MATOS EARNS NEARLY MAXIMUM POINTS WITH CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC VICTORY
For the fourth time in six 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda races, Brazilian Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) extended his points lead with a victory in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by LaSalle Bank at Burke Lakefront Airport (ESPN2, 7/4, 6:00 p.m. ET).
Matos nearly earned every point available to him from the weekend by taking the bonus points for the provisional and final pole positions in his flag-to-flag victory. He led the field from a standing start into Turn 1 and was never headed en route to a 0.506-second triumph over J.R. Hildebrand (#36 Newman Wachs Racing). In addition to being Matos’ fourth victory of the season, it was the fifth of his Champ Car Atlantic career and he now leads his Sierra Sierra Enterprises teammate James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) by 30 points, 173-143, with half of the 12-race season now in the books.
For Hildebrand, the runner-up result was the best of the rookie’s Champ Car Atlantic career, topping a previous best result of sixth in the first race of the Portland doubleheader two weeks ago. Hildebrand has now finished inside the top-nine positions in each of his past four Atlantic starts. He won one race of a Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 doubleheader at Cleveland last year on his way to the series championship.
Condor Motorsports rookie Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport) claimed his second straight third-place result in Atlantic competition at Burke Lakefront Airport. Perera also finished third in the second race of the Portland doubleheader after finishing fifth in each of the first four races of the season. The Frenchman is the only Atlantic driver this season to finish inside the top five in each of his first six races.
Perera was followed across the stripe by Conquest Racing rookie Giacomo Ricci (#18 Banca Italease/Lotto/Global), who earned an Atlantic career-best result of fourth. Ricci’s previous best run was sixth in Round 2 at Long Beach, and the Italian has now finished inside the top-eight spots in three of his last five Atlantic starts. Ricci has earned points from each of his six starts in the series.
Canadian rookie Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) finished fifth to score his third straight top-five result and continue his momentum heading to a stretch of three races in his home country. The result kept Wickens in the lead of the Rookie of the Year standings with six of 12 races in the books. He leads Perera by six points in the rookie standings, 140-134, and is currently third in the overall championship standings, trailing Hinchcliffe by three points. Wickens has finished in the top five in five of six starts this year.
After starting second, Hinchcliffe went off-course in Turn 4 on the opening lap and dropped all the way to 25th at the end of the first lap. The Canadian clawed his way back through the field, returning to the top 10 by Lap 22 of the 42-lap race and working his way all the way to sixth place at the finish. He also earned the bonus point for turning the race’s fastest lap at 1:06.127 (114.652 mph) on Lap 37. Hinchcliffe has finished inside the top seven in each of his six starts this season, but saw his podium streak snapped at three consecutive races.
The Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by LaSalle Bank will be televised on ESPN2 on Wednesday, July 4 at 6:00 p.m. ET. The race was shown live for the first time on ESPN360.com.
• Driving for the Chardon, Ohio-based Polestar Racing Group, Ronnie Bremer (#12 The Room Store) picked up his best Atlantic result of the season with a seventh-place performance in his team’s home race. The Dane’s previous best results were runs of eighth in the Las Vegas season-opener and in Round 2 at Long Beach.
• Mexican rookie David Garza (#4 Axtel/Tecate/Madisa/USRT), who celebrated his 19th birthday on Friday, continued his forward charge in the Atlantic championship with an eighth-place result. Garza has now earned his best career Atlantic result in each of his first six races this season driving for US RaceTronics.
• Justin Sofio (#26 RLM Investments) earned the bonus point for improving the most positions with a 10th-place result after starting 19th. The Mathiasen Motorsports veteran Atlantic driver now has three top-10 results from six starts this season.
• Canadian rookie Adrien Herberts (#45 Paladin Motorsports) escaped serious injury when his car rolled following contact in Turn 1 with Matt Lee (#44 Integrated Structures) on Lap 16. Herberts was examined and released at the Champ Car Mobile Medical Unit.
Quotes from the top-three finishers in the Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by LaSalle Bank follow below:
RAPHAEL MATOS (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: “On the first part of the race, I probably pushed a little bit too hard. I believe that J.R. (Hildebrand) had better tires in the end of the race, but even having this problem, I was able to pull a gap on the restart. I was able to manage to get that gap. I made a mistake here last year. I was pushing way too hard to win the race and I just didn’t want to make the same mistake. I knew that with that pace that I was going, I was able to keep my gap with J.R. I was just trying to be conservative. Once I saw that he caught me a little bit, I pushed a little bit harder and I would gap him again. It was just amazing how the car was handling and how I was able to do that. I’m just so happy right now, not only because of this issue, but because I extended my points lead. I truly believe that, if we keep working like we’re working right now in developing the car, everything is going to be fine. Hopefully, we’re going to win the championship.”
J.R. HILDEBRAND (#36 Newman Wachs Racing): “I got a really good start, but they’ve narrowed-down Turn 1 a little bit, so I couldn’t really do much with it. I just thought I’d try and get a good run out of the first corner. I got a great run down into (Turn) 3 and we all jostled around a little bit. I was able to get by a couple of guys. At that point, Raphael (Matos) took off a little bit. We kept sort of an even gap for the first part of the race. The caution came out toward the end, and I was pushing a little bit too hard right away and I lost him a little bit in the first few laps after the caution. After that, I started closing back in on him. I don’t know if I really would have had anything for him at the end to get by, but we were both running really well and he didn’t make any mistakes. I’m just really happy for the team. We’ve gone through a lot so far just running the one car. To be able to communicate this well and have that good of a car in the race and to start really gaining momentum for the second half of the season, it’s a great result for everybody.”
FRANCK PERERA (#11 CJ Motorsport) of Condor Motorsports: “It was quite a tough race. I had a really good start, and for me, the strategy was to try to be first in the first corner, but it was important to be between both Sierra Sierra cars and that was what I did. At the second corner, (J.R.) Hildebrand came from nowhere and touched my rear and I was close to spinning. We fought again in the other chicane, and maybe he touched me again. Then, my rear was not broken but bent. I saw that in the end, because all the race my steering was off. I had to fight a lot with the car. In the end, it was a good result. It’s good to be on the podium again and the team did a very good job this weekend. Next time, we’ll be first.”