Two years after becoming the youngest driver in the history of the Atlantic Championship, John Edwards finally scored his first career series victory, earning himself a cool $50,000 paycheque into the bargain at Sebring International Raceway.

Driving the #36 Newman Wachs Racing entry, Edwards started second but charged into the lead from the race's standing start, jumping ahead of polesitter Jonathan Summerton. From there, the 18-year old never looked back, cruising to a 4.731secs victory over Summerton's rookie team-mate Frederic Vervisch. Edwards' victory eclipsed his previous best result of second, which he achieved at Toronto in his rookie season.

"It was an incredible feeling just pulling into pit-lane and seeing all of the cameras coming to me," he admitted, "It was a great race. I have to thank my engineer, Nick Harvey, and the team for putting the car together, because it was really easy to drive, almost, in the first few laps and that's where I gained the gap.

"Luckily, I had the [Genoa Racing] team-mates racing behind me, so I got to pull out a little more of a gap. From there, I just kept looking forward and pulling a gap."

Vervisch was the first of two Genoa drivers to finish on the podium, coming home with a second-place trophy from the first Atlantic race of the career. The Belgian, driving the #17 machine, posted the best result for a driver making his series debut since Canadian Robert Wickens also finished second on his Atlantic debut in Las Vegas two years ago.

"The start was good, so we could take one position," Vervisch explained, "Then, I was looking a little bit to John Edwards to see how his pace was. I had the feeling we could follow or catch up.

"There was a full-course yellow and, on the restart, I really focused on John and not on the ones behind me. There was a white car in my mirrors and it was Jonathan and I knew he would take me in the first corner, so we lost some time, because the rule is I cannot block, so he passed. I saw I was faster and John was getting away, so I did the same move in the same spot and he didn't block me either.

"From then, John already had an advantage and I was just trying to catch up, but it was difficult. My second goal was just to finish the race on the podium."

Summerton rounded out the podium with a third-place performance in the #19 Genoa Racing machine, but the Florida native admitted to having trouble at the race's standing start before enjoying a good battle with his team-mate. Third place was the sixth podium result of Summerton'twelve-race Atlantic career, and his first podium since placing second in the penultimate round of the championship at Miller Motorsports Park last September.

"We started out with a bit of a problem at the start," he explained, "The clutch wasn't grabbing at all for me, so I basically short-shifted up the gears and got to third and then it started grabbing. Then, I had to downshift back to second to get the acceleration.

"In the first corner, we had lost three spots, so I was down to fourth, but was able to get one back by turn two. Then, I just started chasing the other two. Of course, we had that full-course yellow and, from there, I tried my best, but I just didn't have a car to follow behind anybody. We had a car for out front."

Latvian rookie Harald Schlegelmilch was solid throughout his first Atlantic weekend and came home fourth in the #21 Conquest Racing entry. Schlegelmilch was inside the top five virtually throughout every practice and qualifying session leading up to the race.

Simona de Silvestro rounded out the top five in the #78 Team Stargate Worlds car, recording her fifth career top-five in Atlantica to head Spanish rookie Borja Garcia. After establishing himself as a leading contender in pre-season testing at Palm Beach International Raceway, Garcia struggled to come to grips with the rough and quirky 3.7-mile Sebring road course, but still managed to bring the #6 CJ Consulting machine home in sixth place on debut with Condor Motorsports.

Tonis Kasemets, who got his first Atlantic seat time since the doubleheader at Road America last August in Wednesday morning's opening practice session, finished seventh after coming from eleventh on the grid in the #35 Polestar Motor Racing entry.

Kasemets' four-place gain could not compete with Conquest Racing rookie James Winslow, however, the Briton gaining an extra championship point and a $2000 bonus for taking the 'Hard Charger' award after moving from 13th to eighth in the #12 entry.

Matt Lee and Frankie Muniz rounded out the top ten, the latter hampered when his car would not start on the grid, forcing him to start the race from pit-lane.

Two would-be contenders were involved in a frightening incident on the opening lap of the race, as defending series champion Markus Niemela and 2008 championship runner-up Jonathan Bomarito tangled at turn 17. Both made hard contact with the tyre wall, with Niemela's #1 Newman Wachs machine landing upside down on top of the barrier.

Bomarito quickly scrambled from his #26 Mathiasen Motorsports car to aid the safety workers in turning Niemela's car back onto its wheels, and the Finn emerged under his own power before being transported to nearby Highlands Regional Medical Centre for observation.

French rookie Max Lefevre was already missing due to illness, unable to start the #7 DOTMOBIL entry.

The C2 category, which is back for the first time since the 2005 season, was won by owner/driver Mirl Swan in the #88 Swan Racing machine. Swan started from the C2 pole and led every lap, winning by more than eleven seconds over team-mate Sadat Yelkin.

"The guys have worked real hard to get the cars here," Swan said, "It was hard work. We had a rather small crew for the five cars, but to get to come to Florida in March is a great opportunity to get out of the cold weather up north, so all the guys were glad to get here.

"The battle with my team-mate was really good. It was really close early on, but I think I had an advantage in turn one and slowly started to pull away. I had a bit of a gap at the end, but it was a good race."



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