Strous Leads Atlantic Championship Into First Doubleheader of 2008 at Rexall Edmonton Indy

24.07.2008: Strous Leads Atlantic Championship Into First Doubleheader of 2008 at Rexall Edmonton Indy

The first doubleheader weekend of the 11-race 2008 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda season and the "stretch run" gets underway with this weekend’s Rexall Edmonton Indy twin-bill.

While the first four races of the 35th Anniversary Atlantic season were each separated by a month or more, the final eight races of the championship will be run over the next 12 weeks before a champion will be crowned at Road Atlanta on Friday, October 3. The driver currently leading the championship—for the first time in his Atlantic career—is second-year racer Junior Strous of The Netherlands.

Strous took the points lead when he drove his No. 6 NEM/Shell/HTP/Muermans Group/Red, White & Bluezz machine to a dominating victory after starting from the pole position in Round 3 at Circuit Mont-Tremblant last month.

It was the first Atlantic race victory and pole position for Strous and came on the heels of his first career Atlantic podium result of third in May’s Monterey Festival of Speed at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. In fact, the Condor Motorsports/Team Holland driver hasn’t finished worse than eighth in any of the season’s races to date, and that consistency has propelled him to the top of the point standings.

If he is to stay there, however, Strous will have to hold off a bevy of hard-charging drivers. Going into the Rexall Edmonton Indy weekend, Strous holds a seven-point lead, 74-67, over Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe and Finnish rookie Markus Niemela, and neither driver appears likely to fade anytime soon.

Hinchcliffe, who will drive the No. 3 Indeck/Tire Rack/NOCO entry this weekend for Forsythe/Pettit Racing, picked up his second career Atlantic victory from the pole position in May’s event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and finished fourth last time out at Mont-Tremblant. He is also the one driver in this weekend’s Atlantic field with the most previous success on Edmonton’s challenging, 1.973-mile Rexall Speedway circuit, as last year, Hinchcliffe finished third in the first race of a doubleheader after starting from the pole position.

Niemela, meanwhile, has shown improvement in each of his first three Atlantic starts, culminating in an Atlantic career-best result of second after starting third in last month’s race at Mont-Tremblant. Previously, Niemela finished fourth after starting fifth in Round 2 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and the Finn opened his Atlantic career with a seventh-place performance after also starting seventh in April’s Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Challenge of Long Beach. Niemela—who currently leads the Rookie of the Year point standings—drives the No. 8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen/Rauma Town/Turku Karting machine for Brooks Associates Racing.

Another driver to watch this weekend will undoubtedly be American racer Carl Skerlong, who enters the Rexall Edmonton Indy among the hottest drivers in Atlantic. The native of the Seattle area has finished on the podium in both of the last two races, with runs of third at Mont-Tremblant and second at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. He has also started from inside the top-four positions in all three races this season and is currently fifth in the championship standings. Skerlong will pilot the No. 14 King Taco entry from Pacific Coast Motorsports.

Also not to be overlooked is the only woman in the field, as Simona De Silvestro won this season’s only previous event on a temporary circuit with her triumph in the season-opener at Long Beach. That victory made her just the second woman in Atlantic history to win a race. She also finished 10th in Monterey and ninth at Mont-Tremblant, and heads to Edmonton looking to recapture her early-season form. She will pilot the No. 34 Nuclear Clean Air Energy/NEI/Entergy machine for Newman Wachs Racing.

De Silvestro is joined on the two-car NWR operation by talented American rookie Jonathan Summerton, who drives the No. 36 Newman Wachs Racing entry. Summerton opened the year with back-to-back top-six results before a 12th-place run at Mont-Tremblant cost him a few positions in both the overall and rookie standings. He is currently sixth in the overall championship and second to Niemela in the rookie standings with a 16-point deficit, 67-51.

A pair of drivers who have shown good speed at times in 2008 will be looking to get their seasons back on-track in the Rexall Edmonton Indy doubleheader.

American Jonathan Bomarito opened the 2008 season with a pole position and a fifth-place result in Long Beach, but had a tough time in his "hometown" race in Monterey before rebounding to charge from 13th at the start a sixth-place result in Mont-Tremblant. Bomarito—who is currently seventh in the point standings—knows he can make up considerable ground in the championship with solid results in this weekend’s doubleheader. Bomarito pilots the No. 26 Del Taco/Stone Brewing/Rockview Builders/RLM Investments machine for Mathiasen Motorsports

Canadian racer Kevin Lacroix has been extremely quick throughout the early portion of the season, as his three consecutive top-five starting spots will attest. Since finishing third in the Long Beach opener, however, Lacroix’s luck in the races has been anything but good. He was poised to finish third in Monterey before apparently running out of fuel on the final lap of the race and coming home 15th.

