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Garcia Quickest again in Atlantic testing
After two days of Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda testing at Palm Beach International Raceway, Spanish driver Borja Garcia served notice that he will be a factor in the chase for the $1 million championship prize at the end of the season with a dominating performance in the first Atlantic test session of his career.

The 25-year-old from Valencia, Spain topped the time charts for all four sessions of testing, with a best overall lap at 1:07.286 in the No. 6 machine for Condor Motorsports. With two solid days of testing now under his belt, Garcia will make his way to Sebring International Raceway for the 2009 Atlantic Championship season opener next week. The $50,000-to-win race is scheduled for Friday, March 20.

“We’ll see next week,” Garcia said. “These two days, the team and also I have adapted really good and really quickly with the car to be quickest in all four sessions. We’ll see next week in Sebring. Everything on every track is new for me. We’ll see what happens.”

Second-quickest in the test session was 2008 Star Mazda champion John Edwards in the No. 36 MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development/Nuclear Clean Air Energy/NEI/Entergy machine for Newman Wachs Racing. Edwards posted a best lap at 1:07.556 in Wednesday’s morning session, which turned out to be the session in which every driver at the test turned in their quickest time.

“It seems like we were second all the time, almost every run, even there at the end when the track was hotter,” said Edwards. “Garcia and I both put new tires on and we were timing him, and we were still about a tenth (of a second) off. It was pretty frustrating, but there at the end we were a little closer. Obviously, on the time sheets, you won’t see that because of the way the track was. It was a lot slower. I’m really happy with the test. We got a lot done and we were obviously quick the whole time. Maybe not quickest, but they’re not awarding any points here, so we’re not extremely worried about that, but it would have been nice to top the charts at least once. We’re looking forward to Sebring. It’s completely different than this, very bumpy and very fast, as opposed to sort of medium speed and extremely smooth here. It’s going to be a completely different game there and I’m looking forward to it.”

Defending series champion Markus Niemela made it two Newman Wachs Racing machines in the top-three spots. The Finn logged a best lap at 1:07.881 in the No. 1 Mr. Jones/Nuclear Clean Air Energy/Entergy/NWR entry. Niemela just signed with the team last week and was still adjusting to his new surroundings in the series-sanctioned test.

“I think we were struggling a bit here, in terms of me getting used to the Newman Wachs car,” Niemela said. “We were changing a lot of things and were trying many different setups and stuff. We learned quite a lot, actually, but for some reason it just doesn’t show on the time sheets, which is kind of frustrating. This is quite a different track from Sebring. I think Sebring can be better or worse, whichever, hopefully better.”

Posting an impressive fourth-quickest time was Frankie Muniz in the No. 77 Stargate Worlds/Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment/FireSky/Cardinal Technologies machine for Team Stargate Worlds. Muniz can enter his third season of Atlantic competition next week feeling good about his chances following a best lap at 1:07.919 at Palm Beach.

Latvian rookie Harald Schlegelmilch completed the top five with a lap at 1:08.116 in the No 21 Conquest Racing entry. Schlegelmilch most recently competed in the GP2 Asia Series and has previous experience in Formula 3, Formula BMW and Formula Masters among other European series.

The top-seven drivers in the test turned laps within one second of Garcia’s quickest time. The two days of testing were run under mostly sunny skies and warm temperatures with no major incidents reported.

Next up for the 2009 Atlantic Championship is the season-opener at Sebring on March 25. The teams and drivers will participate in a promoter test day on Tuesday, March 17 before the formal proceedings get underway on Wednesday, March 18.

Overall Best Times from Atlantic Championship Testing at Palm Beach International Raceway (All best times were set in Wednesday morning session):

1.    Borja Garcia (R), No. 6 Condor Motorsports, 1:07.286.
2.    John Edwards, No. 36 Newman Wachs Racing, 1:07.556.
3.    Markus Niemela, No. 1 Newman Wachs Racing, 1:07.881.
4.    Frankie Muniz, No. 77 Team Stargate Worlds, 1:07.919.
5.    Harald Schlegelmilch (R), No. 21 Conquest Racing, 1:08.116.
6.    Frederic Vervisch (R), No. 17 Genoa Racing, 1:08.155.
7.    Jonathan Bomarito, No. 26 Mathiasen Motorsports, 1:08.268.
8.    Matt Lee, No. 22 Jensen MotorSport, 1:08.322.
9.    Simona De Silvestro, No. 78 Team Stargate Worlds, 1:08.344.
10.  Alexander Rossi (R), No. 16 Genoa Racing, 1:08.366.
11.  Max Lefevre (R), No. 7 Condor Motorsports,    1:08.600.
12.  Michael Nacol (R), No. 2 Jensen MotorSport, 1:11.124.

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