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The Vegas Feature Race

Las Vegas, Nevada, April 6 — The new season begins, and as I take in the sights and sounds of downtown Las Vegas, I look forward to Sunday's feature event. It's bound to be a dandy. A virtual -- and literal -- slam, bang race.

I'll have to wait till the end of the day for the feature event. First will come the Historic Grand Prix. A nice morning wake up call for those early birds who were able to avoid some of the all-night Vegas partying and gambling. The exhibition event is sure to get juices flowing both from a walk down memory lane and the throaty sounds of the normally aspirated V8s and assorted other F1 engines.

Then, in the afternoon fans will pile into their grandstand seats to watch 17 cars, albeit the most powerful cars of the day, scream their turbos into turn one. It will be the longest race of the day, no doubt. And, it will be the race that gets the most press and buzz from the fans. However, though a surprise to some (and many fans who will leave when the checkered flag falls on the field of Panoz DP01s) it will not be the feature event.

That will come where a feature event should be on a racing schedule -- the last race of the day with the largest field of the day with potentially the raciest action of the day. When 27 Atlantic cars sitting on the grid rev their engines to the redline and then unleashed when the lights go out, the fans who were smart enough to stick around will come to the same conclusion -- this is the real feature race of the Las Vegas Grand Prix.

Last year, I wrote about how I was anticipating the start of the "new" Atlantic series with their new Swift 016.a cars and a renewed interest from teams and drivers that saw one of the most competitive seasons in Atlantic history highlighted by a glorious fight between Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal.

I didn't think anything could top last season, at least not right away. I'm sure glad I may be mistaken. This season's field is not only larger, but just may contain the greatest assembly of talent since the famous Trois-Rivières race in 1976 when a handful of Formula One pilots came over to take on the likes of Gilles Villeneuve, Bobby Rahal, Price Cobb, and Bertil Roos.

Name a junior open wheel champion in North America for 2006, and you will find them in Atlantic this season. The Cooper Tires F2000 champion? Check (J.R. Hildebrand). The Star Mazda champion? Check (Adrian Carrio). The Formula BMW champion? Check (Robert Wickens). The Formula TR 2000 champion? Check (Clark Skerlong). You want European champions? Got that, too (Giacomo Ricci as the F3000 Italian and Euro champion). And series runner ups (Matt Lee and Brian Thienes), race winners (Simona De Silvestro and John Edwards), and downright fast guys (Ryan Lewis, Franck Perera, David Garza) from all the above. Plus, previous winners of Atlantic races (Raphael Matos, James Hinchcliffe, Ronnie Bremer, and Jonathan Bomarito).

Just looking at what happened in the three official test dates has got to get your juices flowing. It's no secret that I consider J.R. Hildebrand the next great American driver. When he stepped into the Newman Wachs team that underperformed last year and immediately put them on top of the timing charts, I was vindicated.

Sort of, because that didn't last long as James Hinchcliffe said hold on. He wasn't at Sebring and arrived late to the next test at the Houston Sports Ranch due to his A1GP duties.. Hinchcliffe promptly put all the newbies in their place as the second year Atlantic driver absolutely stomped the field in every session. It was almost embarrassing to watch his competitors fall a second behind Hinchcliffe's pace.

But, that new king of the hill didn't last long either. At Laguna Seca, along came Perrera, fresh from the GP2 series. The French driver (what's with French drivers lately?!) showed fresh is sometimes best. He topped the charts while setting an Atlantic track record making everybody wonder just who is the fastest in Atlantic.

Good question. At this rate, we'll have a new leader at every race. After all, with all the above drivers who are not only used to winning races but winning championships, no one is going to accept being second fiddle for even a session.

Twenty-seven cars. Young, hungry, and extremely fast drivers. A two million dollar career enhancement bonus. The last race of the day. Indeed, I cannot wait for the feature event in Las Vegas.

Let the fireworks begin.

Copyright © 2007 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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