James Hinchcliffe will kick off his third season of Atlantic Championship competition in Long Beach this weekend hoping that a bundle of points will set him on his way to a hitherto elusive title.

The Canadian, who rejoins Forsythe Pettit Racing this year, has been quick in pre-season testing, but knows that that will count for little once the cut-and-thrust of racing begins on the streets of southern California. Similar pace - he took six front row starts and three poles - in 2007 resulted in little more than a handful of podium visits and fourth overall in the championship, and Hinchcliffe knows that, despite the uncertainty caused by the unification of America's two senior open-wheel series, the Atlantic field remains as strong as ever.

"I'm looking forward to getting the new season started," the 21-year old admitted, "In most racing categories over the past couple of years, the eventual champion has tended to make a precedent early in the season. Titles are often won by having a strong first quarter of the season and keeping up from there. My goal for after the first couple of races is to hopefully have a decent point lead which can then be protected. A strong result this weekend in Long Beach is the first step to making that happen!"

Despite not adding to his 2006 Portland victory last season, Hinchcliffe was an ever-present threat for wins in 2007 and his form, both on and off track, was recognised as he was presented with the prestigious Gilles Villeneuve Award at the end of the season, and nominated for the Greg Moore Legacy Award.

His path beyond Atlantics remains uncertain following the demise of Champ Car after this weekend, but Hinchcliffe is delighted to be playing a part in the celebrations.

"Long Beach offers one of the best atmospheres in terms of all the circuits we visit, and there's such a rich history to the event as well," he noted, "This will be kind of special, being there for the last ever Champ Car weekend.

"It's a great street circuit, definitely one of the best I've raced at, and it offers a bit of everything. It's challenging but there are some decent overtaking zones if everything's going to plan - which is good for the drivers and, more importantly, for the fans watching!"

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