The first season of unified IndyCar Series racing may have been wrapped up at Chicagoland Speedway last weekend, but the feeder category left out in the wilderness by the 'merger' of the Indy Racing League and Champ Car continues this weekend at the new Thunderbolt Raceway at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Drivers and teams from the Atlantic Championship got their first look at the new facility on Friday, with Carl Skerlong posting the quickest lap of an open test. The Pacific Coast Motorsport driver lapped at 1min 10.259secs to set an early series benchmark for the weekend and leave the pack four tenths adrift as the first two sessions of the day were run under overcast conditions and the third in light rain.
“If I can do what I do in practice in the race, that'd be great,” Skerlong said, “It's a new track, and it's a pretty level playing field for everyone, so to show up and be a fair margin ahead of everybody is definitely a good feeling going into the weekend.
"All the guys have worked really hard in our little break. It's been a long break, but well needed - it's kind of nice to enjoy the last few months of good weather for summer. I'm really excited for these last three races and, hopefully, we'll be able to improve on the little dilemmas we've had throughout the year.”
Despite feeling a bit under the weather on Friday, rookie Markus Niemela was second quickest in testing with a lap at 1min 10.622secs for Brooks Associates Racing.
“I like this track,” the Finn said, “It's a fast track and it's got great corners, but I didn't feel that I did that well today. I've been feeling sick all day. I think it's something I ate. I don't know if I'm quite ready for qualifying yet, but we'll see tomorrow.”
Rookie of the Year points leader Jonathan Summerton was third quickest on the day, lapping at 1min 10.675secs in the #36 Newman Wachs Racing machine. The American holds an eight-point lead over Niemela in the rookie standings and only trails overall championship leader Jonathan Bomarito by 28 points with three races remaining.
“The new track is amazing, and a lot of fun,” Summerton noted, “It's a bit dirty out there, but I really enjoyed the track. It's interesting. There are a lot of fun corners and a lot of good corners. We'll see how it is for the race. The car was good. We made a few changes here and there and it helped. I think we'll be very competitive for qualifying. I'm looking forward to it.”
Bomarito turned in the day's fourth quickest time in the #26 Mathiasen Motorsports entry, putting him ahead of Canadians Kevin Lacroix and James Hinchcliffe, with the latter's Forsythe team-mate David Martinez, Tom Sutherland, an inspired Frankie Muniz and Simona de Silvestro in the top ten.