It was a cold and gloomy day at fog-shrouded Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Sunday for the third day of the Monterey Sports Car Championships.

The small but highly competitive field for the 2009 Cooper Tires Presents Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda Series had its customary standing start, one of the few major open wheel series to be so daring.

Pole sitter JOHN EDWARDS won both the race and the 2009 Atlantic race Championship. Race runner-up, JONATHAN SUMMERTON came in second for the Championship…this despite the Newman Wachs Racing teammates having identical points after the race (182) and four race wins each. The tie breaker was second-place finishes: Edwards already had four before Sunday and Summerton’s finish gave him a third second-place finish.

Edwards is the youngest-ever Atlantic Champion, at the age of 18. He replaces MICHAEL ANDRETTI, who won the title in 1983.  The Kentucky teenager earned four wins, three poles, and finished on the podium nine out of 12 times.

Three drivers had a mathematical chance at the 2009 Atlantics crown going into the race, but the series only full-time female driver and points leader, SIMONA DE SILVESTRO/No.78 Team Stargate Worlds crashed out of the equation on the first lap after contact with 2008 Atlantic Champion, MARKUS NIEMELA/Jensen MotorSport. She went into the wall at the bottom of the Corkscrew. She was unhurt, but her race was ended. Niemela continued.

That left the race down to Edwards and Summerton, who gridded first and second, respectively.

De Silvestro finished third in the standings.

Niemela crossed the finish line in third place. However, after the fact and the podium conferences, race officials penalized the Finnish driver two positions for avoidable contact with De Silvestro on the first lap.

Condor Racing’s driver, FREDERIC VERVISCH of Belgium, who had already won the Rookie Championship, moved into third place after starting seventh.

Niemela said Silvestro tried to pass him in the Corkscrew, and he had to go on the kerb. “She was trying to get back her line, they touched, she lost a wheel and crashed. I didn’t want that to happen and it takes away from my third. She was trying for the title.”

Silvestro’s teammate, local favorite, JONATHAN BOMARITO of Monterey, had mechanical issues and dropped out.

Edwards said “I am on Cloud 36. I couldn’t believe after the Safety Car that Simona was out, so it came down to Jonathan and I. I pushed harder, and at the end I was trying not to make mistakes. My engineer told me I had 30 minutes to go and it seemed like six hours, and then they told me that I was the champion. I knew I had won, but it was a little different to hear someone else say it.” He admitted that the team had all the points scenarios worked out well in advance.

Edwards has won two championships in a Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. “It’s good omen. It’s a good sponsor with support and encouragement. Thanks for the Mazda Speed Ladder.”

Regarding his 2010 plans, Edwards said “I wish I could say. The championship will add something to my resume, but I’m not sure what’s next.”

Summerton said “I had a good car all weekend. We’ve had cars to beat the last five races, and should have finished 1-2 in all those races. Aerodynamics play a big part of racing here. I kept hoping for John to make a mistake and he never did. I had no air on the front. It’s disappointing. It comes down to finishing points during the year. The cooler weather did make a difference. We made some set-up changes.”

Niemela started the season with the NWR, before being replaced by Summerton after five races. The 26-year old driver moved to Jensen Motorsport, a much smaller, lesser-funded team. It’s been a struggle all year with the small two-car team sharing one engineer, and often all sharing one hotel room, all with no complaints from anyone, especially Niemela. The team came to Trois Rivieres in Montreal (home track for team) on their own dime in hopes of racing, had the car prepared and got the go-ahead at the last minute. Niemela finished fifth.

Niemela doesn’t know yet what he will be doing next season. “I have a couple of different prospects in 2010 and hopefully they work out. I knew 15 minutes before second practice I knew I was racing here, so hopefully next year I’ll have more notice. I’m open for offers.”

The Atlantic Series, sanctioned by IMSA – International Motor Sports Association, will return next season with Mazda and Cooper Tires, and maybe a new sponsor. The schedule will be released soon, once confirmation is received from two of the tracks on the 12-race schedule. There will be at least one-double-header race and maybe more to help the teams.