GP2 refugee Borja Garcia has served notice that he should be included among the early season favourites for the Cooper Tires-backed Atlantic Championship by topping the times in group testing at Palm Beach International Raceway for the second successive day.
The Spanish driver is one of many chasing the recently-announced $1m championship prize having decided to effectively step back from GP2 after five seasons, and produced a dominating performance on his first acquaintance with an Atlantic car.
The 25-year old Valencia native topped the time charts in all four sessions, with a best overall lap of 1min 07.286secs proving good enough to keep the #6 Condor Motorsports machine ahead of the pack. With two solid days of testing now under his belt, Garcia will make his way to Sebring for next week's season-opener in good shape to claim the $50,000 racewinner's purse.
“We'll see next week,” Garcia said, refusing to be drawn on his chances of mastering the rough airfield circuit, “These two days, the team and also I have adapted really well and really quickly with the car to be quickest in all four sessions, but we'll see in Sebring. Everything on every track is new for me, so we'll see what happens.”
Second quickest was 2008 Star Mazda champion John Edwards in the #36 Newman Wachs Racing entry, the American posting a best lap of 1min 07.556secs in the morning session, which turned out to be the run in which every driver proved to be at their best.
“It seems like we were second all the time, almost every run, even there at the end when the track was hotter,” Edwards noted, “Garcia and I both put new tyres on and we were timing him, and we were still about a tenth off. It was pretty frustrating, but there at the end we were a little closer. Obviously, on the timesheets, you won't see that because of the way the track was - and it was a lot slower.
''Overall, though, I'm really happy with the test. We got a lot done and we were obviously quick the whole time. Maybe not quickest, but they're not awarding any points here, so we're not extremely worried about that, although it would have been nice to top the charts at least once. We're looking forward to Sebring. It's completely different than this, very bumpy and very fast, as opposed to sort of medium speed and extremely smooth here. It's going to be a completely different game there and I'm looking forward to it.”
Defending series champion Markus Niemela made it two Newman Wachs Racing machines in the top three spots after logging a best lap at 1min 07.881secs in the #1 machine as he continued to adjust to his new surroundings.
“I think we were struggling a bit here, in terms of me getting used to the Newman Wachs car,” Niemela said, “We were changing a lot of things and were trying many different set-ups and stuff. We learned quite a lot actually but, for some reason, it just doesn't show on the timesheets, which is kind of frustrating. This is quite a different track from Sebring though. I think Sebring can be better or worse, whichever - hopefully better.”
Posting an impressive fourth-quickest time was Frankie Muniz in the #77 Team Stargate Worlds car. The former actor is entering his third season of Atlantic competition and says he is feeling good about his chances following a best lap seven-tenths shy of Garcia's benchmark.
Latvian rookie Harald Schlegelmilch completed the top five with a lap of 1min 08.116secs in the #21 Conquest Racing entry, as the top seven drivers turned laps within one second of Garcia.
Leading performances - Palm Beach Int'l (11 March):
Condor 1m 07.286s
Newman Wachs 1m 07.556s
Newman Wachs 1m 07.881s
Stargate Worlds 1m 07.919s
Conquest 1m 08.116s
Genoa 1m 08.155s
Mathiasen 1m 08.268s
Jensen 1m 08.322s
Simona de Silvestro
Stargate Worlds 1m 08.344s
Genoa 1m 08.366s
Condor 1m 08.600s
Jensen 1m 11.124s