De Silvestro became the second woman in series history to win a race. It was also the first of seven top-10 finishes on the season for De Silvestro in the No. 34 Nuclear Clean Air Energy/NEI/Entergy machine for Newman Wachs Racing.
One 2008 race-winner who will not participate in Friday’s Atlantic season finale is Pacific Coast Motorsports driver Carl Skerlong who crashed heavily in Turn 2 during Tuesday’s promoter test day at Road Atlanta driving the No. 14 King Taco machine for Pacific Coast Motorsports. The winner of Round 9 at New Jersey Motorsports Park sustained a concussion in the incident and was transported to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, Ga. for a CT-scan. He was awake and alert.
A total of seven different drivers have won races this season and if another different driver wins this weekend, it will equal the Atlantic record of eight different winners established in 1982. Among the top contenders to tie the record are Dane Cameron, Kevin Lacroix, Tom Sutherland and David Garza.
Cameron has been plenty quick throughout the 2008 season with a pole position for Race #1 of the Road America doubleheader in August and a total of six top-five performances. He earned his second podium result of the year last time out at Miller Motorsports Park when he finished third in the No. 19 MAZDASPEED/Finlay Motorsports/Lynx Racing machine for Genoa Racing. Cameron’s best result of the season was a second-place run in Round 6 at Road America.
Lacroix owns five results of seventh or better on the 2008 season in the No. 25 Uni-Select/Deans Knight/Wasteco machine for Walker Racing, including a season-best performance of third in the season-opener at Long Beach in April. The Canadian also owns one career victory in Atlantic competition.
Sutherland has shown impressive speed in the No. 88 Brooks Associates Racing machine throughout the second half of the 2008 Atlantic season and will debut new sponsorship from ENEOS this weekend. The American is riding a streak of three straight top-10 results and has finished inside the top 10 in four of his eight starts.
Garza returns to the No. 7 Axtel/Tecate/Madisa entry for Forsythe/Pettit Racing for the first time since Round 5 at Edmonton. The Mexican driver missed Rounds 6-10 due to a training injury and was replaced by his countryman and driver coach, David Martinez. Prior to his injury, Garza took four straight top-10 results.
Second-year Atlantic driver Frankie Muniz is looking to move into the top 10 in the final season standings with a strong run at Road Atlanta in the No. 41 PCM/USRT machine for Pacific Coast Motorsports. Muniz has finished inside the top 10 in two of his last four Atlantic starts.
Rookie Greg Mansell heads to Road Atlanta carrying three straight top-10 finishes, with a best result of seventh in Round 9 at New Jersey Motorsports Park in the No. 5 Sunseeker entry from Walker Racing. His brother, Leo Mansell, will pilot the No. 15 Sunseeker machine for the Walker team in Road Atlanta. Greg and Leo are the sons of 1992 Formula 1 World Champion and 1993 IndyCar champion Nigel Mansell.
Like Walker Racing, Condor Motorsports will also field three entries in the 2008 Atlantic Championship season finale. Joining the aforementioned Strous will be Dutch rookie Dominick Muermans in the No. 9 Hugenholtz Property Group/Jumbo Supermarkten/Muermans Group entry for Condor Motorsports/Team Holland, while Brazilian Douglas Soares wraps up his 2008 season in the No. 11 Banco BMG machine for Condor Motorsports. Returning to the series after a two-race absence will be the Eurointernational team and rookie driver Luis Schiavo. The Venezuelan will be looking for his second top-10 result in nine starts this season.
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 Cooper Atlantic racing slicks and rain tires throughout the weekend.
After a promoter test day at Road Atlanta on Tuesday, the official schedule for the Atlantic Championship gets underway on Wednesday, October 1 with a lone practice session from 11:10 to 11:55 a.m. ET. Thursday’s schedule will feature a pair of qualifying sessions, with First Round Qualifying slated to run from 11:45 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. and Final Qualifying from 4:20 to 5:00 p.m. Friday’s race day schedule includes a warm-up from 8:00 to 8:15 a.m., followed by the season finale of the 11-race Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, which is scheduled to start at 2:10 p.m. ET. The timed race will be 50 minutes in length and will feature a standing start.
Live Timing & Scoring data from every on-track session is available on the official web site of the Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, www.atlantic-championship.com.
