Cameron Leads Opening Practice at Road Atlanta Dane Cameron may be considered a rookie in the 2008 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, but he is one of the drivers with the most previous experience at Road Atlanta, which he used to his advantage in the first official practice in preparation for Friday’s Atlantic season finale in support of the Petit Le Mans Powered by the Totally New Mazda 6.
Cameron posted a lap at 1:14.963 (121.980 mph) in the No. 19 MAZDASPEED/Finlay Motorsports/Lynx Racing machine for Genoa Racing to lead the day’s lone practice session for the first Atlantic race at Road Atlanta since 1993. Cameron’s previous experience on the 2.54-mile permanent road course came in Star Mazda and Formula Ford Zetec competition. He is hoping that experience will enable him to take his second pole position of the season and his first career Atlantic victory this weekend.
“It’s always nice to come to a new track for the series and have some experience in different cars,” Cameron said. “I raced here in Star Mazda last year and Formula Ford 2000 the year before, so I’ve been here quite a few times. It’s one of my favorite places, since the first time I ever came here. I was really looking forward to coming here in the Atlantic car, especially, and it’s really great to start the official weekend off being quickest in the first session. We made the car better and better all day yesterday, and we’re pretty happy with it now. We’ll keep making it better. It’s pretty close up at the top right now, but we’ll see if we can get another pole tomorrow. I’d like to start this race on the front row and try to win it and end the season right.
“(The track) is pretty fast. It’s really fast. I mean, the Zetec car, the (Star) Mazda was pretty fast, and this is in a whole ‘nother league. It’s so fast, it’s unbelievable. Through (Turns) 3 and 5, and basically everywhere, I think it’s 20 miles an hour faster than we ran here in Turn 1 in the Mazda, which is unbelievable. It’s a really, really fun car to drive at this track. I think it suits this track really well. I think it’s going to be a pretty good race. There’s a nice long straight down the back for drafting and good passing, and the times are really tight, so it should be a pretty good race. It’s nice to have a slower corner that leads onto the straightaway, because I think that allows better chances for passing because it’s not so aero dependent. At Miller, it was so difficult to pass because that corner was so aero dependent going into the good braking zone. I think track should lead to some good racing, so it should be fun.”
Second quickest was points leader Jonathan Bomarito with a lap at 1:14.971 (121.967 mph) in the No. 26 Del Taco/Stone Brewing/Discount Tire/RLM Investments entry from Mathiasen Motorsports. With just eight points separating Bomarito from Jonathan Summerton and 10 points between Bomarito and third-place Markus Niemela, it was a particularly good start to the official Atlantic activities for Bomarito.
“So far, so good,” Bomarito said. “The team is doing a great job this weekend. We had three sessions yesterday in the series test day here at Road Atlanta and we started off eighth, then went to fifth, then third, and we were second today, so we just keep plugging away and improving our positions. The guys that we need to be in front of for the championship we are, so we just have to keep the momentum going and go for the pole tomorrow. If we can do that, then we’re doing everything we can do. I’m excited. The car is good and we just have to keep our heads down. Ultimately, you can only do what you can. The bottom line is, you try to go out and be quickest in every session and improve your own situation. You can’t help but to notice where they are on the time sheet and keep that in the back of your mind, but it’s definitely not your focus.”
Niemela was third in the No. 8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen/Rauma Town/Turku Karting machine for Brooks Associates Racing with a lap at 1:15.212 (121.576 mph). Niemela did not get much track time in Tuesday’s promoter test session, and the Finnish rookie was somewhat relieved by his strong performance in Wednesday’s practice.
“It’s quite a fun track,” Niemela said. “It has many blind corners, so it takes a while to learn. Yesterday, we had some mechanical problems and I didn’t get many laps, so this morning was just to learn the track. I was driving behind my teammate for a few laps to see what he was doing, and he was quite fast yesterday, so that helped a lot to learn the track faster. Yesterday, I didn’t really feel like I knew where the corners were going. Let’s see where we are in qualifying. It’s hard to say where we are, because I haven’t done any new tire runs this weekend yet. Yesterday, we put new tires on at the end, and then we had some fuel pump issues, and I could just do out laps and in laps and use the new tires on that. Today, we started on those. I hope the car is handling okay, also, in qualifying, because sometimes the balance changes quite a lot.”
Despite a crash midway through the session, Canadian Kevin Lacroix managed to hold onto fourth place in the session with a best lap at 1:15.328 (121.389 mph) in the No. 25 Uni-Select/Deans Knight/Wasteco entry for Walker Racing. Like Cameron, Lacroix is another driver who has yet to win an Atlantic race this season, and both he and Cameron asserted themselves as prime candidates to become the eighth different winner in the 2008 Atlantic Championship. If that were to happen, it would tie the Atlantic record for most different winners in a single season set in 1982.
Summerton rounded out the top five in the No. 36 Nuclear Clean Air Energy/NEI/Entergy machine for Newman Wachs Racing with a lap at 1:15.448 (121.196 mph). Summerton and his Newman Wachs Racing teammate, Simona De Silvestro posted the two quickest times in Tuesday’s promoter test day. De Silvestro was seventh on Tuesday in the No. 34 Nuclear Clean Air Energy/NEI/Entergy machine at 1:15.586 (120.975 mph), just behind sixth-place Tom Sutherland at 1:15.537 (121.053 mph) in the No. 88 ENEOS/ClickAway Computers & Networking entry for Brooks Associates Racing.
The top 10 drivers turned laps within one second of Cameron’s session-leading time.
• Greg Mansell continued his late-season flourish in his rookie Atlantic campaign by posting the eighth-quickest time in practice at 1:15.686 (120.815 mph) in the No. 5 Sunseeker entry for Walker Racing. Mansell has finished inside the top 10 in each of his last three Atlantic starts.
• Mexican racer David Garza, who is making his return to Atlantic competition for the first time since Round 5 at Edmonton, posted the 10th-quickest time in practice with a lap at 1:15.790 (120.649 mph) in the No. 7 Axtel/Tecate/Madisa machine for Forsythe/Pettit Racing. Garza missed Rounds 6-10 due to a training injury.
• Venezuelan rookie Luis Schiavo was 11th in practice aboard the No. 46 Constructora Iriaca/Astaltatora Maracay/Transporte Jumbo/Energy Freight System machine for Eurointernational with a lap at 1:16.005 (120.308 mph). Schiavo is returning to the series this weekend after a two-race absence.