Simona De Silvestro heads into Sunday's 2009 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca looking to make one more bit of history in a history-making season as she hopes to become the first woman to win the championship in the 36-year history of America's top open-wheel driver development series.
De Silvestro heads into the season finale with a seven-point lead over second place Jonathan Summerton, 176-169, and a 10-point lead over third place John Edwards. It is the second consecutive year that three drivers will enter the season finale with a shot at the Atlantic title. While there are a number of different scenarios through which De Silvestro can take the crown, the simplest is that she will be champion with a second-place run or better in Sunday's race.
The 21-year-old Italian-Swiss driver has achieved her lofty position in the championship standings with podium results in nine of her 11 starts thus far, including a run of eight straight from Round 2 at Miller Motorsports Park in May to Round 9 at Trois-Rivieres in August. She has taken four victories and four pole positions in the cockpit of the No. 78 Stargate Worlds/Maakoa/Cheyenne Mountain Games/FireSky/Cardinal Technologies machine for Team Stargate Worlds. She has finished first or second eight times this year, and one more will give her the title.
Standing in her way, however, are Newman Wachs Racing teammates Summerton and Edwards. Summerton has been on a tear since a victory in Round 8 at Mid-Ohio in August, with three victories and a third-place run in his last four starts to become a part of the three-way championship battle royal for the second straight year. He won each of the last two races - at Mosport and Road Atlanta - after starting from the pole position and leads the series with five poles on the season. Another dominating performance this weekend in the No. 34 Nuclear Clean Air Energy/Entergy/NEI ride and the title could be his.
If Edwards is to take the championship, he needs some help from both Summerton and De Silvestro. However, his 10-point deficit to the points leader heading into this year's finale is the same as it was for Markus Niemela heading into the 2008 season finale, and the Finnish rookie managed to come away with the title. No matter where he winds up in the championship race, Edwards can hang his hat on a fine 2009 season that saw the 18-year-old American score the first three victories and two pole positions of his Atlantic career. He looks to add to that total on Sunday in the No. 36 MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development/Nuclear Clean Air Energy/NEI/Entergy entry.
While all eyes will be on the race for the championship on Sunday, it's safe to assume that Monterey's Jonathan Bomarito will have more than his fair share of crowd support as he makes his third Atlantic start of the season this weekend. Bomarito will once again fill-in for the injured Frankie Muniz in the No. 77 Stargate Worlds/Maakoa/Cheyenne Mountain Games/FireSky/Cardinal Technologies machine as a teammate to De Silvestro this weekend. In his first run aboard the No. 77 machine last month at Road Atlanta, Bomarito started and finished fourth.
While Belgian rookie Frederic Vervisch has already wrapped up 2009 Rookie of the Year honors and fourth place in the overall championship, the race for fifth in the standings is still wide open between Estonian racer Tonis Kasemets and Niemela. Kasemets currently holds the position with 95 points but Niemela is just 10 points back and has finished inside the top five in each of his last four starts. Kasemets will once again drive the No. 35 Fatburner entry for Polestar Motor Racing, while Niemela is in the No. 1 Jensen MotorSport entry.
Niemela will welcome a new teammate this weekend, as 19-year-old American rookie Barrett Mertins has been entered to drive the No. 2 Jensen MotorSport car. Mertins, of Alexandria, Va., competed in the 2009 Formula BMW Americas season, which concluded at Mosport in August and finished 11th in the championship standings, despite no previous go-kart or auto racing experience.
Wrapping up his rookie Atlantic season this weekend will be Frenchman Max Lefevre in the No. 7 DOTMOBIL entry from Condor Motorsports. Lefevre is looking to build on previous best results of seventh in Round 2 at Miller Motorsports Park and Round 8 at Mid-Ohio this weekend. Condor Motorsports has two other entries listed as “TBA” on the entry list and could field up to three cars in Sunday's race.