Speedy Frenchman Franck Perera Keeps Record Perfect in Leading Final Day of Atlantic Test at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
MONTEREY, California - For a driver who had never stepped in an Atlantic car or turned a wheel of competition in America just 48 hours earlier, Franck Perera looked like a seasoned pro during the final pre-season test session for the 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.
After dominating testing on Wednesday and unofficially shattering the Atlantic track record at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Perera continued to impress Thursday as the Atlantics wrapped up their third and final test session prior to the start of the 2007 season. Testing for Condor Motorsports, Perera staged a day-long fight with series sophomore Raphael Matos of Sierra Sierra Enterprises Thursday. The two talented racers battled for the top time of the test and just when it seemed that Matos was ready to equal the speedy rookie, Perera would set a new mark to reach for.
At the end of the two full days of testing that would see the Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Cooper machines log well over 10,000 miles on the fabled 2.238-mile road course among 26 drivers, Perera once again proved to be the man to beat. The 22-year-old former GP2 racer and Formula One test driver completed a perfect test by leading all four sessions as he wound up with a fast lap of 1:16.067 (105.917 mph).
"It was a good test and we had a really nice fight with Matos all day. The Condor team did a really good job and I think I was getting better with the car all the time," said Perera, who hasn't yet been signed for the 2007 season. "My goal is definitely to be in Champ Car and the best way to do that is like (2006 Atlantic champion Simon) Pagenaud did last year. Win the Atlantic championship and then move up. I've just got to focus on that and see what happens with the team."
Pagenaud, another fast Frenchman with a strong European racing background who was also impressive from his very first Atlantic test, claimed the $2 million Atlantic champion's bonus last season and will compete with the Team Australia Champ Car squad in 2007. Another $2 million bonus is available for this year's series champion to graduate to Champ Car.
After finishing second to Perera in Wednesday's testing, Matos again looked strong in the final day of the test as he raised his game to match the impressive performance of the rookie. The native
Brazilian who now makes his home in Miami, Florida owned the second fastest overall time of 1:16.216 (105.710 mph).
"It's been two days of good battles on the track," said Matos. "We definitely made some progress today, especially in the afternoon session when we were able to find at least three or four tenths (of a second) in our car. It was definitely a positive test and I think the Sierra Sierra team is ready for the start of the season."
While the fight for the top time of the test was compelling between Perera and Matos, the other Atlantic competitors also demonstrated impressive speed as the top six drivers all posted laps faster than the official track record of 1:16.986 (104.653 mph), recorded by A.J. Allmendinger in 2003.
PR1 Motorsports driver Jonathan Bomarito, who hails from Monterey, came on strong in the final session of the day to claim the third-fastest time on his home track. Bomarito stopped the clocks at 1:16.374 (105.491 mph) to finish on the testing podium.
"The way the morning was going, we didn't think we'd wind up third," said Bomarito. "We struggled a little bit but the whole team, along with engineer John Hayes, rallied and found the little things that made the difference."
Italy's Giacomo Ricci enjoyed a top-four result for the second consecutive day. The Conquest Racing rookie was fourth overall after posting a top lap of 1:16.605 (105.173 mph). After struggling a bit on Wednesday, Sierra Sierra racer James Hinchcliffe recovered to finish among the top-five testers with a time of 1:16.631 (105.138 mph).
First-year Atlantic racer Carl Skerlong of the US RaceTronics team clocked a fast lap of 1:16.850 (104.838 mph) to settle in sixth overall, while Genoa Racing's Adrian Carrio posted the seventh-fastest lap at 1:17.072 (104.536 mph).
David Garza of US RaceTronics was eighth in the order as he checked in at 1:17.118 (104.474 mph) and the Red Bull Team Forsythe duo of Robert Wickens and John Edwards completed the top 10. Wickens owned a fast lap of 1:17.132 (104.455 mph) while Edwards recorded a time of 1:17.134 (104.452 mph).
After a busy and exciting pre-season testing schedule, the 2007 Atlantic competitors now have a month to concentrate on preparations for the first race of the year - April 6-8 on the downtown streets of Las Vegas, Nevada at the inaugural Vegas Grand Prix.
To learn more about North America's top open-wheel development series and to follow all of the Atlantic racing action throughout the 2007 season, visit www.champcaratlantic.com.
Combined lap times from the two-day Atlantic test at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca follow:
Franck Perera (R), Condor Motorsports - 1:16.067/105.917 mph
Raphael Matos, Sierra Sierra Enterprises - 1:16.216/105.710 mph
Jonathan Bomarito, PR1 Motorsports - 1:16.374/105.491 mph
Giacomo Ricci (R), Conquest Racing - 1:16.605/105.173 mph
James Hinchcliffe, Sierra Sierra Enterprises - 1:16.631/105.138 mph
Carl Skerlong (R), US RaceTronics - 1:16.850/104.838 mph
Adrian Carrio (R), Genoa Racing - 1:17.072/104.536 mph
David Garza (R), US RaceTronics - 1:17.118/104.474 mph
Robert Wickens (R), Red Bull Team Forsythe - 1:17.132/104.455 mph
John Edwards (R), Red Bull Team Forsythe - 1:17.134/104.452 mph
J.R. Hildebrand (R), Newman Wachs Racing - 1:17.216/104.341 mph
Justin Sofio, Mathiasen Motorsports - 1:17.227/104.326 mph
Ryan Lewis, Walker Racing - 1:17.312/104.212 mph
Matt Lee (R), Conquest Racing - 1:17.399/104.094 mph
Jonathan Summerton (R), Brooks Associates Racing - 1:17.441/104.038
Simona De Silvestro (R), Walker Racing - 1:17.548/103.894 mph
Colin Fleming, Walker Racing - 1:17.723/103.660 mph
Tom Sutherland (R), Jensen MotorSport - 1:17.789/103.572 mph
Adrien Herberts (R), Paladin Motorsports - 1:17.950/103.359 mph
Brian Thienes (R), Condor Motorsports - 1:18.261/102.948 mph
Dane Cameron (R), Polestar Racing Group - 1:18.384/102.786 mph
Mike Forest (R), PR1 Motorsports - 1:18.484/102.655 mph
Frankie Muniz (R), Jensen MotorSport - 1:19.019/101.960 mph
Dominick Muermans (R), Jensen MotorSport - 1:19.359/101.523 mph
Richard Heistand (R), Genoa Racing - 1:21.092/99.354 mph
Leonardo Valois (R), Genoa Racing - 1:23.048/97.014 mph