Jonathan Summerton has turned up the heat on championship-leader Jonathan Bomarito in the final qualifying session of the 2008 Atlantic Championship season by taking pole position for Friday's season finale at Road Atlanta.
Driving the #36 Nuclear Clean Air Energy/NEI/Entergy machine for Newman Wachs Racing, Summerton clocked a best lap at 1min 14.137secs to earn the first pole position of his Atlantic career. In the process, Summerton earned a valuable bonus championship point, closing his gap in the championship standings to just seven points behind Bomarito, 224-217.
Even more importantly to Summerton, however, was the fact that he earned the pole in the team's first race since the passing of team owner Paul Newman last weekend.
“Of course, I think we could have been faster than what we did,” he said. “The last two laps, we had the same problem as (Markus) Niemela. We ran out of fuel in turn one. I think we also struggled with the new tyres, too. It was really hard to get the lap put together. There was quite a lot of traffic towards the end.
“Having Paul Newman gone, this is really good for the team and the morale of everyone. Of course (owner) Eddie Wachs lost a dear friend and a partner. It's just really good to be on pole for that in the final race.”
Starting alongside Summerton on the front row will be another American rookie, Dane Cameron in the #19 MAZDASPEED/Finlay Motorsports/Lynx Racing entry for Genoa Racing. Cameron turned a quick lap at 1min 14.151secs earn his third front-row starting spot of the season. He will go in search of his first Atlantic victory in Friday's race.
“It's probably the most frustrating second position I've ever qualified, because it was so close,” he said. “We were really quick in the beginning and I threw everything at it that I could. We just didn't quite get enough. I think all three of us were kind of running out of gas at the very end. Every lap was getting a little bit faster and faster. When we put on new tyres, we lost the balance a little bit for whatever reason.
“It wasn't quite as well balanced as it had been, so we're going to have to make a couple changes, but it's good to start on the front row. I'm not in the championship fight. All I want to do is win the race. I'm going to give it everything I have to win the race. I don't want to affect the championship outcome at all, but I want to end the season with a win, so we'll see what we can do.”
Like Cameron, Finnish rookie Markus Niemela was also frustrated in qualifying, despite the fact that he will start third in the #8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen/Rauma Town/Turku Karting machine for Brooks Associates Racing. Niemela posted a best lap at 1min 14.318secs for his third straight top-three starting spot and his fourth top-three start in the past five Atlantic races. He remains within ten points of Bomarito in the overall championship standings, but now trails Summerton by three points in the battle for Rookie of the Year.