Newman Wachs Racing believes that it will enter the richest Atlantic Championship Series ever with the strongest line-up of the modern Swift 016 era, having signed reigning champion Markus Niemela to join Star Mazda titlewinner John Edwards for 2009.
Regardless of its standing in the pantheon of Atlantic entries, however, the two-car effort is the strongest NWR has had in its short history, despite having fielded drivers such as racewinners Simona de Silvestro, Tonis Kasemets, JR Hildebrand and rapidly rising star Jonathan Summerton in previous seasons. The team has one pole, three victories and seven podiums in its three-year spell in the Atlantic series, and has been a frontrunner since its formation.
Niemela is the first driver to return to defend his title with a full-time effort since Lee Bentham, who won the 1998 title and finished sixth in the 1999 championship, and will carry the #1 plate on his Mr Jones/ Nuclear Clean Air Energy/Entergy Swift. The Finn returns with momentum too, having closed out the 2008 campaign with a win at the Road Atlanta finale.
“First of all, I would like to say that I am extremely excited for this season," insisted Niemela, whose title opened testing doors in Indy Lights, GP2 and the DTM over the off-season, "This is the first time that I have competed in the same series for more than one year since karting, and I was looking at other options after I won the championship last year, but when Ben Johnston announced the new prize money structure, it made sense to do it again.
"Newman Wachs Racing was my first choice for a new team and I am very happy to be here. It took a while to get things together, but I am very relieved and now ready to focus on what is ahead and get some good results.”
Team owner Eddie Wachs, who formed the development squad with the late Paul Newman ahead of the 2006 season, admitted that he was delighted to have snared a driver of Niemela's quality to pair with the already-confirmed Edwards.
“I am pleased that we will not have to race against Markus this year," he smiled, "He is a fierce competitor and is a welcomed asset to our team.
"We had our most successful season last year to date, and I am secure in saying 2009 will be even better. With Markus and John as team-mates, I think they can both benefit and get the most out of each other. It's been a long winter and I'm sure I speak for the rest of the Atlantic family when I say, 'let's get this going'.”