In Friday’s two practice sessions for the Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda at Miller Motorsports Park, Simona De Silvestro had a fairly comfortable lead over the rest of her competitors.
All of that changed in qualifying for the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix, however, as the Team Stargate Worlds driver found herself in a battle for the pole position with Jonathan Summerton throughout the 30-minute session.
Just as the checkered flag fell to end the session, De Silvestro knocked Summerton off the top of the time charts with a lap at 1:36.891 (113.249 mph) to earn the first pole of her Atlantic career in the No. 78 Stargate Worlds/CME/FireSky/Cardinal Technologies/Maakoa machine.
De Silvestro is the second woman in Atlantic Championship history to win a pole position, following Danica Patrick, who claimed her lone series pole at Portland in 2004. She is already the second woman to win an Atlantic race, which she achieved in 2008 at Long Beach, and the Swiss racer looks to add a second Atlantic victory to her resume in tomorrow’s 50-minute race, which rolls off from a standing start at 11:40 a.m. local time.
“It was a hard session, actually, because we caught a little bit of traffic,” said De Silvestro. “I was kind of freaking out in the middle of it, because I had to gap myself. I was saying, ‘Oh, maybe you’re going to run out of time.’ We got it in, thank God. Team Stargate Worlds just did an awesome job. The car is just perfect. I think we’re going to be really good for the race tomorrow.”
Summerton came up just 0.042 seconds short of taking his third consecutive Atlantic pole position with a best lap at 1:36.891 (113.249 mph) in the No. 19 Genoa Racing entry. The Kissimmee, Fla. resident started the 2009 season opener at Long Beach from the pole and closed out the 2008 campaign at Road Atlanta with the first pole of his Atlantic career. He has qualified on the front row for his last four consecutive Atlantic starts and five of his past six dating back to a second-place starting spot at Trois-Rivieres last year. He finished third in the ’09 opener at Sebring and is looking for his fourth career Atlantic victory on Sunday.
“I’m excited to be on the front row, at least,” Summerton said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a good start. Last time, we had a little bit of a problem with the clutch in Sebring, but here I think we’ve got it down pat. I know we have a car that’s quick and I know we can win the race as long as we get out front.”
Summerton starts one position ahead of his Genoa Racing teammate, Frederic Vervisch in the No. 17 machine. The Belgian posted a best lap at 1:37.214 (112.873 mph) to score his second third-place starting spot in as many races. Vervisch finished second in his Atlantic debut last time out at Sebring.
“It was not an easy session,” Vervisch said. “Yesterday, we were also third in the last practice. We still had some time to gain on Simona; so we tried quite a lot of things and they didn’t all work like we thought they would. It was not an easy session, but I have to be happy with third place. It’s a good position to start. The race is long and I think it will be interesting. We definitely have our plan to finish the race as high as possible.”
Newman Wachs Racing occupies the next two spots on the starting grid. John Edwards, who won the 2009 lid lifter in Sebring, placed his No. 36 MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development/Nuclear Clean Air Energy/NEI/Entergy car fourth on the Utah grid at 1:37.267 (112.811 mph). Starting fifth will be defending series and race champion Markus Niemela in the No. 1 Mr. Jones/Nuclear Clean Air Energy/Entergy/NWR machine at 1:37.553 (112.480 mph). Niemela claimed fifth on the grid despite the fact that he missed the final few minutes of the session due to an off-course excursion in Turn 7.
The top six qualifiers posted times within one second of De Silvestro’s pole-winning lap.
Qualifying Results for Round 2 of 2009 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda
Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix – Miller Motorsports Park
1. Simona De Silvestro, No. 78 Team Stargate Worlds, 1:36.891, 113.249 mph.
2. Jonathan Summerton, No. 19 Genoa Racing, 1:36.933, 113.200 mph.
3. Frederic Vervisch, No. 17 Genoa Racing, 1:37.214, 112.873 mph.
4. John Edwards, No. 36 Newman Wachs Racing, 1:37.267, 112.811 mph.
5. Markus Niemela, No. 1 Newman Wachs Racing, 1:37.553, 112.480 mph.
6. Tonis Kasemets, No. 18 Genoa Racing, 1:37.708, 112.302 mph.
7. Frankie Muniz, No. 77 Team Stargate Worlds, 1:38.068, 111.890 mph.
8. Borja Garcia, No. 6 Condor Motorsports, 1:38.270, 111.660 mph.
9. James Winslow, No. 2 Jensen MotorSport, 1:39.940, 109.794 mph.
10. Max Lefevre, No. 7 Condor Motorsports, 1:40.042, 109.682 mph.
11. Michael Nacol, No. 3 Jensen MotorSport, 1:44.016, 105.491 mph.
12. Michael Mallinen, No. 71 Swan Racing, 1:44.322, 105.182 mph.