Carl Skerlong claimed his first career Atlantic Championship victory with a dominating performance in the inaugural Mazda Formula X event at New Jersey Motorsports Park's Thunderbolt Raceway.
Driving the #14 King Taco machine for Pacific Coast Motorsports, the American prospect led every session in which he participated, and duly became the sixth different winner in nine Atlantic races this season, earning the maximum 34 championship points available from the weekend with bonuses for being the fastest qualifier in both sessions and clocking the fastest race lap. He led every lap in hot and humid conditions to win by 2.464secs over of rookie Markus Niemela.
“It was long, but I could have kept going for hours at that pace,” Skerlong said, "We had an awesome car all weekend. Lapped traffic started to play into it - they weren't throwing blue flags like they normally do - but, in the end, we came out on top.
"Going green to chequered was kind of surprising considering how practice and qualifying went, and it made for a long race. It is a very physical track but, for the first time here, to take the first victory, I really couldn't ask for much more. It's hot, I'm sweaty but, all in all, it was great.”
Niemela started the race from second on the grid in the #8 Brooks Associates Racing entry, and slotted in behind Skerlong at the standing start, but never seriously challenged. It was the Finnish driver's third second-place result of the season, meaning that he has finished seventh or better in eight of his nine starts. He moves into sole possession of third place in the overall standings, and slightly closed the gap in the rookie of the year standings to trail leader Jonathan Summerton by six points.
“Last year, I was racing in Malaysia in the middle of the summer and I thought it was quite hot, but this wasn't far from that - but it was the same for everybody,” Niemela said, "It's kind of fun, every once in a while, to race in extreme conditions. This was one of those. I was happy I could do all right until the end. I didn't make any mistakes and didn't have any physical problems, so that was good.
“My biggest problem was that I lost my radio 13 minutes into the race. After that, I didn't know what was going on. I kind of cooled off for a while, because Carl was too far in front of me - I couldn't catch him unless he made a mistake - but I thought I would push for the fastest lap in the end when the car was lighter and try to get him to make that mistake, which he didn't do. That was my motivation at the end of the race. Second place is not bad, but obviously, I have to start winning. I'm beginning to get a bit fed up with being second. It's good, but you can never be satisfied.”
Summerton earned his third consecutive podium result with a third-place run in the #36 Newman Wachs Racing machine. It was the American's fourth podium in the last five races and his seventh result of sixth or better this season. He now trails overall leader Jonathan Bomarito by 16 points with two races remaining on the schedule.
“Coming from Florida, I guess everybody was saying that I'm used to this but, when you're in the car and there's not very much breeze, it gets pretty hot,” Summerton said, “I'm real happy for the team - we're going for points and we're going for the championship. The traffic kind of cost us a little so maybe we could have gotten up to second but, this morning in qualifying, we struggled a lot. I think that, if we would have qualified in the top two, we could have put a fight to Carl. It didn't happen, but we managed to pull a third out from that and I'm really happy about that.”