Although temperatures were slightly cooler for Saturday's final round of qualifying for the Monterey Festival of Speed round of the Atlantic Championship, James Hinchcliffe turned up the heat on the competition and came away with the pole.

Driving the #3 Indeck/TireRack.com machine for Forsythe/Pettit Racing, the Canadian posted a new Atlantic track record at 1min 16.189secs for the 2.238-mile California road course, emphasising the form that had already guaranteed a front-row starting position from Friday's session. As a result, he will start from the pole position for the first time since round nine of the 2007 Atlantic Championship at Edmonton last July.

"It's been a long time since we've been on the front row and it was a poor end to last season and a poor start to this one, so it's kind of nice to finally be back up here," Hinchcliffe said, "We didn't really test well here, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect and, obviously, Long Beach didn't go well, so I think the whole team was thinking that, for us, the season really starts here.

"Long Beach was just a test that they gave points away for for some reason. This is us getting back on track now and we're really looking forward to it. The team has done such a good job and the guys did so much work between the first race and here to get us back up to speed. I feel bad for David [Garza], because he didn't really get a good lap on the new tyres, but he was really quick as well. The team did a great job. I'm just really looking forward to tomorrow now."

Starting alongside Hinchcliffe on the front row will be Carl Skerlong in the #14 King Taco entry from Pacific Coast Motorsports. Skerlong clocked a best lap at 1min 16.356secs to greatly improve his fortunes from Friday's first round, when he made contact with the turn four barrier just a few minutes into the session and did not post a time.

"I definitely hit both ends of the spectrum this weekend," Skerlong said, "I went from last on the sheet to almost the top, but some Canadian had to get in the way! But that's all right. We were quick here in testing and to come back and be able to start on the front row is where we want to be. It's not first, but it's definitely a lot better than where we were yesterday."

Skerlong was the meat in a Canadian sandwich, as Quebec's Kevin Lacroix occupied third on the grid in the #25 Uni-Select/Deans Knight/Wasteco machine for Walker Racing. Lacroix's best qualifying lap was a 1min 16.364secs run, as he continued to build upon a third-place finish in the season-opener at Long Beach last month.

"For sure, being third twice, it means the car is good and I'm very happy with what the Walker Racing team is doing," Lacroix said, "I don't want to be third again. I want to move up on the podium, but it's still good. James and Carl are doing a great job, so I'm quite happy with third, but I'm sure I'll move up in the race. I'm very happy."

Despite a blistering lap in Saturday's morning practice session, Dutchman Junior Strous will line up fourth in the #6 Condor Motorsports/Team Holland entry. Strous - who was the only driver to run a sub 1min 16secs lap in practice - logged a best qualifying lap of 1min 16.447secs to head Finnish rookie Markus Niemela, who rounded out the top five in the #8 machine for Brooks Associates Racing.

Greg Mansell will start sixth on the grid for Walker Racing but, after posting a top-three time in the opening practice session of the weekend, Monterey resident Jonathan Bomarito and the Mathiasen Motorsports team have found it somewhat difficult to recapture that magic. Bomarito will start the race from seventh, while Long Beach winner Simona de Silvestro also struggled. The Swiss racer, the second woman to win a race in Atlantic history after Katherine Legge, will start 14th.

 

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