INDIANAPOLIS – The 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda drew to a close on Sunday afternoon with the Generac Grand Prix at Road America (ESPN 2, August 22, 5:00 p.m. ET). A few hours later, the series gathered at the posh American Club in Kohler, Wis. to pay tribute to the recently-concluded season at the Champ Car Atlantic Awards Banquet.
While he wrapped up the title in the penultimate round of the 2007 championship at San Jose, it wasn’t until Sunday night that Brazilian racer Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) officially received his $2 million prize toward a 2008 ride in the Champ Car World Series and several other prizes. Champ Car President Steve Johnson and 2006 Atlantic champion Simon Pagenaud–who parlayed his $2 million bonus into a 2007 Champ Car ride with Team Australia–presented Matos with his $2 million bonus, as well as the Champion’s Trophy.
On behalf of Mazda North America, Johnson and Pagenaud also presented Matos with an original painting by Champ Car Clerk of the Course and motorsports artist Jim Swintal depicting Matos’ sweep of the Rexall Grand Prix of Edmonton doubleheader, which served as redemption for Matos, who lost an opportunity at his first career Atlantic victory one year earlier with a crash while leading within eight laps of the checkered flag. Pagenaud and Johnson also presented a Rolex watch to Matos from the Cooper Tire and Rubber Company, a checkered flag signed by all of the series officials and a $2,500 prize from Coast Fabrication. In addition to the $2 million bonus, Matos earned a total of $234,560 in prize money during the 2007 season.
Cooper Tires and Mazda also unveiled a new program for 2007 in which every driver in the series will receive a specially-designed “class ring.” Matos will receive a special champion’s ring in honor of his accomplishments.
While Matos obviously took home most of the night’s hardware, several of his fellow competitors were also honored with prizes. French driver Franck Perera (#11 CJ Motorsport/Everflux/Perfect Nutrition) claimed the second place trophy and $195,600 in total prize money for his runner-up performance in the championship. In the first presentation of the evening, Perera received the 2007 Rookie of the Year Award and a $1,000 prize from Coast Fabrication from his fellow Frenchman, Pagenaud, who claimed the 2006 rookie title in addition to the overall championship. Perera’s team, Condor Motorsports, also earned their choice of a full year of brake pads or four car sets of discs and peg drive assemblies courtesy of Performance Friction Corporation.
Canadian rookie Robert Wickens (#3 Red Bull/INDECK) was honored for his third-place performance in the championship and received his trophy and total winnings of $141,800. Earlier in the evening, Wickens was presented with the BBS Rising Star Award which included a $4,500 check and a specially-designed coffee table incorporating a BBS wheel and Cooper Tire etched with Wickens’ name and award.
James Hinchcliffe (#9 NOCO/ProWorks) was honored for his fourth-place performance in the championship and took home a total of $118,840 in prize money earnings. Hinchcliffe also claimed the prestigious Gilles Villeneuve Award, which is presented to the driver who possesses extraordinary ability and that special star quality, and who has distinguished himself through sportsmanship, dedication and perseverance in the face of disappointment.
Fifth-place honors went to American Atlantic veteran Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Konica Minolta/Dynacor). The PR1 Motorsports driver claimed total prize money earnings of $125,120 and was also presented with the Michael Rosen Award, named after a former Atlantic competitor. The award recognizes both dedication and perseverance, as well as the desire to succeed against all odds.
Italian rookie Giacomo Ricci (#18 Banca Italease/Gioco del Lotto/Global Pesca/Abbey Resort) claimed $93,080 in prize money earnings for his sixth-place performance in the championship, while seventh-place finisher J.R. Hildebrand (#36 Nuclear Clean Air Energy) earned $68,900. Alan Sciuto (#20 WS Deans/The Room Store) took home $67,400 for finishing eighth in the championship, with $64,000 going to 16-year-old American rookie John Edwards (#7 Red Bull/INDECK) for finishing ninth. Carl Skerlong (#24 King Taco/USRT) rounded out the top 10 with total prize money earnings of $60,240.
Although he just missed out on his quest to finish inside the top 10 in the final point standings, Atlantic veteran Justin Sofio (#26 RLM Investments/Stone Brewing/SAECO) was part of a pair of prestigious awards. Sofio claimed the Jovy Marcelo Sportsmanship Award, which drew one of the evening’s most enthusiastic ovations. Not to be outdone his Mathiasen Motorsports team claimed a $14,000 prize and an original painting by renowned artist Randy Owens as the 2007 recipients of the Sherwin Williams “It’s All In The Finish” final award for the team with the best color, design, gloss and overall appearance.
For their roles in helping Matos and Sierra Sierra Enterprises claim the 2007 Champ Car Atlantic titles, Lee Dykstra was honored as the 2007 Engineer of the Year, while Jethro Austin claimed the Snap-on/CAM Top Wrench Award and a $2,500 gift certificate from Snap-on Tools.
Third-year Atlantic team owner Shane Seneviratne of US RaceTronics claimed the Team Owner of the Year Award, while Brooks Associates Racing crew chief Duarte Fidalgo claimed the Lincoln Welders Mechanic of the Year Award. Fidalgo also received a Lincoln Welders Precision TIG 225 welding package.
Next up for the Cooper Tires Presents Then Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda is the not-for-points “Dash In The Desert” in Phoenix as part of the inaugural Grand Prix Arizona on Saturday, December 1.