De Silvestro sweeps Utah Atlantic weekend
Simona De Silvestro had a perfect weekend at Round 2 of the 12-race 2009 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship, the $50,000-to-win Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix at Miller Motorsports Park.
The 20-year-old Swiss racer led both practice sessions on Friday, took her first career Atlantic pole position on Saturday and dominated Sunday’s race to score the second victory of her Atlantic career. Driving the No. 78 Stargate Worlds/CME/FireSky/Cardinal Technologies/Maakoa machine, De Silvestro sped into the lead as soon as the lights went out on the race’s standing start and quickly checked out on the rest of the field, leading throughout the 50-minute, 31-lap race. The Team Stargate Worlds driver won by 11.7 seconds ahead of John Edwards.
It was De Silvestro’s first Atlantic win since the 2008 season opener at Long Beach, where she became the second woman in series history to win a race behind Katherine Legge, who won three races in 2005. On Saturday, De Silvestro became the second woman in series history to win a pole position behind Danica Patrick, who took a pole position at Portland in 2004. De Silvestro became the first woman in series history to win a race after starting from the pole position.
“It feels awesome,” said De Silvestro. “We had the perfect weekend. We led every session, we had pole, and I think we had fastest lap during the race. Team Stargate Worlds just did a great job. The car was really good. I just could drive every time the same lap time and we kind of pulled away. It looked easy but it was pretty hard to be consistently fast, especially running after ALMS (practice). It was pretty slippery. I’m just really happy to have won my second race in the Atlantic series.”
Edwards, who earned a $50,000 check for his victory in Round 1 of the 2009 championship at Sebring in March, quickly moved up from fourth on the starting grid to second on the opening lap in the No. 36 MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development/Nuclear Clean Air Energy/NEI/Entergy car for Newman Wachs Racing. While De Silvestro set sail, Edwards spent the remainder of the race with Belgian rookie Frederic Vervisch filling his mirrors. He was able to keep Vervisch behind him throughout the race to secure second place and keep the lead in the point standings after two of 12 races. The 18-year-old Edwards leads De Silvestro by five points, 36-31 in the race for the $1 million title.
“When we’re talking about the championship before the year, we’re always thinking about top three, top five, so my goal today was to move up from fourth up into the top three,” said Edwards, of Cincinnati, Ohio. “Luckily, (Jonathan) Summerton went off during the first lap and gave me second, but there was just no catching Simona today. We’re definitely focused on the championship. So far, I’ve had a first and a second, so I’m still in the lead, and hopefully we can keep that podium streak going in the next two rounds.”
Vervisch came home third to earn his second podium result in as many Atlantic Championship starts in the No. 17 Genoa Racing entry. The Belgian previously finished second in the season opener at Sebring and is just one point behind De Silvestro and six out of the championship lead with two races now in the books. He also leads the Rookie of the Year standings by 17 points over James Winslow.
“A podium is, of course, good,” Vervisch said. “We couldn’t win today because Simona was too strong, but we could have had second because, definitely, we were quite a bit faster than John. Just at the last part of the track, we had some problems with the car to have a good exit. That made it really difficult to overtake. I’m happy that I finished the race and have the points, but I’m not happy that I’m not second, because we had a pace, for sure, to be second. He defended it well, he did a good race, and Simona did a great job and her team also. I’m happy with the result.”
Scoring a career-best fourth place result and making it two Team Stargate Worlds cars inside the top four was Frankie Muniz in the No. 77 Stargate Worlds/CME/FireSky/Cardinal Technologies/Maakoa entry. Muniz started seventh and spent most of the race battling for fourth with Borja Garcia and defending series champion Markus Niemela. He capitalized on last-lap contact between Garcia and Niemela to take fourth, earning the $2,000 Hard Charger bonus and a bonus championship point for improving the most positions from start to finish. The actor-turned-racer’s previous best result was a ninth-place run at Toronto in 2007.
Atlantic veteran Tonis Kasemets completed the top five in the No. 18 Genoa Racing machine. The Estonian finished seventh at Sebring with Polestar Motor Racing before moving to Genoa Racing for Round 2 in Utah. After dropping to the tail of the field due to an opening-lap off-course excursion, Summerton fought his way back to finish sixth in the No. 19 machine to give Genoa Racing three of the top six finishers.
Michael Mallinen claimed the C2 class victory in the No. 71 Mallinen Properties machine for Swan Racing and finished 10th overall.
Following the race, series officials excluded Garcia from the final results when it was determined that he violated IMSA Code 5.5 (blocking) and 5.6 (avoidable contact) in the incident with Niemela.