Markus Niemela became the seventh different winner of the 2008 Atlantic Championship after claiming victory in the penultimate rounds of the season at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah.
The Finnish rookie completed his sweep of the weekend by leading from pole, and remains one of three drivers still in mathematical contention for the championship heading to Road Atlanta in two weeks' time.
Niemela led every lap in his Brooks Associates Racing entry to win by 0.446secs over American rookie Jonathan Summerton, closing the gap between them at the top of the rookie of the year standings. It was Niemela's fourth top-two result of the season, and the third Atlantic victory for BAR, following Kevin Lacroix's success at Portland last year.
“I'm so happy," Niemela said, "I know everybody says this every time, but the team did a fantastic job and, seriously, this victory goes as much to them as to me. Also, for my team-mate, Tom Sutherland, as he really has brought so much into this team when he came a couple of races ago. It helps a lot with the set-up, and I was able to learn some corners from him during the week. He was able to learn from me, obviously, but it's really good to have him here. We're getting good results from this.
"I'm just so happy and it's a so important victory. It is extremely important for me and my career. During the race, actually, it twice came into my head that 'I just cannot lose this'. I don't know how I would feel after finishing second and, fortunately, I don't have to have that feeling now. I just can't be happier.”
Niemela's victory and Summerton's second place, coupled with a sixth-place performance from points leader Jonathan Bomarito, pushes the championship battle to the season finale at Road Atlanta in two weeks. Just ten points separate the top three, with Bomarito holding an eight-point advantage over Summerton and Niemela sitting another two points back.
The runner-up result for Summerton was his fourth consecutive podium result in the #36 Newman Wachs Racing machine and his fifth podium in his past six starts. He actually led the field through turn one on the opening lap, but race officials determined that he crept at the standing start and ordered him to surrender the position to Niemela, which he did before the completion of the first lap.
There was no let-up in the pressure on Niemela, however, but Summerton was never able to retake the lead during the 50-minute race. The result means that the American now leads Niemela by just two points in the rookie standings.
“I was happy to be second,” Summerton insisted, “Being on the podium is always a good thing. The start was a little bit disappointing, but I'm real happy with a second place. We're coming out with the rookie lead and, hopefully, we can win the championship in Atlanta. I think we're eight points behind, so hopefully we can win that.”
Dane Cameron made it a rookie podium sweep with third place for Genoa Racing, his second podium result of the season.