Needing every point he can get if he is to vault himself from third to first in the championship following Sunday's race, John Edwards gained a valuable bonus point in a cool morning qualifying session by taking the pole positions for the 2009 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Driving the No. 36 MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development/Nuclear Clean Air Energy/NEI/Entergy machine for Newman Wachs Racing, the 18-year-old Edwards clocked a lap at 1:15.444 (106.792 mph), breaking the existing Atlantic track record. James Hinchcliffe set the previous record in qualifying last year at 1:16.189 (105.748 mph). Edwards is now nine points behind championship leader Simona De Silvestro, 176-167. De Silvestro qualified fifth. It was the third pole of the season for Edwards, who also took the top starting spot for both races of the doubleheader at Autobahn Country Club near Chicago in July.
“I think qualifying here at Laguna was more exciting than any of the races we've had so far,” said Edwards. “I crossed the line and I knew was a couple of hundredths (of a second) ahead of Jonathan (Summerton), and on my last lap, I had a mistake in ‘The Corkscrew' so it wasn't quicker. The team took forever to tell me if I got pole or not. Actually, it was only a matter of five seconds, but it seemed like a lifetime to me, waiting to hear if I got it. It was a really happy celebration on the cool-down lap, but now we're going back to business, because that's only part of the race. We only got one point for this and there's 20 available for a win. We're looking forward to the race and we might have a chance at this championship after all with Simona where she's starting.”
Summerton wound up second in the No. 34 Nuclear Clean Air Energy/Entergy/NEI entry at 1:15.495 (106.720 mph), giving Newman Wachs Racing another front-row sweep in qualifying. It will be the second consecutive race that the white, orange and black NWR machines will occupy both front row spots and it is the team's fourth 1-2 sweep in qualifying this season. Summerton heads into the race trailing De Silvestro by seven points.
“Definitely, starting on the front row should be good,” Summerton said. “Hopefully, we'll have a good start and we can pull away. I know we had the time, but the car was a little bit off. It was not quite where we wanted it to be, but it's great to be up front. The way things are, it's looking pretty good.”
De Silvestro's teammate, Jonathan Bomarito, who hails from Monterey, qualified third in the No. 77 Stargate Worlds/Maakoa/Cheyenne Mountain Games/FireSky/Cardinal Technologies machine at 1:15.907 (106.140 mph) for Team Stargate Worlds. It will be Bomarito's third Atlantic start of the season and his second as a stand-in for the injured Frankie Muniz.
“The session was rough for us, actually,” Bomarito said. “We were on a different plan than everybody else. Because it's a 40-minute qualifying session, we started with old tires and wanted to go to two new sets, but with it being this cold outside, it was taking too long for the tires to come in. The red flag about 15 minutes into the session just killed us, so we were a little bit behind the whole session. Actually, the tires weren't completely in and the end of the session was there. I'm a little disappointed with that. I don't know that I could have been better on the lap times, but I do feel in a little bit hotter conditions, we have a better racecar. The race being at 1 tomorrow, I think, will play into our advantage.”
Finnish driver Markus Niemela, who won the 2008 Atlantic title, qualified fourth for the 2009 season finale with a lap at 1:15.969 (106.054 mph) in the No. 1 Jensen MotorSport ride. De Silvestro filled out the top five in the No. 78 No. 77 Stargate Worlds/Maakoa/Cheyenne Mountain Games/FireSky/Cardinal Technologies car at 1:15.979 (106.040 mph) for her worst starting position since an eighth-place qualifying run at the Sebring season opener in March.