Simona de Silvestro enjoyed a fairly comfortable lead over her rivals in Friday's two practice sessions for the second round of the Atlantic Championship at Miller Motorsports Park, and continued that form into qualifying to secure a first career pole position for Sunday's race.
The cushion wasn't quite as comfortable second time around, however, as the Team Stargate Worlds driver found herself in a battle for the pole position with Sebring top dog Jonathan Summerton throughout the 30-minute session. Just as the chequered flag fell to end the session, though, de Silvestro knocked Summerton off the top of the times with a 1min 36.891secs effort, earn the pole for the Larry H Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix.
de Silvestro is the second woman in Atlantic Championship history to win a pole position, following IndyCar star Danica Patrick - who claimed her lone series pole at Portland in 2004 - and is already the second woman to win an Atlantic race, after Katherine Legge, having tasted victory - like the Briton - at Long Beach last season.
“It was a hard session because we caught a little bit of traffic,” de Silvestro reported, “I was kind of freaking out in the middle of it, because I had to gap myself. I was saying 'maybe you're going to run out of time', but we got it in - thank God. Team Stargate Worlds just did an awesome job. The car is just perfect, and I think we're going to be really good for the race tomorrow.”
Summerton came up just 0.042secs short of taking his third consecutive Atlantic pole, setting a best lap at 1min 36.891secs in the #19 Genoa Racing entry. The Florida resident started the 2009 season opener at Long Beach from top spot, having closed out the 2008 campaign at Road Atlanta with the first pole of his Atlantic career. He has now qualified on the front row for his last four Atlantic races, and five of his past six, dating back to a second-place start at Trois-Rivieres last year. He finished third in the '09 opener at Sebring and is looking for his fourth career Atlantic victory on Sunday.
“I'm excited to be on the front row, at least,” Summerton said, “Hopefully, we'll have a good start. Last time, we had a little bit of a problem with the clutch in Sebring, but here I think we've got it down pat. I know we have a car that's quick and I know we can win the race as long as we get out front.”
Summerton starts one position ahead of Genoa Racing team-mate Frederic Vervisch, the Belgian again impressing in the #17 machine and posting a best lap of 1min 37.214secs to earn his second third-place start in as many races.
“It was not an easy session,” Vervisch, who finished second at Sebring, admitted, “Yesterday, we were also third in the last practice, but we still had some time to gain on Simona, so we tried quite a lot of things and they didn't all work like we thought they would. It was not an easy session, but I have to be happy with third place. It's a good position to start. The race is long and I think it will be interesting. We definitely have our plan to finish the race as high as possible.”
Newman Wachs Racing occupies the next two spots on the grid, with Sebring race winner John Edwards fourth and defending series - and race - champion Markus Niemela in fifth, although the Finn missed the final few minutes of the session due to an off-course excursion at turn seven.
The top six qualifiers all posted times within one second of de Silvestro's pole-winning lap, with Tonis Kasemets completing the group on his debut with Genoa. de Silvestro's team-mate Frankie Muniz heads those that just missed the mark, taking seventh for the Stargate Worlds outfit and lining up ahead of Borja Garcia and James Winslow - the latter having inked a last-gasp deal with Jensen MotorSport after debuting with the now absent Conquest Racing at Sebring. Condor's Max Lefevre rounds out the top ten, ahead of Michael Nacol and lone C2 runner Michael Mallinen.