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FA: de Silvestro sweeps board at Utah GP

18 May 2009

Simona de Silvestro completed a perfect weekend in round two of the Atlantic Championship, claiming the $50,000 prize on offer for winning the Larry H Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix at Miller Motorsports Park from pole position.

The 20-year old Swiss racer led both practice sessions on Friday, took her first career Atlantic pole position on Saturday and dominated Sunday's race to score the second victory of her Atlantic career.

Driving the #78 Stargate Worlds machine, de Silvestro sped into the lead as soon as the lights went out on the race's standing start and quickly checked out on the rest of the field, leading throughout the 50-minute, 31-lap race before taking the chequered flag 11.7secs ahead of round one winner John Edwards.

It was de Silvestro's first Atlantic win since the 2008 season opener at Long Beach, where she became only the second woman in series history to win a race after Katherine Legge, who won three races in 2005. On Saturday, de Silvestro had become the second woman in series history to win a pole position after Danica Patrick, but Sunday's success meant that she became the first woman in series history to combine pole and victory in the same event.

“It feels awesome,” she admitted, “We had the perfect weekend - we led every session, we had pole, and I think we had fastest lap during the race. Team Stargate Worlds just did a great job. The car was really good. I could drive the same lap time every lap and we kind of pulled away. It looked easy, but it was pretty hard to be consistently fast, especially running after ALMS [practice]. It was pretty slippery, so I'm just really happy to have won my second race in the Atlantic series.”

Edwards, who earned his own $50,000 cheque for victory at Sebring in March, moved quickly from fourth on the grid to second on the opening lap. However, the #36 Newman Wachs Racing entry spent the remainder of the race with Belgian rookie Frederic Vervisch filling his mirrors and unable to bridge the gap to de Silvestro. Able to keep Vervisch at bay and secure second place, Edwards keeps the overall standings lead with ten races remaining, now heading de Silvestro by five points in the race for the $1m title.

“When we're talking about the championship before the year, we're always thinking about top three, top five, so my goal today was to move up from fourth up into the top three,” he revealed, “Luckily, [Jonathan] Summerton went off during the first lap and gave me second, but there was just no catching Simona today. We're definitely focused on the championship though. So far, I've had a first and a second, so I'm still in the lead, and hopefully we can keep that podium streak going in the next two rounds.”

Vervisch came home third to earn his second podium result in as many Atlantic Championship starts in the #17 Genoa Racing entry, having previously finished second at Sebring. He is just one point behind de Silvestro in the standings and also leads the rookie of the year standings by 17 points over James Winslow, who was hamstrung by his enforced switch to the Jensen MotorSport team and finished eighth on the road.

“A podium is, of course, good, but we couldn't win today because Simona was too strong," Vervisch said, "We could have had second because we were quite a bit faster than John but, just at the last part of the track, we had some problems with the car to have a good exit, and that made it really difficult to overtake. I'm happy that I finished the race and have the points, but I'm not happy that I'm not second, because we had a pace, for sure.”

Scoring a career-best fourth place - and making it two Team Stargate Worlds cars inside the leading quartet - was Frankie Muniz, who started seventh and spent most of the race battling for fourth with Borja Garcia and defending series champion Markus Niemela. The former actor capitalised on last-lap contact between his rivals to take fourth, earning the $2000 Hard Charger bonus and a bonus point for improving the most positions into the bargain.

Garcia, meanwhile, was later excluded from the final results when it was determined that he had violated IMSA Code 5.5, regarding blocking, and 5.6, on avoidable contact, in the incident with Niemela, who was forced to retire. The Spaniard was also fined and placed on probation for two races.

“I'm very disappointed," Niemela sighed, "In qualifying, I had a good chance for the top three but I screwed it up with a spin and missed my best laps. In the race, all I had to do was get a great start and then use the opportunities I had to overtake. I had a great launch from the starting line and was going for third, but got pushed off to the gravel on the start straight and dropped down to eighth. I started recovering again, and had just passed for fourth on the last lap when Garcia hit my rear wheel on the exit of turn one, which took us both out. He apologized, but that doesn't change the result.”

That incident allowed Atlantic veteran Tonis Kasemets to complete the top five in the #18 Genoa Racing machine, while team-mate Summerton recovered from dropping to the tail of the field due to an opening lap excursion to claim sixth in the #19 machine and give Genoa Racing three of the top six finishers. Condor's Max Lefevre, Winslow, Jensen team-mate Matt Lee and Michael Nacol completed the championship class runners, with lone C2 entry Michael Mallinen finishing tenth overall for Swan Racing.


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