MATOS CLINCHES FOURTH FRONT-ROW STARTING SPOT OF
2007 WITH PROVISIONAL POLE
Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda points leader Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) extended his lead by an additional point and guaranteed himself a front-row starting spot for the fourth time this season in taking the provisional pole for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by LaSalle Bank (ESPN360.com, Live, 10:30 a.m. ET).
Matos clocked a best lap at 1:06.576 (113.879 mph) with less than 10 minutes remaining in the 35-minute qualifying session, a few minutes after knocking his Sierra Sierra Enterprises teammate, James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) off the top of the time charts. With four minutes remaining, Hinchcliffe ran out of fuel and pulled off-course in Turn 1, ending his qualifying session, while Matos suffered the same fate shortly thereafter and rolled into pit lane to wait out the remainder of the session.
Despite the fact that his session ended early, none of the other drivers in the field were able to better Matos’ time, leaving him at the top of the provisional grid. Matos will start from the front row for the fourth time in six races and now holds an 18-point lead, 141-123, over Hinchcliffe in the 2007 Champ Car Atlantic point standings. He enters Sunday’s race in search of his fourth victory of the season.
While Matos’ survived last-ditch efforts to knock him from the provisional pole, Hinchcliffe wasn’t quite as fortunate, as French rookie Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport) took over second on the grid with lap at 1:06.777 (113.536 mph) in the closing minutes. Perera is looking to meet or exceed his previous best Atlantic qualifying result of second at Long Beach in April. Perera picked up the best result of his Atlantic career two weeks ago in the second race of the Portland doubleheader with a third-place run.
Hinchcliffe wound up third on the grid with a lap at 1:06.857 (113.400 mph). The Canadian started both races of the Portland doubleheader from the pole position and is riding a streak of three straight podium results into this weekend’s festivities at Burke Lakefront Airport. However, he is still looking for his first Atlantic win of the season.
J.R. Hildebrand (#36 Newman Wachs Racing) was fourth-quickest in provisional qualifying with a lap at 1:07.001 (113.157 mph). Hildebrand earned the best qualifying result of his Atlantic career with a third-place spot for the first race of the doubleheader at Portland two weeks ago. He won one race in a Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 event at Cleveland last year on his way to the series championship and is making his first Atlantic appearance at the venue this weekend.
Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor) filled out the top five with a lap at 1:07.130 (112.939 mph). Bomarito owns top-eight performances from each of his three Atlantic starts at Cleveland, and is looking for his second career Atlantic win this weekend.
• Conquest Racing rookie Matt Lee (#44 Integrated Structures) was sixth in provisional qualifying with a time of 1:07.181 (112.853 mph). The 17-year-old’s best start thus far in 2007 was fifth at Houston and he is looking to improve upon a previous best race result of 10th in the Las Vegas season-opener.
• Mexican rookie David Garza (#4 Axtel/Tecate/Madisa/USRT) celebrated his 19th birthday today by placing his car seventh on the provisional grid at 1:07.307 (112.642 mph). Garza has not started better than 11th in any Atlantic race this season, but has improved his finishing position in each of his first five starts.
• The top-nine cars posted times within one second of each other in Friday’s provisional qualifying session.
Quotes from the Top-Three Drivers in Provisional Qualifying Follow Below:
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: “We ran out of gas. That’s pretty much what happened there. It was unfortunate. The guys gave me a really good car and we were on the top half of grid all session and we were one of the first guys to set down a good time. I was having problems with my radio, so I thought I was still P1 and I heard a crackly transmission telling me that I had fallen to P2 behind Rafa, and he was about two-tenths ahead. I put my head down and was on a lap about a tenth-and-a-half quicker and it just went BAAAHHH. I lost that lap and I was kind of hoping I could get one more lap out of it. It was completely naïve, because deep down, I really knew it wasn’t going to work at all. I came onto the front straight and just ran out of fuel. It’s unfortunate, but still, we’ve got a good car. Obviously, it’s good to see both Sierra Sierra cars up front. We’ll just go for it tomorrow.”
FRANK PERERA (#11 CJ Motorsport) of Condor Motorsports: “It was quite a tough session for me because it’s again a new track for me. We did a good job this morning, but the track changed a lot from this morning and I had some setup problems at the beginning of the session, so I participated with new tires to try to work with the tires. Then, we improved so much. The team did a very good job during the whole session. In the end, the car was very competitive. Now, we are very able to fight with the Sierra Sierra cars. It’s not easy. They are very competitive, both drivers, but I think tomorrow we have a shot to get the pole, so that’s good.”
RAPHAEL MATOS (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: “We felt that we definitely had a competitive car in the morning. I believe that we struggled a little bit in the beginning of the session in the morning. We were able to make a lot of changes and improve the car, so I was quite happy with the balance of the car in the end of the session. We ended up the morning session in third place, but we were definitely looking forward to qualifying. In the beginning of qualifying, the car felt good but I think the track changed a little bit. We had to adjust the car a little bit for those conditions. I was quite happy with the balance of the car. I also ran out of gas, that’s why I came into the pit lane. I think we have a very competitive car. I think we can still improve the car, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow. I’m looking forward to qualifying tomorrow. Hopefully, I can guarantee the pole. I’m always looking forward.”