Needing every point he can get if he is to vault himself from third to first in the championship following Sunday's race, John Edwards gained a valuable bonus in a cool morning qualifying session by taking the pole positions for the 2009 Atlantic Championship finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The 18-year old Newman Wachs Racing driver clocked a lap at 1min 15.444secs, breaking the existing Atlantic track record set by James Hinchcliffe in qualifying last year. Edwards is now nine points behind championship leader Simona de Silvestro, who qualified fifth. It was the third pole of the season for Edwards, who also took the top starting spot for both races of the doubleheader at Autobahn Country Club near Chicago in July.
“I think qualifying here at Laguna was more exciting than any of the races we've had so far,” he said, “I crossed the line and I knew was a couple of hundredths ahead of [NWR team-mate] Jonathan [Summerton] and, on my last lap, I made a mistake in The Corkscrew, so it wasn't quicker.
"The team took forever to tell me if I got pole or not. Actually, it was only a matter of five seconds, but it seemed like a lifetime to me, waiting to hear if I got it. It was a really happy celebration on the cool-down lap, but now we're going back to business, because that's only part of the race. We only got one point for this and there's 20 available for a win. We're looking forward to the race and we might have a chance at this championship after all with Simona where she's starting.”
Summerton wound up second in the #34 sister car, giving Newman Wachs Racing a fourth front row sweep in qualifying, and the second consecutive race that the white, orange and black machines will occupy first and second places at the start. Summerton heads into the race trailing de Silvestro by seven points.
“Definitely, starting on the front row should be good,” he said, “Hopefully, we'll have a good start and we can pull away. I know we had the time, but the car was a little bit off. It was not quite where we wanted it to be, but it's great to be up front. The way things are, it's looking pretty good.”
de Silvestro's Team Stargate Worlds team-mate, Jonathan Bomarito, qualified third at his local track in the #77 car as he makes his third Atlantic start of the season as stand-in for the injured Frankie Muniz.
“The session was rough for us,” he reported, “We were on a different plan than everybody else. Because it's a 40-minute qualifying session, we started with old tyres and wanted to go to two new sets but, with it being this cold outside, it was taking too long for the tyres to come in. The red flag about 15 minutes into the session just killed us, so we were a little bit behind the whole session.
"Actually, the tyres weren't completely in and the end of the session was there. I'm a little disappointed with that. I don't know that I could have been better on the lap times, but I do feel in a little bit hotter conditions, we have a better racecar. The race being at one tomorrow, I think, will play into our advantage.”
Finnish driver Markus Niemela, who won the 2008 Atlantic title, qualified fourth in the #1 Jensen MotorSport car, while de Silvestro filled out the top five in the #78 - her worst starting position since an eighth-place qualifying run at the Sebring season opener in March.