John Edwards underlined his potential to be this year's Cooper Tires presents The Atlantic Championship powered by Mazda champion by topping the times in Tuesday's promoter test day at Sebring, site of the season's opening round this Friday [20 March].
The Atlantic returnee, buoyed by his success in Star Mazda last year, has been there or thereabouts at each group test so far this season, finally made it to top spot after posting a best lap of 1min 53.957secs in the #36 Newman Wachs Racing entry as the build-up to the first event picked up pace.
The entry list for the ALMS' Sebring 12 Hours support race now features 21 cars, with a deep and talented field having been assembled in recent weeks, but, if the times from Tuesday's test are any indication, 18-year old Edwards may be the man to beat on Friday afternoon.
The Cincinnati native was chased hardest by the driver who finished as runner-up in the 2008 Atlantic standings, as Jonathan Bomarito put the black-and-yellow #26 Mathiasen Motorsports Swift into second spot with a lap of 1min 54.255secs, while Belgian rookie Frederic Vervisch - who recent revealed that he is currently on a one-race deal with Genoa Racing - again slotted into third spot, just 0.041secs shy of the American.
Vervisch was the first of three rookies to crack the top five, slotting in ahead of fourth-quickest Harald Schlegelmilch, who lapped at 1min 54.510secs in the #21 Conquest Racing machine. The Latvian edged fellow newcomer Borja Garcia, who maintained his strong start to life in Atlantics by completing the top five after a dominant debut at Palm Beach International. The #6 CJ Consulting entry from Condor Motorsports posted a best lap of 1min 54.873secs.
Edwards' NWR team-mate, defending Atlantic champion Markus Niemela, was 'only' sixth fastest in the #1 car, but is expected to pick up pace as the week, and season, roll on.
Just behind Niemela, who posted a time of 1min 55.020secs, was another series returnee, as Matt Lee turned a lap of 1min 55.157secs in Jensen MotorSport's #2 machine after a one-year absence.
American standout Jonathan Summerton, who finished third in the 2008 Atlantic standings with a pair of victories, was eighth fastest after wrapping up a late deal with Genoa Racing over the weekend. The session was his first with the team, and first since last year's season finale at Road Atlanta, and a time of 1min 55.283secs is unlikely to remain his best for long.
Team Stargate Worlds team-mates Simona de Silvestro and Frankie Muniz completed the top ten, while Britain's James Winslow - another to ink a late deal after being announced as driver of the #12 Conquest entry on Monday - posted the eleventh-fastest lap at 1min 56.904secs on his first outing in an Atlantic car.