At his "home" race in Mont-Tremblant, Lacroix started a season-best second but lost several positions on the opening lap. Adding insult to injury was contact with Walker Racing teammate Leo Mansell, but Lacroix managed to finish 13th. He will be looking to parlay his qualifying speed into race results this weekend in the No. 25 Uni-Select/Deans Knight/Wasteco entry.

Lacroix is joined on the Walker Racing team by the sons of 1992 Formula 1 World Champion and 1993 IndyCar champion Nigel Mansell, the aforementioned Leo and his younger brother, Greg Mansell. Leo, who drives the No. 15 Sunseeker entry, owns a best result of 11th at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Greg, meanwhile, missed the last race at Mont-Tremblant due to a crash during the warm-up with Venezuelan driver Luis Schiavo. He returns to the cockpit of the No. 5 Sunseeker entry this weekend looking to build upon a season-best result of 13th from the Long Beach opener.

Lacroix and Hinchcliffe are two of the three drivers who will be racing on their home soil this weekend. The third Canadian in the field is Toronto’s Daniel Morad. The 2007 Formula BMW USA champion has finished inside the top-nine in two of the three races this season with a best result of sixth at Long Beach. He will drive the No. 70 Metro Directories of Georgia entry for Eurointernational. Morad’s teammate on the two-car team is Schiavo, who is entered in the No. 46 Constructora Iriaca/Astaltatora Maracay/Transporte Jumbo/Energy Freight System machine.

Four drivers looking for the same kind of success that their teammates have had already this season are Dominick Muermans and Douglas Soares of Condor Motorsports, David Garza of Forsythe/Pettit Racing and Frankie Muniz of Pacific Coast Motorsports.

Muermans earned a career-best Atlantic result of fifth at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and also claimed a top-10 result at Mont-Tremblant, while Soares also had his season-best run of 14th at MRLS. Muermans will drive the No. 9 Hugenholtz Property Group/Jumbo Supermarkten/Muermans Group entry for Condor Motorsports/Team Holland, while Soares is in the No. 11 Banco BMG entry. Both are teammates of Strous, the points leader.

Garza, of Monterrey, Mexico, picked up the best result of his Atlantic career with a seventh-place performance in Monterey, Calif. and also had a top-10 run at Mont-Tremblant. The teammate of Hinchcliffe will drive the No. 7 Axtel/Tecate/Madisa machine.

Muniz, meanwhile, returns to Edmonton for the second time in Atlantic competition, this time as a teammate to Skerlong. The actor-turned-racer had his best run of the season at Mont-Tremblant, where he finished 11th, and he will pilot the No. 41 PCM/USRT entry.

Henri Karjalainen will make it two Finnish rookies in the field this weekend as he is again slated to steer the No. 2 GNLD entry for Jensen MotorSport. Karjalainen’s best race to date came at Long Beach, where he finished 14th. Also adding to the international flavor will be Austrian-born driver Christopher Zoechling, who returns to the series for the second start of his Atlantic career this weekend.

The driver, who makes his home in Dubai, will pilot the No. 45 X8ment4u.com entry for Paladin Motorsports. After starting 19th for his series debut at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Zoechling finished 12th and earned the bonus point for most positions improved.

All Atlantic race cars are Swift 016.a Atlantic chassis powered by 300-horsepower Mazda-Cosworth MZR engines capable of speeds in excess of 175 mph. Each entry will ride on new Cooper Atlantic racing slicks and rain tires throughout the weekend.

The weekend schedule will see the Atlantic machines on Rexall Speedway for the first time at 9:00 a.m. local (Mountain) time on Thursday, July 24 for an hour-long practice session. Thursday’s schedule also includes qualifying for Race #1 of the weekend doubleheader from 3:45 to 4:30 p.m. MT. On Friday, July 25, the first on-track activity for Atlantic will be qualifying for Race #2 from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

MT. Friday’s schedule wraps up with Race #1 of the weekend, which will roll off from a standing start at 5:15 p.m. The Atlantic teams and drivers will be back at it early on Saturday morning as the warm-up for Race #2 is scheduled for 8:15 to 8:45 a.m. MT. Race #2 will also go from a standing start at 12:45 p.m. Both races will be 45-minute timed events.

Live Timing & Scoring data from every on-track session is available on the official web site of the Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, www.atlantic-championship.com.

 

 

- Nate Siebens -

Permanent-URL: http://www.automobilsport.com/champcar-atlantic-junior-strous-leads-rexall-edmonton-indy-shell-muermans-group-hinchcliffe---41451.html

24.07.2008 / MaP

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