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Two years after becoming the youngest driver Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda history, American racer John Edwards will return to Atlantic in 2009 with Newman Wachs Racing. It was announced at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) show in Orlando, Fla. that he will drive the No. 36 MAZDASPEED/Nuclear Clean Air Energy/Entergy machine.

Edwards earned the ride by winning the 2008 Star Mazda championship with four victories and four pole positions. Since joining the Atlantic Championship in 2006 as series sponsor and engine supplier, Mazda has identified the Atlantic Championship as the top run on its MAZDASPEED Motorsports Driver Development Ladder. The manufacturer ensures that the Star Mazda champion receives a ride in the following season’s Atlantic Championship.

“We’re thrilled for both the Newman Wachs team and for John Edwards,” said Jim Jordan, Alternative Marketing Manager for Mazda North American Operations. “We’ve know John for several years now, and he has impressed us with his on-track skills and his off-track professionalism. It’s easy to forget that he’s only 17. His maturity is well beyond that of a typical teenager. We expect him to have a great season in the Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.”

As a 16-year-old, Edwards drove in the 2007 Atlantic Championship with Red Bull/Forsythe Racing, earning a best result of second at Toronto. He will be reunited with engineer Nick Harvey, with whom he worked at Forsythe. Harvey—who engineered Markus Niemela’s Atlantic championship-winning season with Brooks Associates Racing this year—was named engineer for NWR’s No. 36 machine last week.

“I am thrilled that John has decided to join us for next year, and it is our intention to vie for the championship,” said Newman Wachs Racing owner Eddie Wachs. “With his experience with these cars and his relationship with Nick, I think they will be a force to reckon with. We are also pleased to have the support of Mazda and proud to carry their banner this season.”

“I’m pretty excited about this season,” said Edwards. “I had some Atlantic experience before and finished in the top 10 (in the championship) and now I want to finish in the top one. My engineer won the championship this year and the rest of the team hasn’t changed, they just added another winner with Nick Harvey. I have no doubt that we’re going to win races this year, and hopefully we can win a championship as well. I’m really excited about this. I’m excited to be back in the Mazda ladder system.”

Also at the PRI show, 2008 Atlantic Championship drivers Jonathan Bomarito and Dane Cameron were announced as drivers of Mazda RX-8s in January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona. Bomarito will share the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8—which won the GT class in the 2008 Rolex 24—with co-drivers Nick Ham, Sylvain Tremblay and David Haskell, while Cameron will embark on a full-time Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series season alongside co-driver Doug Peterson in the No. 30 Racers Edge Motorsports Mazda RX-8.

Bomarito landed the Rolex 24 ride with SpeedSource following a shootout with other drivers on the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Driver Development Ladder at a Grand-Am series test at Daytona International Speedway last month. Bomarito is the second Atlantic Championship driver in as many years to join forces with SpeedSource, as 2007 Atlantic champion Raphael Matos combined with Tremblay, Ham and Haskell to take the GT victory in the 2008 twice-around-the-clock event.

“At Daytona Test Days, we ran four really talented drivers from the MAZDASPEED Motorsports ladder and we’re pleased to announce that Jonathan Bomarito will be joining Sylvain, David and Nick for the Rolex 24 At Daytona,” said John Doonan, Manager of Motorsports Team Development for Mazda. “They’re looking to bring a few more Rolexes around the Mazda offices.”

Cameron, meanwhile, continues his Mazda association in his new ride with Racers Edge Motorsports. Cameron won the 2007 Star Mazda title to earn his 2008 ride in the Atlantic Championship for 2008. He finished seventh in the 2008 Atlantic title race with He earned a best result of second in the first race of a doubleheader at Road America in August, a race in which he started from the pole position.

“Atlantic was definitely great preparation for this next step in my career,” Cameron said. “Any driver who has raced in Atlantic has definitely come out of the series a better driver. I feel that I’m a better-rounded driver than I was. Last year was good experience as a one-car team, but this is a new chapter for me. This is the right thing for my career long-term. In a 24-hour race, anything can happen. It’s great to stay with Mazda and I’m really excited to be with this new program.”

While the PRI Show is the world’s largest motorsports industry trade show, one of the unique features of the annual PRI show is the Stars of Karting Performance Racing Industry All-Stars Karting Classic, which features a “Who’s Who” of racing talent each year. Much of that talent came through the Atlantic Championship and this year’s race was no exception.

The “Masters Division” featured Atlantic experience aplenty, with drivers such as Dan Wheldon, A.J. Allmendinger, Joey Hand, Alex Tagliani, Buddy Rice, Michael Valiante and Ryan Hunter-Reay while the “Karters Division” featured several drivers who will likely move into Atlantic at some point over the next few years as well as one Atlantic veteran, Aaron Justus.

The final featured an exciting battle for second place between Allmendinger, Hand and 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie Scott Speed, which was a throwback to similar battles enjoyed by the same threesome earlier this decade. On the final lap, Hand managed to wrestle the second spot away from Allmendinger and Speed also made his way past for third. IndyCar driver Jay Howard won the race.

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