Sebring Press Release: John on Top in First Practice

The 36th anniversary season of the Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda gets underway on Friday at Sebring International Raceway as part of the American Le Mans Series 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend’s race is the first of 12 for the Atlantic Championship in 2009, with a $1 million payday awaiting the series champion at season’s end and a $50,000 prize for this weekend’s race winner.

If times from Tuesday’s promoter test day at Sebring are any indication, 2008 Star Mazda champion John Edwards may be the man to beat on Friday afternoon. Edwards topped the Tuesday time charts with a best lap at 1:53.957 in the No. 36 for Newman Wachs Racing. The 18-year-old from Cincinnati, Ohio returns to the Atlantic Championship this season after a one-year absence during which he claimed the Star Mazda title. Two years ago, Edwards became the youngest driver in Atlantic history at the age of 16 and scored a career-best result of second at Toronto.

Edwards is joined on the two-car NWR team by defending Atlantic champion Markus Niemela. Niemela posted the sixth-quickest time in Tuesday testing, but the Finnish racer will undoubtedly be heard from frequently throughout the weekend and the entire season.

The driver who finished just behind Niemela in the 2008 championship standings, Jonathan Bomarito will once again pilot the familiar black and yellow No. 26 machine for Mathiasen Motorsports. Bomarito led the series last year with three victories and looks to be back on pace for the season opener with a second-quickest lap at 1:54.255 in Tuesday’s test.

As is always the case in the Atlantic Championship, the 2009 field features a number of talented rookies looking to make names for themselves in North America’s longest-running open-wheel driver development series. Belgian Frederic Vervisch is one such driver. The former champion of ATS Formula 3 and Asian Formula 3 posted the third-quickest time of the test at 1:54.296 aboard the No. 17 Genoa Racing entry. He and Edwards have a "history" from Formula Renault having been involved in a spectacular three car high speed wreck 2 1/2 years ago as Vervisch flipped multiple times down the backstretch at the Salzburgring in Austria.

Series newcomer Borja Garcia of Valencia, Spain completed the top five in Tuesday testing with a lap at 1:54.873 in the No. 6 CJ Consulting entry from Condor Motorsports. Garcia—who previously competed in GP2, the World Series by Renault and Superleague in Europe—quickly got the attention of his fellow Atlantic competitors last week in testing at Palm Beach International Raceway, where he topped the time charts for all four sessions in the two-day test.

Just behind Niemela, who posted a time of 1:55.020, was another driver returning to the Atlantic Championship after a one-year absence, Matt Lee of Syosset, N.Y. Lee turned a best lap at 1:55.157 in the No. 2 machine for Jensen MotorSport.

Jonathan Summerton, who finished third in the 2008 Atlantic Championship standings wrapped up a deal with Genoa Racing over the weekend was eighth fastest on the day at 1:55.283.

Team Stargate Worlds teammates Simona De Silvestro and Frankie Muniz completed the top 10 in testing. British racer James Winslow, who was announced as driver of the No. 12 Conquest Racing entry on Monday, posted the 11th-fastest lap of the test at 1:56.904.

Garcia’s Condor Motorsports teammate, French rookie Max Lefevre, was 12th in testing at 1:57.395 in the No. 7 DOTMOBIL machine. Lefevre won the 2008 West European Formula Renault Challenger Cup title, as well as the 2007 French Formula Ford championship.
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