COOPER TIRES PRESENTS THE ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP POWERED BY MAZDA
PETIT LE MANS POWERED BY THE TOTALLY NEW MAZDA 6
• Three Way Battle: All eyes will be on the three drivers battling it out for the 2008 Atlantic title in Friday’s season finale. American Jonathan Bomarito (No. 26 Del Taco/Stone Brewing/Discount Tire/RLM Investments) owns the championship lead on the strength of victories in Race #1 of the doubleheaders at Edmonton and Road America, and the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières and nine top-10 results in 10 starts. American rookie Jonathan Summerton (No. 36 Newman Wachs Racing) won Race #2 of the Edmonton and Road America doubleheaders, finished second at Trois-Rivières, third at New Jersey Motorsports Park and second last time out at Miller Motorsports Park. He is currently second in the overall championship standings and leads the Rookie of the Year point standings. Bomarito and Summerton are the only two drivers in the 2008 Atlantic Championship with multiple victories. However, Finnish rookie Markus Niemela (No. 8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen/Rauma Town/Turku Karting) worked his way into the championship discussion with his first career Atlantic victory in Round 10 at Miller Motorsports Park, his ninth result of seventh or better in 10 starts. Just 10 points separate the top-three drivers in the championship. Bomarito leads with 224 points, followed by Summerton with 216 points and Niemela with 214.
• Road Atlanta Hosts First Atlantic Race Since 1993: This weekend’s season finale will mark the first Atlantic race at the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta circuit since 1993, which future Formula 1 and IndyCar champion Jacques Villeneuve won after starting from the pole position. It will be the seventh Atlantic race in the 35-year history of the series to be contested at the facility. The legendary Gilles Villeneuve won the first Atlantic race at Road Atlanta—also after starting from the pole position—in 1976.
• 35th Anniversary All-Star Team To Be Honored: The 2008 Atlantic Championship season finale wraps up the series’ 35th year of competition and to celebrate, a 10-member 35th Anniversary All-Star Team, which was selected by media members, will be formally honored throughout the weekend at a media luncheon on Thursday and also at the series Awards Banquet on Friday evening. The 10 members of the team are (in alphabetical order): A.J. Allmendinger, Claude Bourbonnais, Bill Brack, Patrick Carpentier, Mark Dismore, David Empringham, Jon Fogarty, Jimmy Vasser, Gilles Villeneuve and his brother, Jacques Villeneuve.
• International Flair: This weekend’s race will feature drivers representing nine different countries. The United States is best represented with a total of five drivers; followed by Canada, England and The Netherlands with two each; and one each from Mexico, Finland, Brazil, Switzerland and Venezuela.
• Rookies Aplenty: This weekend’s field will include eight rookies. The first-year drivers are Greg Mansell (No. 5 Sunseeker), Niemela, Dominick Muermans (No. 9 Hugenholtz Property Group/Jumbo Supermarkten/Muermans Group), Douglas Soares (No. 11 Banco BMG), Leo Mansell (No. 15 Sunseeker), Dane Cameron (No. 19 MAZDASPEED/Finlay Motorsports/Lynx Racing), Summerton and Luis Schiavo (No. 46 Constructora Iriaca/Astaltatora Maracay/Transporte Jumbo/Energy Freight System).
PETIT LE MANS POWERED BY THE TOTALLY NEW MAZDA 6
WHAT: Petit Le Mans Powered by the Totally New Mazda 6
WHERE: Road Atlanta – Braselton, Ga.
ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP EVENT SCHEDULE (All times local, ET): WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 1 - Practice, 11:10 – 11:55 a.m.; THURSDAY, OCTOBER 2 – First Round Qualifying, 11:45 a.m. – 12:25 p.m.; Final Qualifying, 4:20 – 5:00 p.m.; FRIDAY, OCTOBER 3 – Warm-up, 8:00 – 8:15 a.m.; Race, 2:10 – 3:00 p.m.
TRACK LAYOUT: 2.54-mile Permanent Road Course
RACE LENGTH: 50 minutes
RACE ROUND: Round 11 of the 11-race 2008 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda
ROAD ATLANTA HISTORY
Year Race Winner Pole Winner
1993 Jacques Villeneuve* Jacques Villeneuve*
1988 Steve Shelton Steve Shelton
1987 Michael Greenfield Steve Shelton
1986 – 1 Scott Goodyear Steve Shelton
1986 – 2 Calvin Fish Scott Goodyear
1976 Gilles Villeneuve Gilles Villeneuve
* - Son of Gilles Villeneuve