Hinchcliffe tops opening day testing at Sebring

The first day of open testing for the 2008 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda at Sebring International Raceway featured a time sheet that was topped by three drivers representing the three countries which will host Champ Car Atlantic races this year.

Leading the way was Canadian James Hinchcliffe (#3 Forsythe Championship Racing) who turned a best lap at 57.449 seconds (104.587 mph) in his return to the Forsythe Atlantic operation after a one-year absence. Second-quickest was American driver Jonathan Bomarito (#6 Sierra Sierra Enterprises), who posted a lap at 57.542 seconds (104.418 mph) in his first official test session with the team that won the 2007 series title. Hinchcliffe’s new Forsythe Championship Racing teammate, Mexican driver David Garza (#7 Forsythe Championship Racing), was third on the day at 57.860 seconds (103.844 mph).

Entering his third year of Atlantic competition in 2008, Hinchcliffe is focused on challenging for the series championship. The Canadian racer got that effort off on the right foot in the first official day of on-track activity for Atlantic.

“Obviously, we’re pretty happy with the results," Hinchcliffe said. “The team ended the day first and third, so that’s a good place to start. Sebring is kind of an enigma in itself, so you can’t take too much away from this, but for the sake of the team and for the confidence of both me and David, it’s a good place to start. We’re looking forward to Long Beach more than anything. We’ve got two tests still to go, but we know we’ve got a good package underneath us. Now I just want to go racing."

Bomarito echoed those sentiments following his public debut in the cockpit of the championship-winning No. 6 machine. The American moved to Sierra Sierra Enterprises in the off-season and is entering his fourth year of Atlantic. He too is focused on battling for championship honors.

“It’s good so far," Bomarito said. “A lot of the teams have been here in their private testing in weeks previous to this test and we haven’t, so we were a little bit behind when we first got here this morning. This afternoon has been awesome. It’s a new team for me, joining Sierra Sierra this year, and I’m just working on gelling with the team. I can’t tell you how excited I am to get to Long Beach and start the year."

Like Bomarito and Hinchcliffe, Garza also made his official debut with a new team at Sebring, moving from U.S. RaceTronics to Forsythe Championship Racing for his second year of Atlantic action. The move appears to be paying immediate dividends as evidenced by his third-quickest time in Tuesday’s test sessions.

“I think we started on the right foot," Garza said. “It’s a great confidence booster for our whole team. We worked really hard in the preseason and to come to the first test and be quick, it’s just a really good payoff. The whole team is working really great and the car is doing what I want it to do, so it speaks of good things for the team. I’m looking forward to starting racing. Forsythe is such a big organization and everything is so well-prepared. You have so much confidence in the team. I’m very happy to be here."

Fourth-quickest on Tuesday was second-year American driver J.R. Hildebrand (#17 Genoa Racing) at 57.981 seconds (103.627 mph). Finnish rookie Markus Niemela (#8 Brooks Associates Racing) impressively completed the top five with a best lap at 57.997 seconds (103.598 mph).

A total of 24 drivers combined to complete 1,266 laps (2112.954 miles) on Tuesday, and the top 11 drivers were covered by less than one second. The test sessions were run under unseasonably warm weather conditions with no major incidents. Testing continues on Wednesday.

Combined times from Day 1 of the Sebring open test (pos., driver name, team, best lap time, mph, total laps):
1. James Hinchcliffe, #3 Forsythe Championship Racing, 57.449 sec., 104.587 mph, 111 laps.
2. Jonathan Bomarito, #6 Sierra Sierra Enterprises, 57.542 sec., 104.418 mph, 113 laps.
3. David Garza, #7 Forsythe Championship Racing, 57.860 sec., 103.844 mph, 134 laps.
4. J.R. Hildebrand, #17 Genoa Racing, 57.981 sec., 103.627 mph, 103 laps.
5. Markus Niemela (R), #8 Brooks Associates Racing, 57.997 sec., 103.598 mph, 112 laps.
6. Kevin Lacroix, #25 Walker Racing, 58.004 sec., 103.586 mph, 125 laps.
7. Carl Skerlong, #28 Pacific Coast Motorsports, 58.116 sec., 103.386 mph, 95 laps.
8. Daniel Morad (R), #70 Eurointernational, 58.121 sec., 103.377 mph, 116 laps.
9. Alan Sciuto, #26 Mathiasen Motorsports, 58.246 sec., 103.156 mph, 114 laps.
10. Dane Cameron (R), #9 Sierra Sierra Enterprises, 58.350 sec., 102.972 mph, 119 laps.
11. Greg Mansell (R), #5 Walker Racing, 58.429 sec., 102.832 mph, 110 laps.
12. Juho Annala (R), #21 Conquest Racing, 58,472 sec., 102.757 mph, 105 laps.
13. Mike Forest, #32 PR1 Motorsports, 58.540 sec., 102.638 mph, 134 laps.
14. Sebastien Chardonnet (R), #18 Conquest Racing, 58.583 sec., 102.562 mph, 91 laps.
15. Adrien Herberts, #45 Paladin Motorsports, 58.594 sec., 102.543 mph, 135 laps.
16. Frankie Muniz, #29 Pacific Coast Motorsports, 58.711 sec., 102.339 mph, 120 laps.
17. Filip Salaquarda (R), #10 Brooks Associates Racing, 58.732 sec., 102.302 mph, 103 laps.
18. John Edwards, #36 Newman Wachs Racing, 58.787 sec., 102.206 mph, 107 laps.
19. Simona De Silvestro, #34 Newman Wachs Racing, 58.833 sec., 102.126 mph, 113 laps.
20. Leo Mansell (R), #15 Walker Racing, 58.881 sec., 102.043 mph, 109 laps.
21. Brett Van Blinkers (R), #2 Jensen MotorSport, 59.147 sec., 101.584 mph, 98 laps.
22. Dillon Battistini (R), #13 Jensen MotorSport, 59.252 sec., 101.404 mph, 103 laps.
23. Larry Connor (R), #27 Genoa Racing, 59.317 sec., 101.293 mph, 86 laps.
24. Imran Husain, #37 Genoa Racing, 1:00.820, 98.790 mph, 104 laps.

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