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Atlantic Championship Notebook
With a celebration to commemorate the centennial of the first American Grand Prix race as the backdrop, Atlantic Championship President Vicki O’Connor and Vice President of Operations John Brunner joined series owner Ben Johnston in Savannah, Ga. to get a sneak preview of the two-mile road circuit at Hutchinson Island that will host the 2009 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda season opener on March 15.

It was the first visit to the facility for O’Connor, while Brunner was making his second appearance in Savannah. Both came away extremely impressed by the responsiveness of the track officials to make the facility race ready for the 2009 Atlantic and GreenPrix USA season openers, as well as the enthusiasm of Savannah residents and local businesses to once again host a world class racing event after more than 10 years.

“They’re making progress, for sure,” Brunner said. “It’s a motivating place to go because the people who live there and the business leaders are so supportive of this event. The track is awesome. It’s so fast. The drivers are going to love it. I think this is going to turn into one of our marquee events. I think everybody is really going to enjoy it.”

A centerpiece of the celebration — which also featured a fireworks display — were Atlantic cars from Walker Racing and Forsythe Racing were on display alongside two Panoz DP01 race cars which will be used in the GreenPrix USA event, and a few 1930s-era race cars. The City of Savannah hosted the first-ever Grand Prix race in America on November 26, 1908.

Condor Motorsports, which has visited Victory Circle in each of the last two Atlantic seasons with drivers Franck Perera and Junior Strous, took its first step toward the 2009 Atlantic campaign with the announcement that French driver Max Lefevre has joined the team.

Lefevre logged approximately 650 miles in three days of testing with the Condor team at Buttonwillow Raceway last week. He impressed the team with his feedback and ability to adapt to car changes, while he was also impressed by the team’s performance to the point where both parties agreed to join forces for the 2009 season. The team expects to field two to three entries next year in the Atlantic Championship.

“It was a pleasure to work with Max,” said Condor Motorsports Team Owner Carlos Bobeda. “I was not only impressed by his driving ability, but also his professional approach. He never put a wheel wrong in all the laps he turned. Max has achieved good results in the European lower formulas, so there was no doubt in my mind that he would do well in the test. However, his performance in the more powerful Atlantic car was far superior to the expectations I placed on him. He adapted very quickly to the race track and the Atlantic car was turning competitive times from the onset. The whole team is excited to have Max in our driver lineup for 2009. He is definitely someone to watch.”

“It was great fun to experience the power and downforce of the Atlantic car,” added Lefevre. “The team chose Buttonwillow Raceway for my first tests. It was a good place to start since it presents many challenges while remaining safe. I also appreciate very much the team’s approach with a new driver. All the members of Condor Motorsports succeeded in making me feel at home and this helped me build confidence and adapt to the car within the first day. Working on car setups at Condor’s level of professionalism was a real treat. The know how and the way I was looked after during the whole three days of the test confirmed that Carlos Bobeda was the perfect person for me to work with as I make my first steps in American racing. I am very excited with the opportunity to compete in this high-level series and look forward to the start of the Atlantic season.”

US RaceTronics has been among the busiest teams in the Atlantic Championship, having tested four different drivers since the conclusion of the 2008 season last month at Road Atlanta. Last week at Buttonwillow Raceway, Colombian driver Sebastian Saavedra became the fourth driver to test for USRT, logging more than 225 miles in a one-day test.

“Sebastian was very quick right out of the box,” said USRT owner Shane Seneviratne. “His lap times were very competitive, and by the third session, he seemed to hit his stride. Once he established a good baseline, we worked on getting him faster and to get the car more to his liking. With some tire strategy he became faster. I was real pleased with his performance and his feedback. I also have to thank the USRT crew for once again providing a fast and reliable car for our test.

Saavedra, 18, hails from Bogota, Colombia. Earlier this year, he raced in the German ATS Formula-3 Cup, taking second in the overall championship and taking top rookie honors.

“I am real happy with how the test went,” Saavedra said. “We were fast right from the start and the team made my first time in an Atlantic car a great experience. I got to become more comfortable with the car and it showed with my lap times improving. Many thanks to USRT and Shane for their hard work over the last couple of days. Hopefully, a good opportunity can result from this test.”

Earlier this fall, drivers Sergio Pena, Juan Camilo Acosta and Juan Carlos Sistos tested for the USRT team.

While teams and drivers continue to work on their plans for the 2009 Atlantic season, the series will be well represented at two major annual events for the racing industry on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

On Sunday, December 7, series president Vicki O’Connor and communications and promotions director Anne Roy will attend the prestigious Autosport Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on behalf of the Atlantic Championship. The annual event brings together the most influential personalities and decision-makers in the world of motorsports to celebrate outstanding personal and team achievements from the past season. Awards are voted on by the readers of Autosport magazine and include the Young Driver of the Year, International Driver of the Year and Rookie of the Year among many others.

A few days later, the Atlantic Championship will have a strong presence at the annual Performance Racing Industry show in the Orlando (Fla.) Convention Center. The series will have Booth 1352 at the world’s largest racing trade show, which runs from Thursday, December 11 through Saturday, December 13. Atlantic officials on hand at the PRI show will include vice president of operations John Brunner, operations & technology director Eric Haverson, logistics director Brian Hughes and communications director Nate Siebens.

Via series partner Mazda North American Operations; the Atlantic Championship will also have a presence at upcoming auto shows in Los Angeles; San Francisco; Indianapolis and Portland, Ore.
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