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Long Beach Coverage:
Day One
Americans Top the Friday Time Charts in Firestone Indy Lights Practice

Long Beach, Calif., April 17 — Two American drivers hailing from Northern California, JR Hildebrand and Jonathan Bomarito, were half a second apart as they recorded the fastest laps of the day during Friday’s practice sessions for the retuning Firestone Indy Lights series race at the Long Beach Grand Prix.

After the 2008 departure of Champ Car from racing competition, the contract for their sole remaining support series, the Atlantic Championship Series, was not renewed. Instead, the rechristened Firestone Indy Lights (formerly known as the Infiniti Pro Series, amongst other names) was brought on board in 2009 for Long Beach in support of the surviving American major open wheel series, the ICS. Not surprisingly, road racers dominated the top spots all day during the first day of practice at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Also not unexpected was Sausalito's JR Hildebrand's fastest lap of the day. Returning to the series with a new team – last year's series winning AFS Racing – Hildebrand quickly showed two weeks ago how good the move was for both parties by winning the inaugural pole of the year at St. Petersburg. While an accident prevented him from parlaying that success into a win, JR and Dutchman Junior Strous (pronounced Stewss, rhymes with juice, no matter how Americans mangle it) were the men to beat in the twin races two weeks ago. Strous fared less well today, finishing fifth fastest in combined sessions, although his meager 20 laps may prove to be sound strategy in terms of tires for both the race and tomorrow's qualifying.

Hildebrand said, "It's always good to end the first day on top, and know we have a good car. We made a bunch of changes throughout the session and every one of them was a positive change. It's great to be here in California."

Totally unexpected was last year's Atlantic pole sitter Jonathan Bomarito even being at Long Beach as anything but a spectator as late as last Wednesday. But, on Thursday, his team owners, Ray and Leslie Mathiasen, announced the termination of their 2009 Atlantic campaign. However, Ray arranged for JB to get a FIL ride here at Long Beach – a one off for goodness sake – and Bomarito manages to surprise even me (and I know the guy) by being second quickest in a competitive 24 car field. On top of being in a new car for the first time, with no seat time to speak of, Jonathan was sick today, so I have no idea what he'll do tomorrow if he feels better, because unlike Hildebrand, JB spent most of his 2008 racing time beating the current FIL front runner, Junior Strous, in nearly every race.

According to JB, "It feels good to be up front in my first day. What I need is a good night's sleep and feel better. I'm happy.”

Other Americans racing in the series this weekend include Daniel Herrington, 10th quickest, Andrew Prendeville in 15th place, Jonathan Summerton a disappointing 12th, and Charlie Kimball 18th followed by Sean Guthrie in 19th.

Qualifying for Sunday’s race will be bright and early Saturday morning, so stay tuned!

Copyright © 2009 by Lisa Davidson and American Driver Ranking. All Rights Reserved.

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